Aamishi and Aarav from Credence High School, Dubai, had opted for distance learning. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: UAE-based parents who opted for full distance learning for their children during the COVID-19 pandemic have shared their reasons for the decision as well as plans for the coming school year.

Schools had closed in March 2020 because of the pandemic and stay-at-home directives in place then. Schools reopened in September 2020 after the July-August summer break — however, many students have continued till now to fully distance learn from home.

Jude Kabarra

Jude Kabarra, a Year 3 student at GEMS Metropole School — Motor City, Dubai, has been fully distance learning since March 2020. His mother, Sahar Kabarra, said there were multiple reasons behind the decision, including, at that time, the unavailability of a vaccine against COVID-19.

Initial concerns

“With students and teachers returning from holidays in foreign countries, we thought the risk of infection was too high then. COVID-19 was also a new disease back then and we did not want to take any risks, as there was no vaccine at the time,” Kabarra said.

Sahar Kabarra

“We did not want Jude, who is seven years old, to wear a face mask and, for some lessons, headphones for seven hours a day. Furthermore, not being able to have normal physical activities meant we could allow more active time at home. At home, he is in front of a large computer screen and we can monitor his usage. Compared to an iPad, it is also better suited for his eyes and ears.”

Kabarra was also on maternity leave and wanted to closely follow her son’s education and well-being from home.

Pros of distance learning

Distance learning, though not ideal, has its benefits — such as more family time, she added. “Jude is healthy, flexible and enjoying breaks between lessons. He can go to the balcony, play with his baby sister, help me with cooking, and have fun while he is learning,” Kabarra said.

Jude had a pleasant experience distance learning. “We are lucky to have kind and very thoughtful teachers who are dedicated to the development of our kids … Following Jude closely with his homework and having all the educational materials online has helped him to progress significantly in all subjects.”

Plans for blended learning

Since the family has been vaccinated, Kabarra is willing to send Jude to school for blended learning. This will mean Jude can again enjoy school life and at the same time rest without a face mask for two days during the week.

‘She will be safer’

Another Dubai mum, Deepa Manghat, will also see her daughter Lakshmi, a Grade 9 student at Ambassador School, opting for blended learning in September. “Our daughter has received the first dose of vaccination and will receive the second dose soon. She will be safer when the school reopens after summer vacation,” Manghat said.

Lakshmi Manghat

Lakshmi is “thrilled” that she will reconnect with her friends after so long. “The major challenge we faced with distance learning has been the opportunity for peer learning and real-time interaction with other students. We believe that opting for blended learning will solve this,” Manghat added.

Medical grounds

Vikas Singh, father of Hiya Singh, in Grade 2 at GEMS International School — Al Khail, said his daughter had to take the remote learning option, as recommended by the school doctor due to her medical condition of getting a febrile seizure. “If the doctor clears her, we will opt for classroom learning. Also, we will be getting her reassessed by a paediatrician to confirm our decision,” said Singh.

Vikas Singh

Hiya’s distance experience has been “outstanding”, he added. “The school has been very clear in terms of communication. We receive a presentation with the day’s schedule, Zoom links and activities via Seesaw so we can see our daughter Hiya’s tasks and progress. This consistent approach by the school has made my wife’s job easier, as Hiya can follow all her instructions,” Singh said.

Lesson for parents

Ami Rasheed, a mother of two children studying at Gulf Indian School Dubai, opted for complete distance education for her daughter Noura in Grade 5 and son Uday in KG2 “for their safety from all the possible risks”. Since they are “not eligible” to get vaccinated, Rasheed said, they will continue the distance mode as long as possible. Uday has not seen his school yet as he had started KG1 in the last academic year, when the pandemic started.

Uday  Noura Rasheed 3-1624714938377
Noura and Uday Rasheed from Gulf Indian School Dubai are undergoing complete distance learning. Image Credit: Supplied

Rasheed said: “This has been a massive learning opportunity for us as parents. It compelled us to learn a variety of things for our children and ourselves. Moreover, we could witness first-hand how the classes are happening in schools and how teachers are interacting with students. We would otherwise never have had that opportunity with the conventional learning system.”

Risk of exposure

Dr Naveen Aggarwal and Dr Monica Aggarwal, parents of Aamishi and Aarav at Credence High School, Dubai, said they had opted for distance classes because of “the concerns of inadvertently spreading the disease”. The parents said in a statement: “Both of us parents are doctors and are at constant high risk of exposure to the virus and may at some time end up bringing the virus home with us despite taking all the precautions. Our children could also then spread the virus while being asymptomatic carriers.”

Return to school

The parents plan to send the siblings, who should be getting their vaccine shot soon, to school in September. “We have full faith in the school that our kids’ academic and holistic growth would always be looked after and they continue to bloom beautifully. Presently both of us are vaccinated and planning the same for our kids soon. We hope to send both our children physically to school after the summer break, fully trusting the strict adherence of safety measures by the school.”

Principals optimistic

School principals, meanwhile, are expecting many students to come back to school in the new academic year. Deepika Thapar Singh, CEO-Principal, Credence High School, said: “Our Distance Learning Education (DLE) inspection has got the highest rating in the recent inspection by Knowledge and Human Development Authority. The DLE system is robust and the learning is continuing smoothly and seamlessly. We are confident that these students will also shift to full face-to-face learning in times to come.”

Deepika Thapar Singh

Making the switch

Nav Iqbal, Principal-CEO, GEMS Metropole School — Motor City, said only 300 pupils are currently studying online out of some 2,600 students overall at the school.

“Our number of families opting for face-to-face learning has increased over time. At the end of Term 2 we started a ‘Return to School’ campaign … aimed at parents who had chosen 100 per cent online learning. The event explained the extensive health and safety measures in place across the school and answered parents’ questions and concerns. We then offered these parents one-to-one tours around the school so they could see for themselves the measures and precautions in place," Iqbal said.

Nav Iqbal

"All parents came away satisfied and happy with our safety measures, and as a result some have decided to return to school,” he added.

Matthew Tompkins, Principal-CEO, GEMS FirstPoint School — The Villa, said only one in 10 pupils have taken the distance learning option. “We are seeing a steady flow of students returning to the face-to-face model. We have offered 100 per cent face-to-face learning all year and will continue to offer the options our parents are most comfortable with, to support our school family through these testing times,” he added.

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Simon Herbert, Head of School/CEO, GEMS International School — Al Khail, said more and more students have returned to the classroom throughout the year. “We started at around 80 per cent and are now well over 90 per cent [face-to-face]. It has been a challenging year, but the community has pulled together well and we have received many supportive messages from our parents,” he added.