Abu Dhabi school opening
File photo of students entering The Model School Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: After nearly a month and a half, schoolchildren across all grades returned to school campuses this morning, including students enrolled in Grades 6 to 11.

The phased return to in-person learning at UAE public schools and Abu Dhabi emirate’s schools this term has meant that children in these grades were learning remotely for the first four weeks of the term that began on January 3. They are now back in their classrooms for in-person learning, following a series of checks and rounds of testing to ensure student and school staff safety.

Phased return

A number of UAE educational authorities mandated a gradual return to in-person learning this term to ensure the safety of the school community after the winter break. The first three weeks of schooling in 2022 therefore saw all Abu Dhabi students engage in distance learning.

The Abu Dhabi Emergencies, Crisis and Disasters Committee for the COVID-19 Pandemic then allowed students in a number of grades to resume face-to-face learning on January 24. These groups included students enrolled in kindergarten, primary school, Grade 12, higher education institutes, and in grades that require students to attend international exams. The authority added that other students will be allowed to return to school campuses on Monday.

Delighted students, families

Parents, students and educators alike were happy to see children back in their classrooms.

Emma Shanahan

“Aspen Heights British School is always an exciting and happy place to work and learn, but today as we welcomed students from all year groups back to onsite learning for the first time since the end of Term 2, the atmosphere was particularly positive with a tangible excitement and anticipation,” Emma Shanahan, principal at Aspen Heights British School, told Gulf News.

Stephen Brecken

“I am delighted to see students returning for face-to-face learning at our school, and in schools across Abu Dhabi. It is so important for us to start returning to some sort of ‘normality’ after nearly two years… We are still taking all the necessary precautionary measures with our learners and staff to ensure that we maintain the highest possible health and safety standards,” said Stephen Brecken, principal and CEO at The Cambridge High School - Abu Dhabi.

Essential for development

Educators also stressed the important role that in-person learning plays in children’s development.

“Whilst we work hard to ensure our distance learning provision is as engaging, interesting, and relevant as possible, and meets the learning needs of the students, what it can’t replicate is the sense of community, peer support, and feeling of belonging that happens when we are all reunited. We are so fortunate that at Aspen Heights British School our families are so responsible and community-focused; the testing requirements for school entry are familiar to all now, and we have been able to ensure welcoming the upper year groups back to school was seamless and calm. As the oldest children re-joined school today, it has been very exciting for our youngest children, as their older siblings were able to escort them to class, greet the teachers, and feel part of the Aspen family once more,” Shanahan said.

Increased activity

In addition to the benefits for students, educators have welcomed the increased level of activity and engagement on school campuses.

“I feel that it is crucial for learners to access face to face learning, especially for our younger students. The interaction with their peers and also with their teacher in-person is a crucial part of school life. For our older learners, we have a very clear focus on preparing them for final examinations, and it is good to see many of them in school and so engaged. We do still have learners online but they are fully involved in live lessons along with the face-to-face learners. It has been wonderful to be able to walk the corridors of the school and hear the ‘buzz’ of learning in classrooms once again,” Brecken said.

Robert Rinaldo

“At GEMS American Academy we continue to do all we can to provide a safe and healthy learning environment…We are very happy to have all students back on campus. A big part of our academic program includes the opportunity to work on collaboration skills and to develop positive student/teacher connections. The social aspect of face-to-face learning enhances the overall learning experience and adds to student wellness. Students learn from their peers and build on the experiences of others. On campus today, middle School students expressed their happiness with the chance to see friends and meet with teachers. There was also some relief, as one student stated that being at home led to procrastination,” said Robert Rinaldo, head of school at GEMS American Academy - Abu Dhabi.

Mandatory testing

Prior to returning to schools in Abu Dhabi, all students have had to undergo free PCR testing. These tests will be repeated every two weeks for students and staff. In the meantime, schools are still also required to provide distance learning to those students who opt for it, as long as the preference is communicated ahead of time to school authorities.