Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi students have been back on school campuses physically for nearly two weeks, and education sector officials have reassured parents about safety at educational institutions.
The emirate’s education sector regulator, the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), confirmed that officials have been conducting rigorous inspections since schools resumed in-person classes in August 2020, and that these have ensured that schools are as safe as possible. The inspections have covered 221 private and charter schools in the emirate, as well as 120 nurseries.
“The inspections track compliance across 62 criteria that cover various health and safety aspects of school operation, including precautionary measures that cover social distancing, wearing masks, and regular COVID-19 testing of staff and students aged 12 years and above. The criteria also cover on-premise measures such as regular cleaning and disinfection programmes of the school facilities and buses, as well as regulated classroom capacity, provision of personal protective equipment across all school facilities,” said Khalid Al Hameli, head of operations and inspection at the Adek.
“Additionally, all schools should have a COVID-19 taskforce to manage any incident, and they must have nominated a school compliance officer to ensure safety regulations are being followed. We also focus on updates and accuracy in information, and ensure that [health information] is clearly available to all staff and students,” he added.
Distance learning was mandated at schools in Abu Dhabi emirate for the first few weeks of the school term that began on January 3. In the meantime, the Adek vaccinated more than 60 per cent of school staff, and released schedules for free COVID-19 screenings for students and staff. This time around, even the youngest children who had returned from abroad were tested via saliva PCR screenings before being allowed to return to school campuses.
“We would like to reassure parents that schools are prepared, and have [met] health, safety and environment inspection guidelines mandated by Adek, with emphasis on ensuring all safety standards across different parts of the schools,” said Heba Yakeen, spokesperson at Al Bashair Private School.
School heads told Gulf News that a good proportion of students in higher grade levels had opted for face-to-face learning this term.
62 inspection criteria
Simon Corns, headmaster at Brighton College Abu Dhabi, explained that he would feel comfortable sending children back to school. “We have regular visits from inspectors, who have helped us and ensures that everything is as it should be. As a father myself, if I were given the choice now, I would be sending my children to this school. I believe it is as safe as it possibly can be, and I look forward to welcoming the children back here in this environment,” he said.
Classrooms can now accommodate up to 30 students at a time, as long as 1.5-metre social distancing is ensured. The class size is capped at 25 students for kindergarten levels, and at 10-student bubbles for younger children.
The Adek has also introduced stiff penalties, up to Dh250,000 in case of lack of compliance with regulatory safety measures.
* Classes can include a maximum of 30 students with 1.5-metre social distancing. For kindergarten, class size is capped at 25 students, with 1.5-metre social distancing, whereas bubbles for younger children in nurseries can include only 10 children with a dedicated teaching team
* Availability of PPE
* Regular cleaning and disinfection
* Regular COVID-19 screening for students and staff
Parents have also expressed their satisfaction with safety measures. “My three-year-old has been restless at home for a long time, so I was only too glad to send him back. He enjoys the social interaction, and it lets me focus on caring for my infant daughter,” said Reema A, an Egyptian architect and mother-of-two.
Another mother, C.Z., said her two pre-teen children – aged 12 and 14 - had been waiting to return to school. As part of Abu Dhabi’s phased return plan to classrooms, her children had been learning remotely since March 2020.
“My children are old enough to be study independently, so they didn’t find distance learning to be too much of a challenge. But they were very much bored at home, and were waiting to get back to the classroom in person. As a mother, I am happy that they can now return safely,” she said.
Penalties include stiff fines ranging from Dh10,000 to Dh250,000. Repeated non-compliance can lead to school being shifted to distance learning, and parents can be allowed to remove their children from school and obtain fee refunds. Non-compliant nurseries can be immediately shifted to remote learning and fined.
The Adek focuses on 62 different criteria when conducting school inspections, including the following:
-Social distancing provisions
-COVID-19 testing adherence
-Regular and frequent on-premise cleaning and disinfection
-Provision of personal protective equipment
-COVID-19 school taskforce, with school compliance officer
-Provision of updates and information to Adek
-Availability of clear health information