Distance learning
File picture: Two-year-old Luna of Jumeirah International Nursery (JIN) listens to an audio lesson shared to her by her teacher on an online learning platform. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Schools across the UAE are prepared to roll out their own remote learning even as families practise social distancing.

Thousands of teachers across the emirate have received training over the last two weeks — the official spring break — in order to facilitate digital learning. The break ends Thursday, March 19, and the remote learning period is set to begin on Sunday, March 22.

The UAE Ministry of Education announced last Sunday that 42,000 teachers have completed an online training programme to certify them for remote learning. The training was organised in cooperation with Hamdan Bin Mohammad Smart University. Educators were trained to become efficient online tutors in a four-hour module, and another two-hour module trained them to design online courses.

The period of remote learning was first announced on March 3, as part of a UAE-wide decision to close down schools and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country. After a two-week break, schools must now begin their teaching using digital methods.

Meanwhile, private schools have developed their own platforms for remote learning and ensured that teachers are familiar with them.

In a statement, Aldar Education said it has implemented an innovative e-learning programme that has already been a year in the making. The provider runs seven academies, six charter schools, four Adnoc schools and one nursery in Abu Dhabi.

“As the premier provider of private education in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, Aldar Education’s distance learning programme will be utilised across its network of 18 schools, which caters to 20,000 students across the Emirate, to ensure continuity of classes for students during the government mandated pe-riod of home learning,” the statement from Aldar said.

“The Central Education Technology strategy (Ed-tech) features online platforms — allowing students to connect in real-time with teachers — and incorporates Microsoft Office 365 capabilities, allowing access to web conferencing and chat functionalities,” it added.

“The distance learning programme will be supported by a network of tech coaches across our schools to ensure everyone has access to learning anytime anywhere. Over 1,000 teachers have been trained in the Office 365 suite and all staff members are supported by our network of tech coaches and digital champions. We are implementing a blended approach to home learning with both interactive lessons and prerecorded and interactive content to ensure a wealth of resources and support are available,” said Aryeah Mohasses, director of strategy and innovation at Aldar Education.

Jared Nolan, principal at Al Yasmina School — an Aldar Education school that follows a British curriculum, said students are adept at using e-learning programmes.

“Regarding timings, we understand that the needs of our community are going to be different. Lessons will be planned as usual and students will quite easily be able to work for six to eight hours, five days a week, as they would in school. However, for some families this is not going to be achievable during normal school hours, given that parents will need to support younger children with their learning and many parents will be at work during the day. For this reason, primary teachers are adapting timings to ensure they are able to engage students, assess work and answer questions at times that suit working families. With the support of parents, we expect children to keep up with their lessons, but these lessons can be done at any time of the day,” Nolan said.

“We will have the same approach with our Secondary students, who, by the nature of being teenagers, we expect to start their lessons later in the day but finish later in the evening. Our teachers across both Primary and Secondary are well prepared to work more flexible hours to facilitate this approach,” he added.

While some students at Indian curriculum schools are awaiting decisions on what will happen after board exams have been abruptly suspended, students in other grades are ready to start the 2020-2021 academic year from Sunday.

“The Indian High Group of Schools (IHS Group) stands in solidarity with the UAE Government as we pre-launch the new academic year 2020-21 for all grades — KG and above — on Sunday, March 22. We will be making [the] best use of the available technologies to conduct synchronous and asynchronous sessions, as required, for students of all age groups in our care,” said Punit Vasu, chief executive officer at the IHS Group, said in a circular to parents.

Students in the schools enrolled in Grade 6 and higher will follow synchronous live sessions, while children in lower grades will have access to asynchronous sessions with pre-packaged modules for home learning. Short live sessions with teachers will also be scheduled at a time convenient for most parents. Meanwhile, the Remote Digital Learning Programme has been pilot tested for students in Grades 10 and 12.

Meanwhile, the Gems World Academy in Abu Dhabi has been distributing learning devices in cases where children don’t have access to them at home.

In a circular sent to parents, the school said its remote learning plan has been developed to reflect a typical school day, with teachers available during the time.

“Lessons will include live instruction, tasks and activities, and engagements [will] take place both synchronously and asynchronously. We expect that students will be ready for learning each day, as they would normally be,” the circular said.

“We are committed to supporting every child, no matter their learning preferences and needs. Of course our youngest learners will need adult assistance to get online. However, our goal is that students can do the large majority of their learning independently as they will be using familiar resources and will be asked to complete tasks, activities and learning engagements that will be somewhat similar to ones they have experienced in lessons,” it added.