Distance learning
Quick action and constant feedback from students and parents helped Dubai private schools achieve the highest rating in the first-ever government checks on distance learning. Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: Quick action and constant feedback from students and parents helped Dubai private schools achieve the highest rating in the first-ever government checks on distance learning, educators said.

Following the recent results of the Distance Learning Evaluation (DLE), schools rated ‘Developed’ said swiftly mobilising digital platforms and staying flexible on virtual class timings and formats made the difference.

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In March, schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic and switched to distance learning in record time. Following a two-week spring break, all classes were held online for the first time until the end of the school year.

In a joint initiative, the Ministry of Education and private education authorities in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah introduced DLE to check how well schools held online classes.

Last week, Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) announced that 67 per cent of Dubai’s private schools were found to offer a ‘Developed’ level of provision; 32 per cent ‘Partially Developed’ and only one per cent ‘Not Developed.’

Ambassador International Academy (AIA) was the only IB school in Dubai rated Developed in all 13 DLE ‘themes’, said Kamal Kalwani, vice chairperson of AIA and Ambassador Schools in Dubai and Sharjah.

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Smaller virtual classrooms

AIA converted KG class of 20 students and primary class of 25 into groups of no more than five students of live online lessons, “which enabled us to provide every child with the personalised attention”.

It also introduced a “creative timetable” that ensured there was a balance between live lessons and “exciting use of non-screen time” to engage students throughout the school day. The KG students had up to 2.5 of live online lessons and primary up to five hours every day.

The school communicated with parents on a weekly and bi-weekly basis through online calls to discuss students’ progress and to train them on how to support the learning of the students.

Kalwani said it took the joint effort of all stakeholders to secure the top rating.

“We achieved this with the entire learning community – parents, teachers, staff, and governors – collaborating together to safeguard our students’ learning and wellbeing. Overall, only 15 schools out of 207 in Dubai achieved 13 out of 13 themes as Developed. AIA - the only new school [a year old] and the only IB school in Dubai - and our Ambassador School - the youngest Indian ICSE school in Dubai – have achieved this.”

Consulting best practices and parents

Another “13/13” Developed school, GEMS Modern Academy, said its senior leadership team researched “age-appropriate” distance learning best practices adopted by schools that reopened before Dubai schools.

“This considered approach, with constant consultations with parents, daily reflections and everyone pitching in helped us execute our plan well. When we realised distance learning was the only option, our teachers and counsellors came together to discuss how we could ensure the wellbeing of our children while integrating top-class technology solutions for teaching and learning,” said Nargish Khambatta, principal of GEMS Modern Academy.

Making expectations clear

Oaktree Primary School, which also had all 13 themes Developed, said it sent out “clear expectations” on distance learning right at the start of the online phase.

Ian McNiff, Group Director of Schools, Athena Education (which runs Oaktree), said, “We adapted really quickly. We had to adapt to tech, yes, but we didn’t want to lose focus on our core business – educating students.”

He added that students’ feedback was essential and regularly collected to see how online classes were working out for them.

“For example, we re-adjusted the online platforms and their timings to suit our families; ultimately what brings success in learning is our relationships. We were also very quick off the mark, communicating clear expectations from teachers and students about online provision.”

Immediate mobilisation

Another educationist also stressed that timing was critical in making distance education successful. Raza Khan, CEO Al Najah Education, said, “I’m delighted that every single Al Najah school in Dubai achieved the highest possible rating in the recent DLE. This is testament to our excellent leadership and teachers who were able to mobilise e-learning as soon as the school closures were announced.”