back to school
First student arrives at GEMS New Millennium school Al Khail. Image Credit: Antonin Kelian Kallouche/ Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Schools across the UAE are today back in session with in-class learning on offer for the first time in six months.

And it is a completely new experience the more than one million schoolchildren in the country.

Notably, it is the first time that schools are offering an option to continue education at home through distance learning channels. It is also the first time that campuses are conducting non-contact temperature checks, enforcing social distancing in classrooms and teaching children about safety measures during a pandemic.

First day of school Sonia Shah, Videographer

Over the summer, numerous announcements from the Ministry of Education, the Department of Education and Knowledge and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority have kept parents and school staff abreast of the latest school-return regulations. In turn, schools have pulled out all the stops to ensure students’ safe return to their premises.

Safe start

“We look forward to a safe start and in accordance with the best safety standards for more than a million students within the education system in the Emirates...It is a joint responsibility between school and home to ensure a safe and secure educational environment,” His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said during a meeting in which he reviewed preparations.

A student's temperature is checked as he arrives at the premises of Uptown School Mirdif, Dubai.
A student's temperature is checked as he arrives at the premises of Uptown School Mirdif, Dubai. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Great achievements

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, also wished goodluck to school students. “We hope this new academic year will be defined by great achievements. Our education system proved to be dynamic and resilient last year, and we are confident it will go from strength to strength. The safety and well-being of students remain our top priorities,” he tweeted on Saturday night.

Irtiqa Zafar Irtiqa Zafar, Grade 11 student of Gems New Millennium School, Al Khail Sonia Shah, Videographer

Inspectors from educational authorities have inspected schools over the last few weeks to ensure compliance with safety guidelines. In Abu Dhabi, the Adek also announced that 56,207 COVID-19 screenings had been conducted recently among staff across 449 schools and 25 universities.

Gulf News at schools

On the first day of the new term, Gulf News will follow the proceedings at Dubai’s New Millenium School, and offer live updates from the West Yas Academy in Abu Dhabi.

The West Yas Academy is an American curriculum school located in the capital’s Yas Island. Managed by Aldar Education, the school enrolls students up to Grade 11 at present.

Student washing hands regularly Student washing hands regularly as part of new school norms in Pre Kg class Sonia Shah, Videographer

“West Yas Academy has been working diligently since July planning for the health and safety measures, systems, and procedures needed to ensure we are ready to welcome students back into the school from day one. Summer planning has also encompassed identifying the best practices of hybrid learning models that incorporate personalized digital learning tools in math, science, English, and Arabic,” said Dr. Joseph Kotarski, Principal at the school.

He explained the manner in which students will begin learning in the new term.

Vignesh Nair Vignesh Nair, Grade 11 student thoughts about coming back to school Sonia Shah, Videographer

Reduced student capacity

“For families that have selected to attend on-campus learning, the school is offering a reduced student capacity model where 50 per cent of students will attend 2-3 days of in-person learning per week while the other 50 per cent of students will simultaneously access live-streamed lessons, recorded lessons, and online self-adaptive-based learning programs. [On the other hand,] families who have opted in for 100 per cent distance learning will join their classmates online and access the same lessons and materials,” Dr Kotarski said.

Morning prayer Morning prayer before lessons starts at Grade 3 Sonia Shah, Videographer

The school is adopting an alternating week model wherein KG1 through Grade 5 are rotating from a Week A / Week B model with two alternating groups of students. So, over a two-week period, students who choose on-campus learning will receive five days of on-campus learning, followed by five days of distance learning.

“On our first day of school, we are planning to welcome roughly 280 students enrolled from KG1 to Grade 5 in the first group over two days. We will then welcome another 280 students from KG1-Grade 5 mid-week,” Dr Kotarski said.

Meanwhile, 425 students enrolled from Grade 6 to Grade 11 will begin distance learning.

Learning schedule

“They will have 100 per cent online lessons where they access a live digital timetable and attend four one-hour lessons per day covering their normal subjects as if they were physically in school,” the principal said.

Ehan Suhas Ehan Suhas, student of Grade 4 moved here to Dubai from Qatar and it's his first day at school Sonia Shah, Videographer

“For the KG1 – Grade 5 students returning to campus this week, the priority and focus will be on carefully planned induction activities that are designed to upskill students’ understandings and awareness of the health and safety measures and expectations in the school along with class routines and procedures.Students who are online at this time will work to get acclimated with accessing their learning platforms and programs and prepare a project that introduces themselves,” he added.

Back to school
Students, parents and staff have to walk through thermal scanners for temperature check at the Horizon International School. Image Credit: Ammar Ahmed, Special to Gulf News