Dubai/Abu Dhabi/Sharjah: Public schools opened for the new academic year on Wednesday with student turnout as low as 30 per cent in most of the schools.

Principals and teachers said one of the lowest ever-attendance percentages experienced on the first day of school was partly because opening day had fallen on a Wednesday coupled with swine flu fears among parents.

Watch video: Public schools reopen amid swine flu fears

Public and private schools following the Ministry of Education (MoE) curriculum started the new 2009/2010 academic year Wednesday after an extended summer break. Around 597,000 students were expected to attend classes.

Mohammad Al Mas, the principal of Al Ma'arif Public School in Dubai, said they only had a student turnout of around 10 per cent on Wednesday.This is the school's lowest recorded turnout in years.

"This is probably the case because the first day happens to be [at] the end of the week and falls between two vacations. I don't think there is any other reason why students would not show up," he said.

However, Ahmad Al Mulla, headmaster of Omar Bin Al Khattab Model School, speculates that among the reasons for the low turnout was parents' fear of the spread of the H1N1 virus.

"We will send instant messages to parents' mobile phones about the importance of having their children during the first days of the academic year. We absolutely assure parents of our precautionary measures against H1N1," he said.

Some parents said they did not send their children to school as the weekend was just two days away.

"My two children decided not to go to school as there are only two days [left before] the weekend. I also felt that it would be good if they start the school on Sunday as most of the children would be absent.

"I think authorities should have postponed the [reopening of schools] till Sunday," said Ebrahim Khalid, one parent.

Some students who attended school said their parents had warned them against greeting or kissing their classmates to avoid contracting the H1N1 virus.

"The first piece of advice my parents gave me was not to kiss my friends and to keep a distance from my classmates. They are worried about me as students who travelled to other countries might have contracted the virus," said Islam Samir Ali, a student of Al Safa Secondary School for Boys.

In Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, the percentage of absent students on opening day was as high as 70 per cent in most schools as parents showed they were still worried about sending their children back to schools due to the H1N1 scare.

An administrator from Al Thoraya government school said only 30 per cent attended school on the first day.

"Being an administrator and a mother to four children whose ages range from four to ten, I understand the fear parents have regarding the spread of H1N1.

"I myself didn't send my kids to school. There are also lots of parents and students who are still on their annual leave, which may be another reason for the poor attendance level," he said.

The vice-president of Aisha Bin Abi Bakr said only 400 out of 730 girls attended school on Wednesday. A private school called Emirates Nation School delayed their opening day to Sunday.

"The MoE gave schools the choice to either open today or by Sunday and we decided to open on Sunday, mostly due to our scare regarding H1N1. We're trying to take extra pre-cautionary measures before we decide to accommodate our students," a source from the school said.

Are you sending your children to school? If yes, are you concerned about them contracting the H1N1 virus? How are you protecting them when they are in school?

Your comments

I have also sent my kids just 3 days last week since their school opened from 2 weeks and will send them from Sunday now as I am really very scared, even though they are in higher classes.
Posted: September 24, 2009, 13:05

Everyone is worried about swine flu but the parents of young childern are more worried because of this anaconda. School's management have to take strict precatiounary measures and have to check the any alarming situation among students and staff. Authorities should also instruct the schools to do so with the help of concerned authorities.
Rafaqat Saeed
Posted: September 24, 2009, 12:08

I had kept my younger 4 year old son at home during the first 3 weeks while my 7 year old attended school from second week on. I wish his teachers were a bit more lenient with the volume of topics covered since it was obvious that more than half of the students would be absent due to the scare. I had to take a day off from work and go to his school and copy down all the topics which came to more than 5 pages and almost a chapter in every subject just in the first week alone. And this is a 3rd grader attending the CBSE curriculum we are talking about. I sent him with the N95 mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer and have asked him to stay away from sick children and also to report any illness that he/his friends might be feeling to his class teacher. I also make him take a bath as soon as he comes home from school.I am repeating the same procedures for his younger brother who is in KG-1 who has started school this wednesday after a 3 month long vacation.
Laxmi Nair
Posted: September 24, 2009, 11:48

It should be mandatory for spitting to be illegal in the UAE, this would stop the spread of viruses, spitting is banned in many countries. As long as certain people continue to freely spit everywhere flu and all germs will spread like wildfire.
P. Robson
Posted: September 24, 2009, 11:47

Posted: September 24, 2009, 11:46

My 8 year old daughter went to school two weeks late, she was perfectly healthy and the school said they are doing everything possible to prevent H1N1 spreading, jet one boy in her class was coughing very much, and after 5 days at school she started coughing terribly, so our holiday was not very nice, and if schools measures did not stop some ordinary virus, what will happen if swine flu gets to her class? Disaster, for sure
worried mother
Posted: September 24, 2009, 11:44

Attending school is very important on any day, especially the first few ones when a student has transferred into a new grade. As a middle school student, going into year 10 has made life busier and it is going to keep going that way for the rest of my school years. For every student, I can assure you this is the same. Fortunately, there have only been a few swine flu cases in UAE but a 30% attendance rate does not reflect that. Schooling should not be taken as a second priority after only such minor cases of H1N1. The government should alert parents that swine flu is not as big a threat as it seems to be and that education comes before such minor risks. Having said that, the student should definitely be careful and take precautions, just as long as it has a the priority
Tuahaa Soomro
Posted: September 24, 2009, 10:43

I am sending my children to school though i m also worried about the H1N1 virus, but as instructed by school officials that as soon as children are back home make them take bath clean their face hands and legs properly wash their school uniforms daily, are strictly taken care by me. also instructed children to wash their hands and face in school in intervals properly.
Rajeshwari S Nair
Posted: September 24, 2009, 10:41

I will be sending my 4 year old child to school from Sunday. Her school reopened on 30th August, but I did not send her to school. Even now I?m scared. But for how long can I keep her away from school? In the meanwhile I have taught her to wash her hands regularly, sanitise them and wear a face mask. And I hope for the best.
Medha Hodarkar
Posted: September 24, 2009, 10:15

I can understand and I appreciate the efforts taken by the UAE government and the schools. But, I am sure more parents will send their kids to school if schools themselves appoint a doctor under the guidance of the health ministry to find out who all are affected and then give proper medications to the affected students rather than making the parents run from one pillar to another one in panic. I am sure being a proactive country the authorities must have taken action on this by now.
Posted: September 24, 2009, 10:12

I did send my child to school yesterday 23rd September, KG1. Sure, worries are there, but the best way to avoid virus to spread at schools is for parents to not send their children if there is any flu symptoms and school should check
Posted: September 24, 2009, 09:49

I am a mother of three; of which two are junior school students; the youngest one is just 1 year and 4 months. I sent my children to school the very first day of their re-opening. Attendance in their classes was comparatively low. They said some wore masks and came with sanitisers in their class. Even teachers wore masks. Medical screening was going on those who were ill with colds and cough. As a parent, I never encouraged my children to wear masks or use sanitisers in their classrooms. The virus, be it any, is something which spreads through the environment. If it is to get in, it gets in. And you cannot stop nor have control over your children playing with their friends, shaking hands with them or saying a secret. Its just that make them aware of the situation. Not scare them.
Nejuma Navas
Abu Dhabi,UAE
Posted: September 24, 2009, 09:47

Let parents make choice for their wards, after all its them who are responsible
R. S.
Posted: September 24, 2009, 09:25

No. Last 15days my children are at home. We are scared. They catching cold fast when they go to school. May be they are drinking cold water in the school. According to us precaution is better than cure. They are doing their work at home. We are happy
Posted: September 24, 2009, 08:41

I have sent both my kids all the days before and after Eid holidays. I have the fear of HINI and given them hand sanitiser gel and advised them how to protect themselves. I am more concerned about their studies.
Fatima Manzila Veero
Posted: September 24, 2009, 08:32

I am also worried about sending my child to the school due to this panic
Romy Antony John
Posted: September 24, 2009, 07:28