It will also mark the first time after March 2020 that students enrolled in Grades 6 to 8, and students with chronic conditions, at Abu Dhabi private and charter schools will be able to attend school in person. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi: Hundreds of Abu Dhabi schoolchildren are set to return to physical classrooms on Sunday (February 14), marking the first time this trimester that classes will be held physically in the emirate.

It will also mark the first time after March 2020 that students enrolled in Grades 6 to 8, and students with chronic conditions, at Abu Dhabi private and charter schools will be able to attend school in person.

As in the rest of the UAE, the school term began after the winter break on January 3 in Abu Dhabi. However, the emirate’s education regulator, the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), mandated remote learning for all students initially for the first two weeks, and then extended it until February 11.

Distance learning option

From Sunday, parents still have the option to continue distance learning for their children, but children of all grade levels can also choose to the classroom.

Kelvin Hornsby

According to school leaders, a greater number of families have shown interest in face-to-face learning for children this term, with some saying that more than half of all students will return to classrooms physically. “The GEMS Education schools in Abu Dhabi are preparing to open their physical classrooms to learners again. All of the GEMS Education schools strictly adhere to the ADEK Private School Reopening Policy and Guidelines,” said Kelvin Hornsby, GEMS cluster lead and principal at the GEMS Cambridge International School — Abu Dhabi.

“Principals at each of the GEMS Education schools have been consulting parents for many weeks concerning the start of Term 2, and have been preparing for additional students to return. Students across all cycles, year groups and grades were given the choice to return to school or remain in distance learning. Across three of the British Curriculum schools including GEMS Cambridge International School, Abu Dhabi, Cambridge High School and the Winchester School, Abu Dhabi on-site student numbers were set to more than double, with Cambridge International welcoming back over 2,100 learners, or over 60 per cent of the student cohort,” Hornsby added.

Patrick Horne

“We are delighted to be welcoming back our students next week, especially those students in Year 7 to Year 9 [Grades 6 to 8] who will be returning to school for the first time since March [2020]. We are extremely grateful to the authorities for their support and guidance in making our school safe for everyone to return,” said Patrick Horne, principal at the British International School Abu Dhabi.

COVID-19 precautions

In order to ensure a safe school return, Adek first coordinated with health authorities during the winter break to offer free PCR COVID-19 testing to students and educators, including saliva-based testing for students aged 4 to 11 years who have returned to the UAE on or after January 3.

From January 17 onwards, the authority also organised a 10-day campaign that saw more than 15,000 educators, school staff and their family members at 222 private and charter schools in the emirate receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Growing numbers

The openness to a physical return to school is most obvious at institutions that saw a limited number of students opting for face-to-face learning in the previous semester.

Dr Rishikesh Padegaonkar

Dr Rishikesh Padegaonkar, principal and cluster leader at Bright Riders School, said young learners were especially excited to come to school again. “About 20 per cent of our students had opted for face-to-face learning last term, but there is definitely more interest this time around. We have been inspected by the Adek to ensure we are following all standards, and this should reassure parents,” he said.

Choose to vaccinate

Parva Srivastava

In addition to organising its own vaccination campaign, the Adek had also encouraged the school community, including parents, to get vaccinated through multiple messages on its social media platforms. “I have been studying remotely since last April, but I really miss my friends and my teachers. My parents are taking vaccine to fight the coronavirus, and I wish others would also take it so I could go back to school again,” said Parva Srivastava, an Indian Grade 2 student at the Global Indian International School.

School safety regulations
Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal