Dubai: UAE parents unsure or uncomfortable about the situation regarding the reopening of schools in September have a few alternatives.
They can, for example, choose to homeschool children, enrol them in an exclusively online school or consider “part-time” schooling.
Schools closed in March as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19 and adopted distance learning till the end of the term, which will be July 2 for most schools.
A decision on whether schools will reopen in September after the summer break will be taken after considering the situation regarding the coronavirus. Depending on the situation, schools could see a mix between online and offline classes.
It is expected most parents will re-register children in their school, but some parents may choose options such as homeschooling to avoid paying full term fees. Many parents believe schools should not charge full fees in light of distance learning and the financial impact of the pandemic.
Recently, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai said, “Parents who are interested in alternative forms of education may be able to join the Rahhal programme. To qualify, students must be enrolled full-time in a Dubai private school.”
The comment on its webpage (khda.gov.ae/en/safetyatschools) followed a FAQ by parents, “I’m thinking about homeschooling my children if schools don’t reopen in September. Which homeschooling programmes are recognised by KHDA?”
“KHDA does not currently recognise homeschooling programmes” it replied, pointing to Rahhal as alternative. Rahhal, which loosely translates as traveller in Arabic, is a KHDA-approved programme for participating schools and students that allows pupils to be absent from most classes to pursue extracurricular goals, such as sports or arts, at recognised establishments. Rahhal can also see students studying from more than one school at a time.
However, even though KHDA does not recognise homeschooling, it is not prohibited either. Some expat parents have been homeschooling children for years in Dubai and the UAE. Emiratis must normally attend regular school or enrol in a Ministry of Education homeschooling system.
The system is typically for children whose age is above the maximum age limit for admission in public school, and only for grades seven to 12. For grade seven, admission is accepted from the age of 14. Arabic-speaking expat children can also use the ministry’s homeschooling system.
Another option is enrolling in an accredited online school. One such school, iCademy Middle East, which has an office in Knowledge Village, Dubai, said some parents find homeschooling difficult to arrange.
Cody Claver, General Manager, iCademy Middle East, said, “The strength of an accredited online school lies in the fully developed and aligned curriculum. The school and the online teachers have done the work in preparing the lessons for the students. This eliminates the burden for the parent to find all the resources needed and organise that for their child.”
He pointed out an online school is “complete” with teachers, administrators, counsellors, curriculum, lessons and assessments.
“Homeschooling requires a lot more work for the parent to resource, plan and organise. Some parents enjoy that process. We are finding that most parents right now are overwhelmed and appreciate professionals doing it for them.”
Since the pandemic took hold in the UAE, iCademy has seen “a significant rise” in the number of inquiries, Claver said.
“Some of the inquiries are related to financial stress and seeking a viable education option that fits in their budget. Others are related to the concern over the level of engagement their children have had over this past term,” he added.
Meanwhile, some options are off the table. For example, parents are not allowed to send children to private tutors’ homes for afterschool coaching in light of the social distancing rules introduced to limit the spread of the coronavirus.