Abu Dhabi: On a day punctuated by winter weather and showers, students returned to school on Monday, the first day of the new semester in the New Year, under a new school week model in the UAE.
Monday marked the start of a shorter 4.5-day school week – Monday to Friday, which will be a half-day – and youngsters resumed classes with a new sense of enthusiasm.
For public school students, as well as pupils in Abu Dhabi, classes in 2022 have begun under a distance learning model for two weeks, in line with directives issued by local and federal authorities. Meanwhile, private schools in Dubai and Sharjah welcomed students back on campus for in-person classes, with some exceptions, who will temporarily pursue online studies.
‘Real buzz in school’
Simon Jodrell, principal at Dubai British School Emirates Hills, told Gulf News: “We were delighted to welcome back families today [Monday], with over 80 per cent of students returning to face-to-face lessons. It was lovely to welcome both new and existing families to our school, and parents were very happy that we had been able to follow and support the updated mandated protocols [for COVID-19], and safely welcome their children back to school. There has been a real buzz in the school from staff and students excited to welcome in the new year.”
Dr Allan Weston, principal at the Greenfield International School (GIS) in Dubai, said: “We were absolutely delighted to see our students and their families return this morning [Monday] after the winter break. Over 80 per cent of students are in school for face-to-face learning, with many still working their way back from overseas as we have a highly international school community and as such, many have travelled to their home countries for the festive season. We were delighted also with the large number of new families that have joined the school for term two as our GIS community continues to grow.”
Even in institutions where learning is temporarily online, the New Year and a brand new school week has brought about a sense of excitement. For instance, at the GEMS Metropole School – Motor City in Dubai, students have started online classes for this week.
Naveed Iqbal, school principal and CEO, said: “Our [classes are] online this week. However, having students smiling and engaged even during their online lessons is wonderful to see. The true life of a school comes from the energy of the students, and we are so happy to welcome them all back.”
Iqbal added that it did feel a bit unusual to be starting the week on Monday instead of Sunday, which used to be case. “Many of us are still thinking it is Sunday, but with time, we will easily adjust. I believe that it will be good for the students and wider community to have more time with family as a result of the Friday 12pm school finish, allowing more time with loved ones.”
Free time for students
Sachit Singh Juneja, a Grade 11 student at GEMS Modern Academy in Dubai, said: “I am looking forward to a Monday-Friday week as it will help all of us feel a bit more globally aligned. Even though I will miss my stress-free Fridays, this is certainly a huge and positive change for the UAE… As a student, I am also looking forward to the Friday half-days.”
Darshit Shah, a Grade 10 student at Global Indian International School in Dubai, said he was happy to be back in the classroom. “[As we switch to a new week, I have to say that] it was a great decision to switch to Monday-Friday week. I can communicate my friends who are outside UAE and have holidays on Sundays, which was not the case [earlier]. We also we get a little more free time [at the end of the week]. Now, I am looking forward to working towards my Term 2 board exams, and to having a lot of fun with my classmates.”
Sharjah school week
Sharjah students have even more free time to look forward to, with the emirate adopting a four-day school week (Monday-Thursday), in keeping with the emirate’s new weekly model of work.
Jonathan Dey, principal at Wesgreen International School Sharjah, said: “As school leaders and teachers, we always look forward to seeing our students back after a big holiday. This term is another change to the norm for parents and schools. We look forward to the internationally innovative approach to family wellbeing, with the four-day working week in Sharjah.:
He added: “The students will be undertaking a more extended day from Monday to Thursday to ensure no learning is lost. We are looking at this as a positive opportunity for personal development. We will be encouraging our families to use this extra day to take up a new sport, consider some community or charity work – as well as some time for family and study. The same goes for our staff.”
Flexibility is key
Lisa Johnson, principal at American Academy for Girls in Dubai, said: “We have approximately 75 per cent of our students attending in person today. The key for the next few weeks is going to be flexibility as we navigate the New Year. Students were very excited to be back at school, and are ready for an exciting second semester.”
Rob Commons, Principal, Uptown International School, said: "It was pleasing to note that all parents and students were wearing masks on arrival, including many of the children under six years old who aren’t officially required to do so. Parents were eager to show either their vaccination certificates, or their school provided stickers which provide a quick method for them to show that their vaccination status has been recognised by the school."
He added: "Student behaviour has been exemplary, and all are applying the social distancing regulations fully, which reflects well on the appraoch the school has taken throughout the pandemic. Students and staff are happy to be back on site, and many parents spoke to me at the gate to say how pleased they were that we are open for face-to-face learning. Given the success that we’ve had in keeping children safe for the past 2 years, parents trust that we are able to continue to do so."
Antony Koshy, principal at Global Indian International School in Dubai, said: “It’s always a pleasure to welcome students back to school. [The Monday-Friday week] is a welcome change, and to be aligned with the rest of the world definitely helps."
He added: "We are a [Indian board] CBSE school and have just now finished the Term 1 board examinations for Grade 10. Many times these exams fall on Fridays, which used to be a weekend for us. We also have a global network, and arranging common workshops and collaborative meetings were always challenging because of different weekends. Now that issue is resolved. All in all, it promises to be a very engaging term.”