Distance learning
Two-year-old Luna of Jumeirah International Nursery (JIN) listens to an audio lesson shared to her by her teacher on an online learning platform Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Teachers of UAE schools and nurseries have launched a series of videos to aid students cope with any backlog of work as part of a distance learning initiative owing to the extended spring break announced by the government.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), backed by the Ministry of Education, and Department of Education and Knowledge in Abu Dhabi announced the closure of all educational institutions across the country from Sunday (March 8, 2020) — pushing the spring break forward by two weeks.

According to Dr Neil Hopkin, Principal of Sunmarke School, however, “It’s business as usual”. “Teachers have been working overtime to ensure students don’t miss out on any school work and they have been busy readying the online platform for students to log into,” he said when Gulf News met with him on Saturday, March 7.

See video of how distance learning is being impart to students in Dubai schools and nurseries

A grade 12 student of the school, Adam, said students have been briefed about how to log onto the online portals to take up their lessons.

Hopkin said: “We don’t want learning to stop. We are also not sure the duration of this period is going to be. So we have had to make sure we establish normality quickly.”

The Sunmarke School principal said the institution is using Microsoft Teams for student-teacher interaction and classes. “It is a platform that combines chat, video meetings, file storage, and application integration. Our students are familiar with this system and have been briefed on the applications prior. Right now, teachers are preparing the online content.”

According to Adam, this system also enables a mirroring concept which enables real-time interaction with teachers at some point.

Distance learning
Dr. Neil Hopkin, principal of Sunmarke School with his Grade 12 student Adam as they discuss how to go about the distance learning programme meted out by the school Image Credit: Supplied

Encouraging flipped learning model

Hopkin said: “Here we have what is called the flipped learning model. Students spend quite a bit of time looking at the videos before to understand the concept. So if a student is wrestling with a concept, they can view a video multiple times until they understand it.”

He added: “There is a feedback available and students can post their doubts on this. It is like being in a classroom – just that students are not physically present.”

Challenges of distance learning

Does the absence of students physically present in a classroom pose a challenge at all?

“One of the things we strive to do in our syllabus teaching is that we prepare lessons in anticipation of misconceptions that student might have. So while that aspect is taken care of, what is different is the way the instruction is delivered and how the student responds thereafter. There are always pros and cons in a concept. The teacher needs to think what the students might have a doubt about and answer it beforehand,” said Hopkin.

Jumeirah International Nursery (JIN), meanwhile, has already started imparting its distance learning programme to students and parents.

Gulf News spoke to Mark Hammond, a British expat whose youngest child Luna goes to the nursery. The two year-old girl is already following a schedule.

“Like most parents we were initially anxious about how our children would cope with the extended spring break. But no sooner the government announced the holidays, JIN had a plan in place. The announcement was made on Saturday, February 29, by Monday, March 2, there was a plan in place,” said Hammond.

“In fact we started the morning with a wake and shake dance [for which] my Luna was really excited. There is an app called Class which we have to log onto and get the videos.”

He added there is a time-table in place for two weeks.

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Image Credit: Jay Hilotin / Gulf News

Gaynor Dale, Principal at Regent International School, said the school has set up the online platform on Seesaw – an app that allows interaction between students, teachers and parents. “Besides enabling student teacher interaction, the app also allows parents to take a sneek peek into their children’s work.”

Distance learning
Gaynor Dale, Principal at Regent International School with her student Leo as they talk about any concern about online learning platforms Image Credit: Supplied

Leo, a student of Regent International School however said, he will miss not being able to see his friends. “I will miss the school, playing in the pitch with my friends.”

According to Samina Khanyari, general manager of Jumeirah International Nurseries (JIN): “The sudden closure of nurseries put us in an urgency to develop an online platform to impart training to our students. Our teachers, being early educators, created online activities almost immediately. They had to scaffold the learning at home.”

“Our teachers put together [content] in a matter of a day. In one week we had developed almost 300 videos. What was good was that we already had a parent communication platform. That definitely made things easier.”

Khanyari said a considerable amount of research went into preparing the videos. “According to research, from birth to five years, it is important to keep the routines going on for children. Brain development is stronger at this age. That is why teachers need to be connected with children,” she added.

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Image Credit: Gulf News

She said research also estimates children of this age should be exposed to little screen time. “And so we have prepared a series of three to five minute videos which can be spread across [the day].”

The nursery is also taking this one step ahead and preparing translations of the videos in Tagalog and Hindi. “We received feedback from working parents as they will not be around at home to supervise their child’s distance learning. It will be done by the children’s caretakers and this why the translation is being done.”

Involvement of parents in a distance learning programme

Hammond says he has been spending time with Luna teaching her the syllabus shared by the nursery. “I have done some drawing with her. We start the day with the wake and shake video. But she asked me for her shoes and that she wanted to go in the car.”