Abu Dhabi: After a two-year hiatus, Zayed Raza entered the gates of his school in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
“A feeling of nostalgia and excitement hit me at the same time. It was so wonderful to be back in school, and it felt like we picked up where we left off with our teachers and friends,” Raza told Gulf News.
He was one of the many students in Abu Dhabi who had been distance learning since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, and on April 11 returned to their classrooms for the first time in two years.
Following a nationwide decline in COVID-19 cases, the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), which regulates private and charter schools in the emirate, announced last week that all students must be back at school in person this term, unless they can provide a verified medical exemption certificate. The authority also removed physical distancing requirements, allowing classrooms to once again function at full capacity.
The change has been greeted by students and educators alike, and many students who had opted to continue learning from home due to a variety of reasons are finally back in the classroom.
Missed school experience
“Given the circumstances, it made sense to be home for our classes. And there was a degree of freedom, because we could eat or take breaks whenever we wanted during the school. But I missed the personal interaction greatly, and it certainly made lessons less interesting in the absence of laboratory experiments we could do. I also really missed the sports,” Raza said. He completed Grades 8 and 9 through distance learning at Dunes International School.
“I am beginning Grade 10, and will hopefully be attending board exams this year. So it is good to be back. Teaching feels more effective when we can be in the classroom together,” he said.
Raza’s sister, Zoha, also began her sixth grade classes at the same school, after two years of full distance learning.
“The morning began with a prayer service, and we received a red carpet welcome from our teachers. It was so good to be meeting my friends again, and I am really looking forward to it all, especially my swimming lessons and dance classes,” she said.
Distance learning option
While some parents chose to keep their children at home over the last two years due to concerns about safety, others said it was less disruptive, given that classes often had to shift to distance learning when COVID-19 cases were detected. The requirement to shift to distance learning has now been relaxed, with schools only having to switch to distance learning if 15 per cent of the teachers and students are infected at the same time.
In addition, the Adek has once again allowed students aged 16 years and older who are unvaccinated to attend school in person; this student group had not been allowed to opt for in-person learning since last summer.
“Distance learning was effective and safe, so it seemed like a stable alternative till now. My son, Anuj, attended classes for Grade 5 and 6 online, whereas my daughter completed her first year of schooling – KG1 – through distance learning,” said Tejaswini Dolas, administrative executive and a mother-of-two from India.
“The week before classes resumed, the school held an orientation for parents, and it was reassuring to see all the safety measures in place. So I am delighted to sending my children back to school. In fact, my son told me it had been the best day of his life when he returned home today,” she added.
Educators were just as excited to be welcoming students to their classrooms.
“The pandemic kept us all away from the school but we are now [going back to] normality again. This is the ideal time to resume our academic activities with renewed vigour and vitality. I am very much overjoyed to welcome all our students back to school,” said Paramjit Ahluwalia, principal at Dunes International School.
At the Gems American Academy, about 2.5 per cent of the 1,800-strong student body had opted for full-time distance learning since the start of the pandemic.
“We are glad to have everyone back, because it is good for learning, especially the kind of project-based learning that we offer. Classrooms are once again organised in spaces that are conducive for collaborative learning. In addition, we are happy to be able to involve parents in the learning process again,” said Robert Rinaldo, head of school.