Dubai/Abu Dhabi: Robots taking temperature. Check.
Masks on. Check.
Social distancing bubbles. Check.
The UAE academic year gets off to a most unusual start on Sunday with a long checklist of safety measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools said they were ready to safely welcome back students since classrooms closed six months ago in March because of the pandemic.
Before the reopening, inspections have been underway to see how well schools have been following government guidelines on health, safety and hygiene.
Another huge change is the format of the school day itself, with students being divided between morning and afternoon shifts to minimise the gathering. Some schools, meanwhile, will have students of different grades coming in on specific days of the week. Another model is a mix of online and classroom lessons.
However, some schools will follow a ‘normal’ routine with all students coming in on all the working days of the week.
Yet, for roughly half the students, it will be a continuation of 100 per cent distance learning for the first term as they prefer to stay home amid the health crisis.
More than a million pupils are enrolled in the 1,200 public and private schools in the UAE for this academic year.
Ahead of the big day, school leaders, teachers and parents shared their expectations from education under the “new normal”.
“These are unusual times and we are all new to this system. We have done all that we can to ensure safety and security of our kindergarteners,” said Anjum Ali, head of KG at Global Indian International School, Dubai.
“We are well prepared and are following all guidelines set by the KHDA [Knowledge and Human Development Authority]. On-campus will include physical learning on all four days [for us]. Tuesday will be a disinfection day so we will conduct virtual learning on Tuesday for all on-campus students,” she added. Almost 300,000 students attend more than 200 private schools in Dubai alone.
These are unusual times and we are all new to this system. We have done all that we can to ensure safety and security of our kindergarteners.
‘Don’t sacrifice learning’
Despite the changes, students should be able to learn just as well as they did before the pandemic, said Dr Adrianna Chestnut, principal of Bright Learners Private School, a brand new American school in Al Rashidiya, Dubai, that is prepared to open this autumn in time for the 2020/2021 academic year.
“It is of the utmost importance that we safely integrate all our students back into the learning environment. Last school year, students and families alike experienced something like never before. We will nurture the students here at Bright Learners as we all navigate our new normal. Students should not have to sacrifice their learning experience,” added Dr Chestnut.
Following a recent announcement in Sharjah, private schools in Sharjah will continue with full distance learning for the first two weeks of the new term.
Public schools in the UAE meanwhile will reopen on August 30 as scheduled.
In Abu Dhabi, children are set to return to 201 private schools, 17 Chartered schools and more than 150 public schools.
Advanced sanitation measures have been implemented and COVID-19 checks have been conducted for staff members over the last few weeks. On Saturday, it was announced that 56,207 tests have already been carried out in Al Ain, Al Dhafra and Abu Dhabi, according to a tweet by Abu Dhabi Media Office.
The tweet said these tests were targeted at 25 colleges and universities and 449 private and public schools.
At Raha International School, which offers the IB curriculum, preparations are complete to welcome students back to the premises.
“We have employed a Compliance Officer to assist us in getting ready for the safe return of our students and staff, and put measures in place to ensure social distancing practices are adhered to throughout the school. [For instance], classrooms have had ‘collaborative’ furniture removed, and some resources have also been removed to avoid cross-contamination and to allow for distancing. Collaboration still remains one area of focus in our curriculum, but this will be done either at while maintaining social distancing or through our online platforms,” said Kathryn Simms, vice-principal at the Gardens Campus.
We have employed a Compliance Officer to assist us in getting ready for the safe return of our students and staff, and put measures in place to ensure social distancing practices are adhered to throughout the school.
Simms stressed that the school, which enrols students from KG1 to Grade 12, will comply with all directives set forth by the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek).
“We are emphasising safe practices through the use of signage, and leading by example throughout the school. Informational posters, stickers and graphics help to remind and encourage our community of safe practices such as washing or sanitising hands, wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. [In addition], our staff were all tested through the recent Adek campaign and all have received training on our new practices to ensure the safety of our community. We have also increased disinfection and cleaning of communal areas, classrooms and offices,” she said.
Speaking about the staggered return, Simms said the orientation weak will focus on primary students.
“We have planned a two-week orientation for our Primary students as they return to face-to-face and distance learning, and our Secondary students will jump straight into distance learning for the first four weeks or until further notice,” Simms said.
Adek had earlier announced that only students in KG1 and Grade 5 will return to school campuses during September, while other students ‘return to school’ via distance learning. Parents also have an option to opt for full-term distance learning. Many have chosen to resume learning from home.
‘I don’t feel it’s safe yet’
“I will send my son, who is enrolled in Grade 8, back to school for in-class learning when it starts. But I will keep my daughters home. They are just six and eight years old, and my youngest suffers from asthma. So I don’t yet feel like it is safe to send them back just yet,” said a British mother-of-four.
The mother added that she wants to see how the return-to-school plays out in the first few weeks.
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Rami Adwan, senior communications specialist from Jordan, is among parents who are eager to send their children back to school.
“My boys have been home a long time and they are waiting to meet up with their friends. I feel that they are old enough to stay safe, especially with all the precautionary measures in place,” he said.