Dubai: Various UAE private schools took almost full “attendance” on day one of e-learning on Sunday after campuses closed on March 8 as a precaution against coronavirus.
There were technical setbacks in individual cases but no major disruptions were reported as classes moved online.
Schools used the two-week spring break to prepare for the unprecedented transition. E-learning, also called distance learning, will run for two weeks until schools re-open on April 5, authorities had said earlier.
Sunday morning started with students logging into their school’s e-learning system. Some classwork was already uploaded by teachers; in other cases, teachers and students interacted over video chat.
Alexandra Fatu, deputy head of senior school at GEMS World Academy in Dubai, said she was “pleasantly surprised” to see all her students – in separate windows – in her virtual classroom.
Fatu, who teaches global politics and history to grades 11 and 12, added that students followed their normal schedule of classes and breaks. Whatever teaching notes she made on her screen were visible to students.
“Students today know technology a lot better than we do. And thanks to our IT team who had worked so hard over the spring break, there were no lags,” Fatu said.
Another teacher, Jeffrey Wessel, who is deputy head of secondary school at Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD), said he had “a very successful conference call” with 60 students from grade six.
“I asked them to all put their videos on mute to be able to listen to the lesson. They were requested to ask questions by using the comment box without disturbing the lesson and I was able to answer their questions one by one. The lesson ran smoothly and they all did an excellent job transitioning to the new system,” Wessel added.
Nayla D., a grade three student at SISD, said she completed two projects and uploaded her work. “I wanted to do more than that; I miss school, my teachers and my friends. I was a bit stressed before the session started but now I can’t wait for day two,” she added.
Esther Hunter, Principal, Raffles Starters and Raffles Nurseries, explained the steps taken to familiarise children – and parents — with the transition.
“Considering that these young students require active parent support to make the most of distance learning, we went about this shift in a planned manner," Hunter said.
"We first sent work home to a select few parents, with clear communication regarding signing in and accessing the work. Since students already knew what to do, this exercise was very simple. They directed their parents through the process.
"Once we got confirmation from these parents, we rolled the project out to all other parents. The last week before schools closed for spring break was our trial period for online learning,” Hunter added.
Many schools and officials had sent out surveys to gauge how many students had computers or smart devices, as well as internet access.
A number of government departments, tele companies and philanthropists had promised families would be provided needed support at no cost.
Michael Baty, Head of Primary, Raha International School, said: “The primary team were well prepared helped by the fact that our children all have iPads and have been using [online learning platform] ‘SeeSaw’ for a few years now.
"The reports I am hearing from teachers is that at least 90 per cent of our students have been engaged with their teacher and class throughout the day.”
Working from home
Hunter said: “We made sure that the work set for home was accessible through various devices and operating systems. The school gave out iPads and laptops to staff to work from home. Staff was given training on technical issues like converting and editing video files, uploading files, conduct remote meetings and create sharable links.”
Arvind Sethu, 16, Year 12 student of Jumeirah College (JC) said from a schedule perspective, it felt like studying in school. “Except that I had the liberty of not wearing a uniform and being in the comfort of my house.”
“We have been using different applications to log into our material. Google hangouts and several zoom meeting. Teachers either post a video or start a live session. It just depends on how the teacher wants to go about it. For us, we are given details in advance. Google hangouts. So we have zoom meetings.
Richardt Schoonraad, a third year student in BSc Honours Psychology with Human Resource Management, Middlesex University Dubai said: “I have completed my HR class through the online platform GoToMeeting where our lecturer conducted the seminar via a video conference.
"The session allowed us to post any questions we had regarding our latest assignment and lecture materials, and our lecturer fully supported us throughout. I’ve found the experience to be enriching and felt as though I was present in the classroom even from the comfort of my own home.”
French–American expat Sabine HAAS and her American husband Thomas Koenig are concerned about the online platform for their children Zack and Margot Koenig. Zack attends the SAFA community school, while their daughter, Margot attends Lycee Français International LFI, a French school.
Sabine said: “In light of the current situation, and the UAE – for the good of its citizens and residents -is doing all the right things to ensure we are safe. But I have to admit, I was apprehensive about the e-learning concept in the beginning.”
“Reason being, I am not a technology driven person. So for me this whole online concept was a bit of a challenge. I was not sure if I could take up the giant task of overseeing my two children work lessons online. Zack, 16 is in a British curriculum and Margot 13, in a French curriculum.”
Both the schools sends parents up to date information on schedules, lessons, especially passwords to Google classroom or Pronote apps. “I turned to various groups to help and support me.
So how was Day 1 of online learning?
We parents have been in touch with each other, sharing concepts and methods. “Some of these came from the ministry of education (MOE) to help us along the way. We began the day with a yoga breathing session. The children did well on that. There was a lot of video conferencing through various applications. Zack actually said: “Hey i could do this for a longer time. It is really cool.
My daughter said she was able to finish faster than her normal school day routine and she did not have to travel in a bus for it. So all in all it was a good day. aid: “mom i am finished earlier now that i don’t take the bus!’
Indian mother Pratibha Kabra said the first day of e-learning with her son went rather well. Her son Tanush studies in Grade 10 of Indian High School. “Parents and students have a clear guideline mentioned. That is very helpful. I have not spent a lot of time with him during his online classes. He has learnt to be study it independently. I think the school has done well to ensure students are kept up to date with the learning program. Teachers have done their bit to beat the normal teaching standards and create digital videos for the benefit of students. It is quite heartening.”