Dubai: A return to classrooms could take various forms if UAE schools re-open in September, including split days and blended learning, principals said.
They are currently preparing scenarios for welcoming back students after the shutdown in March because of the coronavirus outbreak.
A decision regarding when and how schools will welcome back students after the summer break is still under review.
The ideal scenario will be to have all or most students in class while following health and safety measures, said Iain Colledge, executive principal of Raha International School in Abu Dhabi.
Distance learning and blended learning (a mix between online and offline classes) carry their own set of issues, he added.
Distance learning has seen many parents under lockdown caught between helping their children with online classes and fulfilling their own work-from-home duties.
“Parents need to go back to work as well. Parents are going back to work already now, so how can parents continue to look after their children if there is still work going on at home?” Colledge said.
Also, there are “practical challenges” with blended learning, split days, and shorter days – some of the possible scenarios for September.
“The blended approach is very challenging for teachers because how can they teach all day with children in front of them [in school] and then do e-learning? [Meanwhile] split days are achievable but not ideal.”
Split days would see different groups of students come in on different days.
Room to manoeuvre
Schools should be given some room to manoeuvre according to their situation in these disruptive times, Colledge said.
“I think schools need to be given the opportunity to work within their parameters to get as many children into school as they can – as long as it’s within the parameters the government sets to ensure the highest standards of health and safety,” he added.
Some of those standards could include “zoning areas”, said Brendon Fulton, Executive Principal, Dubai British School.
“In order to ensure the safety of our students and their families, we are working on health and safety plans that include thermal screeners and multiple hygiene facilities, as well as the possibility of restricted zoning areas to allow different groups of students to remain mostly isolated from the larger school group. We are fortunate that our expansive campuses allow us to operate creatively within these parameters,” Fulton added.
No going back
Some schools plan to partially retain distance learning even if the “old normal” returns.
Amol Vaidya, senior director of operations at Global Indian International School (GIIS), said: “What GIIS achieved in the last few months was to create a setup, which encouraged highly personalised learning. By creating the blended ecosystem, the school has almost handed over the responsibility of learning to the student… Therefore, we are not looking to drop the earned advantage and go back to the old normal now.”
Jodh Singh Dhesi, Deputy Chief Education Officer, GEMS Education, also said the school group is considering “a more blended approach” in the new normal.
“Our planning is looking primarily at two areas: health and safety, and provision of learning. In terms of the former, we are modelling scenarios involving start times, staggering, social distancing and health monitoring... In terms of the latter, we are looking at models for modifying our current remote learning provision to a more blended approach, with groups of students studying both at home and in school at different times,” Dhesi added.
All options open
Whatever the case, schools will ensure students continue to learn adequately, said educators.
Deepika Thapar Singh, CEO - Principal at Credence High School in Al Khail, said its “contingency plans are ready for all options that may arise. Our infrastructure is well equipped and designed in accommodating the same”.
James MacDonald, managing director at Al Futtaim Education Foundation, which operates Deira International School and Universal American School, said “we are developing plans for a variety of possible scenarios. We will be ready to follow any guidance given to us by KHDA. So even if our campuses may be only partially open, our educational programmes will continue to be delivered as we invest in and further develop our digital capabilities”.