Students engaged in distance learning and working from home
Students engaged in distance learning from home Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan

Sharjah: Some private schools in Sharjah on Wednesday said they have received their outcomes under the first-ever Distance Learning Evaluation (DLE), introduced by UAE education authorities to judge the online provision of schools.

The school leaders told Gulf News that no Sharjah school so far has been rated ‘Not Developed’, the lowest of three possible evaluations. The second-highest evaluation is ‘Partially Developed’ and the highest is ‘Developed’.

DLE was first announced in March when schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is a joint initiative between Sharjah Private Education Authority (SPEA), Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Ministry of Education, and Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK).

On Sunday, SPEA had said it “concluded ‘Distance Learning Review Visits’ to 112 private schools in Sharjah aiming at identifying areas of development and providing guidance and support they need”. It is understood the visits were online observation of e-lessons and virtual meetings with school leaders.

‘Dynamic vision’

On Wednesday, Vandana Marwaha, principal and director, Delhi Private School Sharjah, evaluated as ‘Developed’, told Gulf news, “This journey in the implementation of a seamless online learning has been possible only because of the pro-active involvement of all stakeholders. SPEA with their dynamic vision spearheaded the transition from regular schooling to e-learning and the school management enabled us with all the resources to successfully implement the programme.”

‘Opportunity, not challenge’

The school’s innovation and technology manager, Anubha Kalra, said, “During this ongoing global crisis, as an innovation head of DPS Sharjah, the continuity of academics in schools was critical and of utmost priority. We didn’t take this as a challenge but as an opportunity to upskill the entire community.”

Overcoming anxiety

A parent of a student of determination at the school, said, “Anxiety gripped us parents, when in the mid of the COVID-19 pandemic, e-learning was announced as the only alternative for the continuation of academics for the students. My son, who is in grade 10, was initially not much of a tech-savvy person but today, he’s become really comfortable with all the educative platforms and he’s continuing to learn even more. He’s better focused on e-learning as distractions are fewer and shows more sincerity and interest in learning concepts.”

Prioritising wellbeing

A DPS Sharjah grade 12 student said it was not just studies that pupils hope to achieve through distance learning.

“As we swift through uncertainty, the school has prioritised our wellbeing through weekly sessions with the nutritionist, emotional counsellor and a general practitioner to keep us physically and mentally sound, and well-read at this time of growing trepidation,” said Vyshnevi, who is president of the student council.

‘Tricky period’

Al Wahda Private School, also evaluated as Developed, was one of the first schools assessed by SPEA, said Ian McNiff, Group Director of Schools, Athena Education, which runs the school.

“Schools had to be ready virtually overnight with online provision [because of the closure in March] and our continuity of learning was highly praised. It was a tricky period put on schools [because of the pandemic]; teachers sometimes get criticised by parents about distance learning. Many teachers have children of their own at home and they have had to balance their responsibilities,” he added.

“I’m really delighted for our school community – the leadership, staff, students and parents – for obtaining the highest DLE.”

Discussing re-opening

Rafia Zafar Ali, Principal, Leaders Private School, another ‘Developed’ school, said, “We pulled together and worked hard as distance learning began and we’ve received very positive comments from the [SPEA] review committee, especially about ‘Teaching and monitoring of students’ learning’” – one of three ‘zones’ covered by DLE.

The other two zones are ‘Students’ distance learning and wellbeing’ and ‘Leading and managing students’ learning’. Each zone is subdivided into ‘themes’, which are supported by ‘descriptors’.

Ali said school leaders and SPEA on Wednesday discussed three models for reopening classes in September, which includes “a full day”; students alternatively attending in morning and evening shifts; and split days where some students come on some days and others on other days.

Coming soon

Pramod Mahajan, School Director/Principal, Sharjah Indian School, said the school is awaiting its DLE outcome after all procedures are finalised, adding that “we’re expecting every promising results”.

“No school in Sharjah is ‘Not Developed’, that’s a very good sign. A few schools, in the first phase, have already got their DLE outcomes. All together, the outcomes are expected in around two weeks,” said Mahajan, who is on the board of directors of Sharjah Private Schools Principals Council, as well as the secretary-general of the executive council of principals for SPEA.