20210829 back to school dubai
File photo of students in Dubai Image Credit: Gulf News archive

Dubai: The new school semester begins on Monday after the winter break, following changes to the school week in the UAE. While some schools will adopt in-person classes, others will go in for distance learning for two weeks in line with directives from their local authorities.

Why the change?

Shortly before 2021 ended, the UAE government had announced that from 2022, the new weekend in the country will be Saturday-Sunday (instead of Friday-Saturday) for the public sector and schools.

Another change included in that announcement was that Friday is to become a half-day at government departments – except in Sharjah, where Friday will continue to be a full day off for the public sector as well as for schools.

Making adjustments

This new 4.5-day school week means schools are adjusting their timings (and learning modes for some grades) to maintain their commitments to the curriculum they follow.

Lisa Johnson

American Academy for Girls (AAG) in Dubai, for example, has extended the school day by 20 minutes to ensure there is adequate time to cover the curriculum, principal Lisa Johnson told Gulf News. “We chose not to simply shift our classes forward a day, so a great deal of time has been invested in modifying our master schedule to accommodate for the half day [Friday]. However, we are confident that the new schedule will provide ample time for students to spend prayer time with their family, explore outside interests, and of course, rest and recharge,” she added.

“There is a bank of current research available now that strongly suggests a four-day week can improve attendance and boost staff and student morale. We are confident that we will see similar benefits from a 4.5-day week.”

Meanwhile, AAG’s overall academic calendar will remain the same. “At this time, we have chosen not to modify the academic calendar as many families have travel schedules already set. Additionally, last year when this issue first surfaced, we surveyed parents to find out their preference for accommodating a four-day school week. Most parents preferred slightly extending the day rather than reducing the holiday schedule,” Johnson said.

What has been the feedback?

“Initially, our students and parents expressed a great deal of concern. Our school is largely Emirati and preserving prayer and family time is a top priority. However, once the schedule and timings were shared, our families have not raised any concerns and are seeing this as an enhancement to their family’s time together. Staff have responded extremely positively as well, indicating the extended weekend will provide extra time for them to recharge, prepare and be fresh for their teaching roles and responsibilities,” she added.

Following guidelines

At GEMS Education, Elmarie Venter, Chief Operations Officer, GEMS Education, said schools are all set for the new term.

Elmarie Venter

“GEMS Education schools in Dubai are looking forward to welcoming back our students for the start of a new semester [on Monday]. We will continue to strictly adhere to all national guidelines.”

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How will it work?

In Dubai, each private school can finish the school day earlier or later compared to 2021 timings, according to what is suitable for their situation and after consulting parents, the KHDA recently said. However, schools must end their day by 12pm on Friday.

In Sharjah, private schools can also adjust timings according to their own curriculum’s needs, such as by adding a maximum of three hours per week to implement distance learning after the end of the school day. They can also add a total of one working week to the current academic year, either by converting the holidays in the school calendar into school days or by extending the school year.

A British-curriculum school in Sharjah said it will start the day a little earlier and end the day a little later, under its new class timings from 7.30am to 2.10pm. Additionally, its Year 11 to Year 13 students – who are studying for their board exams – will have some online classes as well to ensure they are prepared for the board exams.