Dubai: In person or online classes? Full fees or will there be some savings? These are the questions that parents in Dubai are asking after the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) announced on Wednesday that students in private schools can chose 100 per cent online classes instead of being physically present in school when the new academic year starts.
As the regulator allowed schools to provide complete distance learning if parents opt for it when they reopen on August 30, schools sought to clarify some pressing concerns of students on how things will function in the new scenario and whether the distance learning model in the new term will be the same as that in the previous term.
80 per cent going online
The Ambassador School in Dubai, which offers the Indian ICSE curriculum, has already confirmed that 80 per cent of its students have opted for distance learning. But what about the remaining 20 per cent?
School Principal Sheela Menon told Gulf News: “We appreciate the flexible and compassionate approach of KHDA in announcing the 100 per cent distance learning option for students. At Ambassador School, more than 80 per cent of parents opted for DL for the term starting August 30. This is mainly due to the uncertainties still looming around the health (coronavirus) crisis and the success of the school in having conducted excellent online classes during the previous term.”
She said, “For the coming term, in the initial months we are offering 80 per cent of distance learning and 20 per cent of on campus learning. Once a week, students will have the option to report to school, a small group at a time with a structured timetable and staggered timing.”
She said students’ presence on campus will mainly focus on social and emotional development providing them opportunities for peer interaction sessions, non-contact sports and hands-on learning activities.
“The percentage of on-campus learning is expected to increase towards the later part of the year once the situation improves and more parents are confident in sending children to school. Wellbeing of students, staff and parents will be the priority. The school will strictly follow all health and safety guidelines. Parents will be informed of the detailed plan once it is approved by KHDA,” Menon added.
What about the fees?
GEMS Education, which has the largest number of school in Dubai, said it is also readying for the new normal.
Jodh Singh Dhesi, Deputy Chief Education Officer, GEMS Education, told Gulf News: “At GEMS Education we are very excited at the prospect of seeing our students again face-to-face in September, as much as we have enjoyed our online interactions during the remote learning period. We are putting in place all the necessary health and safety requirements to ensure a secure return.
“However, we know that there are some families who will choose to keep their children at home for a little longer, which is why our regulators have announced that 100 per cent distance learning will still be available for those who wish it. Our schools will provide a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous (live and pre-recorded) teaching, which students will be able to access from home. Our experience of the last few months means that we are very well set up to do so.”
As for the key question on whether distance learning will cost less, he said, “As per regulatory guidance, school fees will remain the same for this so that we can maintain the staffing and resources needed to deliver the strong education provision that we are proud of at GEMS Education.”
Only 10 students in each section
Even as schools are in the process of getting their reopening models approved, one GEMS school Al Khaleej National School Dubai, which has got its clearance, said it will follow the blended learning model.
Ghadeer Abu-Shamat, Superintendent/CEO, Al Khaleej National School Dubai, said, “We are going to group students based on the preference of parents. In Kindergarten, only 10 students will be accommodated in the physical setting for each section of KG. The KG schedule will have two shifts; one physical (face-to-face) from 8.30am-12.30pm for Group A, and then a virtual shift from 12.30pm- 4pm for Group B.
“Grades 1-12 will be in a blended learning environment, where classes are split into two groups (A and B) to achieve social distancing. Designated groups of students will be allocated to attend school on a rotational schedule over a two-week period. Tuesdays will be rotational on a two-week basis (AAA/BB and AA/BBB).”
Another large education group, Taaleem, said it is also on top of things aghaed of the reopening.
Alan Williamson CEO Taaleem, told Gulf News, “We have planned for a variety of scenarios and have contingency plans in place to mitigate the challenges that each present. We know from feedback, that the vast majority of Taaleem parents will welcome the news of a return to an onsite resumption of education. However, our schools will offer distance learning to children who are unwell, unable to come into school or for whom their parents would prefer them to stay at home. This option may not be in the same format as the one available in the previous term but will ensure continuity both in learning opportunities and with the school community, albeit at a distance.”
He also said, “The fees are not differentiated for onsite or distance learning.”
What parents have to say:
Adele Bezuidenhout, South African
“I have mixed emotions about this. My son, Bradley, 8, going to grade 3 next term, has greatly benefited from the one-on-one time he spent with me studying during the last term of distance learning. He improved his report card. I was able to sit with him and teach him a lot of things. The only thing I feel that children miss out in an e-learning platform is the social interaction with friends, peers and teachers. As for fees, I believe parents must pay full school fees. The teachers are working double hard.”
Reneva Hneineh, Lebanese
“I am opting for distance learning for my son John Abdallah, 10, next year as I feel more comfortable as he has ADHD. Last term, he showed better results studying at home with me, with my full attention. My daughter Kaitlyn, 4, is still in nursery.”
Denise Bonnici, Australian
“Three of my four children go to school here in Dubai and have always wanted to do online schooling, so it has worked out really well for us. Two of them are into extra-curricular activities and online schooling gives them time to pursue that.”
“I will opt for distance education for her children Salah Fahad, 13 and Hibba Fahad, 11 only if it is mandatory. I prefer if my children are in a school environment as schooling is not only about the academics. It is an experience at the end of the day. Being around other kids enhances social skills and takes education to another level.”
Simran Sabharwal, Indian
“As parents, my husband and I prefer an online experience for our son Akas. Under normal circumstances, we would have loved for him to study in school for his social well-being, growth and development. But if online schooling is the way forward, I believe that schools should reduce their fees.|
Roopa Shashidhar, Indian
“Online classes are just a temporary solution but children do better in a school environment. As a parent, I definitely prefer if my children (Chetan, 12 and Daksha, 10) learn in a school environment as they will be disciplined and physically active. As a home maker, I am able to dedicate some time for their e-learning, but it is not practical for working couples. There should be a fee reduction of 30 to 40 per cent in the next term for online classes as the current rates are not justified.”