At home with schooling: UAE-based students (clockwise from top) Vivan Saklani, Deep Chatterjee, Mustafa Khalil, Bogdana Soroka, Selim Mohamed, Rashid Riaz Ahmed, Natalie Ghanem, Sofia Soroka and Adam Khalil studying from the comfort of their houses on Tuesday. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: With heavy rains becoming a not-so-uncommon feature in the UAE in recent times, the ability to switch to remote operations at a short notice has become essential for the seamless functioning of schools.

Late Monday, as weathermen predicted heavy rains in the UAE until Wednesday, schools across the emirates were advised to go in for distance learning to ensure the safety of teachers and students. Across the board, it turns out, these entities had mechanisms in place to make the switch with relative ease.

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According to the school managements, this has been possible because the hybrid model of working has become not only more relevant, but also more acceptable in the post COVID-19 era.

As Dinesh Kothari, who is Chairman of the British curriculum Victory Heights Primary School and South View School in Dubai and Managing Director of DPS Dubai, DPS Sharjah and DPS Ras Al Khaimah, explained, “During COVID-19, everyone adopted distance learning. This culture remained an integral part of the learning environment even after schools returned to in-person classes. IT and digital inputs became part and parcel of the teaching and learning process, whether it was for the purpose of communicating messages or for the lessons themselves. As such, instant connectivity is no longer a challenge - and neither is a sudden switch to remote classes.”

Dinesh Kothari

Kothari, who manages over 12,000 students across the four schools, said, “All our classes are capable of being run remotely. Students have their laptops or tablets and teachers too teach them digitally through a central server. Of course, remote classes can never be a 100 per cent substitute for in-person learning, but there is no significant loss to our students because there are enrichment classes and catch-up sessions that invariably follow.”

Dedicated Google classroom

Deepika Thapar Singh, CEO and Principal at Credence High School, said, “The staff and students of Credence High School excel in distance learning. Our systems are comprehensive and reliable; each class has a dedicated Google Classroom that is used year-round to distribute essential study materials, conduct assessments and assign homework. This platform, coupled with Zoom, facilitates seamless distance learning experiences. Our communication infrastructure is equally robust, featuring WhatsApp groups for each section, a dedicated school portal, and leaders at all levels who are readily available to support parents, students, and staff. Our IT department is proactive and provides prompt assistance to ensure smooth operation of classes.

Deepika Thapar Singh

She said additionally, the school has clear and well-defined expectations for its students.

“In response to the unique demands of online learning, we always make minimal but significant adjustments to our daily schedule. We introduce a five -minute break between classes to provide students and staff with essential rest periods. These short breaks help everyone relax their eyes and mentally regroup, enhancing focus and preventing digital fatigue. Our teachers also incorporate mindfulness exercises into their classes. This practice not only helps in maintaining mental wellness but also supports a more engaged and responsive learning environment.”

Effective protocols

Zafar Raja, Group Chief Operating Officer, GEMS Education, said, “Our transition to remote learning over the past 24 hours reflects effective protocols across all our 44 schools in the UAE and Qatar that we’ve honed over several years now, since the pandemic period.

Zafar Raja

“This is backed up by tried and tested digital technology that has been a focus of considerable investment in all our schools over recent years and ensures that our students continue to experience the highest quality of education in their virtual classrooms at home.

“Our teaching staff, many of whom were with us during the COVID-19 years when virtual learning became the norm, are also now very well drilled in overseeing a smooth switch to remote teaching during times of adverse weather as we are now experiencing.

“We are grateful for the professionalism of them all and are thankful too for the support of all our families. We will continue to keep them updated with all developments and meantime, hope they remain safe – and dry.”

He said, "Given the severity of the weather conditions across the UAE today and in the interests of the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff, we have made the decision to extend remote learning across the GEMS Education network. All our schools will therefore remain closed on Wednesday, April 17, with students continuing to learn from home. Our families have been informed and will be kept updated through our usual channels."

Power of resilience, adaptability

Ghadeer Abu-Shamat, Superintendent and CEO, GEMS Al Khaleej International School, and Senior Vice President – Education, GEMS Education, said, “Distance learning has taught us the power of resilience and adaptability. During bad weather, we’ve demonstrated our ability to switch seamlessly to virtual classrooms in collaboration with our parent community.

Ghadeer Abu-Shamat

"It’s inspiring to see how quickly both students and teachers have embraced new technologies and teaching methods. However, while distance learning has its merits, nothing can replace the dynamic interactions and personal connections that come with face-to-face learning.”

According to Daniella Aschettino, Secondary Headteacher at GEMS Metropole School – Motor City, “Switching to online learning due to bad weather in the UAE has been quite the journey this year. While it’s posed challenges, it’s also been a valuable learning experience for both teachers and students.

Daniella Aschettino

"Despite the disruptions, we’ve found ways to keep students engaged and ensure their learning continues seamlessly through digital platforms. This experience has emphasised the need for flexibility and innovation in education, showing us new ways to adapt and thrive in unexpected circumstances such as the pandemic.”

"Despite the disruptions, we’ve found ways to keep students engaged and ensure their learning continues seamlessly through digital platforms. This experience has emphasised the need for flexibility and innovation in education, showing us new ways to adapt and thrive in unexpected circumstances such as the pandemic.”

Muhammad Ali Kottakkulam, Principal, Gulf Indian High School, Dubai, said, "The safety of our school community is always our priority and we make decisions regarding onsite or remote learning, as per the guidance by KHDA and the Ministry of Education.

Muhammad Ali Kottakkulam

"Moving to online learning is the most responsible course of action when considering the safety of students and teachers and we have processes in place to ensure a smooth transition. Our system ensure timely communication to parents and staff helping them to make any required arrangements.

‘How agile we’ve become’

From a student’s point of view, Wid Alawar, a Year 11 student at GEMS Al Barsha National School, said, “Despite the challenges of distance learning during bad weather, I’m amazed at how agile we’ve become. It’s been reassuring to know that we can continue our education from the safety and comfort of our homes.

Wid Alawar

"However, nothing beats the energy and interaction of face-to-face learning and I can’t wait to return to my class and engage with my teachers and peers in person.”