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A teacher and student at a school in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Dozens of excited children reported to school campuses across Abu Dhabi Emirate today after nearly a year of distance learning. Dressed in their regular uniforms, they headed to school amid rather dense fog in the morning, and settled into classes in a new normal that also includes face masks and social distancing.

Arjumand Ajmal Khan

“It feels awesome to be able to see my friends and teachers in school. We had our classteacher period as soon as we got to school, and all of my subject classes in English, Math and Hindi have felt extra special,” said Arjumand Ajmal Khan, a nine-year-old fourth grader at the GEMS United Indian School, told Gulf News.

Angel Ann

Angel Ann, a 12th grader at Global Indian International School, said she had had a safe and happy first day back. “There were COVID-19 precautions from start to finish. We sat alone in our seats on the bus, had our temperatures checked once we reached school, and maintained social distancing when moving between classrooms and in the classrooms and laboratories. It was all very safe, and I feel very happy,” Ann said.

Phased return

Abu Dhabi has implemented a phased return to schools after all educational institutions switched to distance learning in March 2020 as a precautionary measure against COVID-19. Younger students and those in senior grades were allowed by education regulator, the Department of Education and Knowledge, to return to campuses in September, but students enrolled in Grades 6, 7 and 8 were instructed to continue learning remotely.

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A teacher and student during a class at a school in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Image Credit: Supplied

This term, the Adek has given the go-ahead for students across all levels to return to the classroom physically, including those with chronic illnesses who can provide a physicians’ note. While the authority has ensured students’ safe return after a 10-day drive that saw more than 15,000 educators and school staff across 222 private and charter schools vaccinated, many parents say they are now also less worried with in-class education.

Better exam prep

Durairaj Pandian

“My family and I have all taken both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, including my son, Gokul, who is 17 years old. He is set to appear for his Grade 12 exams this year, and I am glad he will now get a chance to revise his lessons and practise his labwork at school,” said Durairaj Pandian, 54, a total quality management specialist from India. He added that Gokul has already received admission acceptances from multiple universities abroad, which is why he is happy that his son has a chance to study at school.

Nithink Krishnan

Nithink Krishnan, 15, a 10th grader at GEMS United, said it is easier for him to understand concepts when in the classroom. “You can clarify the subject matter easily, and being in school will definitely help me feel more confident about my board exams. It feels like a new experience being able to see my friends and teachers in person,” he said.

Value of in-class learning

School leaders, meanwhile, encouraged students to attend physically, stressing the added value brought about by the school experience. “This term, we expect to see about 500 students in school out of our 3,340-strong student body. This is more than we’ve seen thus far, and we hope it will reassure parents that the school environment, though different, is safe. We are adhering to all COVID-19 precautionary measures, and 80 per cent of our staff is already vaccinated,” said K George Mathew, principal at GEMS United.

K George Mathew

Mathew said the school is offering a blended schooling model that sees girls and boys attend classes on alternate days, apart from those whose parents have requested that their children receive face-to-face learning every day. “Children derive a lot of enjoyment from their lessons if they are able to use the added resources we can provide at school, and I hope we can break into the psyche of parents and assure them that this is the way forward. In addition, students who are scheduled to appear for board exams certainly gain a better understanding, and are more prepared for the assessments mentally, after they’ve been in school,” the school head said.

Dr Heena Rachh

"Our Grade 12 students are excited to come to school. After 11 months, the joy of handling the apparatus and equipment at the school lab is a much-awaited experience for them, especially as the laboratory experience is an integral part of the science curriculum. So even though we have been giving our students practice via OLabs (Online Labs for CBSE Students and Schools), in-school learning gives a better experience," said Dr Heena Rachh, principal at Global Indian International School.

"Students in the age group of 16 years and above are currently in a very crucial academic phase with the exams approaching. [Fortunately,] all our facilitators and students beyond this agehave taken the COVID-19 vaccination. With the vaccination, we can be assured that the children could continue with their studies safely without getting sick. Parents were also very supportive in sending their children to school , and they are the catalyst of strength and encouragement," Dr Rachh added.

Midterm break

While most schools welcomed students to school campuses today, a number of British curriculum schools currently have their students off on a weeklong midterm break. At these schools, students are set to return to in-class learning next week. “I am relieved that schools in Abu Dhabi haven’t mandated distance learning again. I am a full-time working mother of two young children and work has been hectic. Knowing that my children are getting the engagement at school is a relief for me, especially as I haven’t the time and energy to provide it at home,” an Egyptian mother told Gulf News.