Back to school
A highlight of the KHDA’s proposals for the new academic year is that students will have to be back at school for face-to-face learning by October 3. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: School principals in Dubai have welcomed the Knowledge and Human Development Authority’s (KHDA) new health and safety protocol for the 2021-2022 academic year.

A highlight of the KHDA’s proposals for the new academic year is that students will have to be back at school for face-to-face learning by October 3. Only under exceptional circumstances will students be allowed to pursue online learning. Another significant condition introduced by KHDA is that physical distancing has been reduced from 1.5 metres to 1 metre. Capacity for school buses has also been increased to 100 per cent as part of the back-to-school protocol.

After-school activities such as swimming and sports lessons, school trips, excursions and camps, extra-curricular activities, performances, assemblies and other events at school or at external venues are also set to resume.

These measures have gone down well with educators. Here is a sample of what they had to share with Gulf News.

‘Forward-thinking regulator’

Punit M.K. Vasu

Punit M.K. Vasu, CEO of the Indian High Group of Schools said it is nothing but a great piece of news to open schools to full capacity. “It is fantastic to see the KHDA reopening protocol, which clearly shows it is a forward-thinking regulator. The private education sector in Dubai is indeed blessed to have a good regulator. The latest back-to-school safety protocol marks a balance between health and safety with a pragmatic approach that Dubai is renowned for,” said Vasu.

“It is a massive relief for community school operators such as our group to be able to operate buses at full capacity. This will be especially helpful for working parents as they will now be able to use the safe and secure option of school transport for their children. We welcome these new protocols, which will gradually help all of us get back to face-to-face learning in full swing,” Vasu added.

‘Overwhelming response’

Elmarie Venter

Elmarie Venter, COO at GEMS Education, said it has always put the health, safety and wellbeing of its students as the top priority. “We have prepared accordingly to ensure that all our schools strictly follow the national guidelines. We warmly welcome KHDA’s latest guidance, which is in line with the way our national leadership has so effectively handled the pandemic.

"Parents’ reaction to the KHDA announcement has been overwhelmingly positive too. We are so excited to welcome our 120,000-plus students back for face-to-face learning for the new academic term starting on Sunday, following our record-breaking academic results over the past year. This was a great reflection of the resilience our teachers, students and parents have shown,” she added.

Shiny Davison, director of learning at Gulf Model School (GMS), said: “As a leader at GMS, I am very happy with this back-to-school safety protocol, which will bring back normality to our school.” She also welcomed the change in physical distancing norm from 1.5 metre to 1 metre. “It is a practical solution for schools to accommodate more children. As for health and safety protocol, we very much welcome the new rules set by KHDA,” said Davison.

Virtual meetings

Shiny Davison

“In GMS, we have been insisting on vaccinating all our staff and students above the age of 13. Reminders have been sent to parents regarding this. Our clinic staff will be monitoring this closely with regard to students’ vaccinations.”

Davison said the school had planned virtual meetings with parents to discuss the new protocol. “We assure our full support to parents. The new proposal is definitely the most anticipated move for schools as we can now bring more students back to school. Resuming school activities and after-school programmes will enable schools to involve students in healthy lifestyle and reduce screen time.”

Dr Neil Hopkin

Dr Neil Hopkin, principal, Sunmarke School, said: “At Sunmarke School, we were delighted to receive the new guidelines from KHDA. As a result of the pandemic, students and their families across the world have experienced significant emotional hardships and challenges to their mental wellbeing. The clear, positive and pragmatic guidance from KHDA is a marvellous and carefully-measured approach to address the needs of children and their families. It strikes a fine balance between allowing physical activities and sports to resume in schools, while at the same remaining vigilant and compliant with the health directives.”

Hopkin said it is not an easy balance to strike and KHDA is to be commended for achieving it. He added that the guidelines set out clearly the ways in which schools can lead their students back to the classrooms and let them experience what they have missed so much for long.

‘Positive and supportive protocol’

Jason King

Jason King, principal, Regent International School said: “At Regent International School, parents, students and staff were excited to receive the news of the new protocol from KHDA. We congratulate KHDA on the positive and supportive protocol, enabling schools to further enhance the learning environment and experience for all students,” said King.

“Returning to fully physical learning from October 3 will go a long way in addressing some of the wellbeing concerns faced by schools with online learning for some students. Naturally, where students and their families are still vulnerable, we will be supportive and offer the online option. Balance is the key to ensuring that students’ learning experience and the environment continue to be enhanced, but not at the expense of safety.”

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King said the updated KHDA protocol allows schools to continue to inspire minds and build the character of students through their positive approach to education. “Powered by our unique ‘Signature Programmes’, we are an innovative school with an inspirational, engaging and dynamic learning environment at the core."

"The updated protocol gives us the opportunity to continue to empower our students to become innovative thinkers, creative problem-solvers, socially confident and inspired learners and the school is committed to every child achieving his or her dreams and ambitions. I am extremely excited about the journey ahead,” he added.