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COVID-19: How will the school day be structured when classes resume in UAE?

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Dubai: Some private schools in the UAE will have all students in on all days while others will have both online and in-person classes when the new academic year begins on August 30.

A growing number of schools are sharing their reopening models for the first term with parents after receiving clearance from education authorities.

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Parents have been wondering how their children’s school will operate in the new term, which will see in-person classes resume after they were suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schools have been told by the authorities to furnish details of how they will teach students in the new term, which will vary from school to school, depending upon its size and other considerations.

Broadly, the main reopening models include the following options: A normal school day; coming to class in either a morning or afternoon shift; going to school on alternate days; a 100 per cent distance-learning provision for those who request it; and a mix of in-person and online classes.

Many students prefer online classes, while some want to go back to school in person
Image Credit: For illustrative purpose only

All in, all day

David Cook, headmaster of Repton School Dubai, said, the school will be able to offer all classes to all students, on all days. “A modest number of pupils have requested, on medical grounds, to receive support via distance learning and we are able to meet these requests. In addition, Early Years will have staggered drop-off and pick-up timings, which will slightly alter their daily timings at the start and end of the day,” he added.

Another school that will also “open every day for every pupil” is Foremarke School in Dubai, said its headmistress Zoe Woolley. “We would encourage all children to return to campus. However, there is a provision in place for those who have requested to stay off site for various reasons. These families will also have additional support from the pastoral team. Drop-off and pick-up times will be controlled and enable safe arrival and dismissal from school,” she added.

Shift-wise

North American International School in Dubai will welcome back all its approximately 500 students (KG1 to Grade 12) on all days. However, one half will attend an ‘AM’ shift (8am to 11.30am) and the other a ‘PM’ shift (11.30am to 3pm). Each shift will use its own side of the school building for classes, meaning classes will always be sanitised before use, said principal Justin Allen McCauley.

“We had looked at other options, such as day-on, day-off. However, we felt it was very important for our students and their education to have in-person interaction with their teachers every day. This also makes students more independent in their online learning, so the teacher — and not the parent at home — remains the teacher,” he added.

Though there is some online work associated with classroom learning at the school, “a minority” of parents will be going ahead with “100 per cent digital learning” for their children in the new term, McCauley added.

Another school, Sharjah British International School (SBIS), will see all students attend in two groups — pre-primary and primary; and secondary and higher secondary. The lower grades (FS1 to Year 6) will come for the morning shift (7.30am to 11.30am), while students from Year 7 to 13 will attend from noon to 4pm. Classes for Year 13 will be conducted online.

Staggered timings

Ian Wallace, headmaster at Horizon English School in Dubai, said “we aim to have every child in school every day. All grades will be in school and we have staggered timings for specific year groups”. Year 2 to 6 will be 7.30am to 2.40pm; FS1 will be 8am to 1pm; and FS2 will be 8am to 1.40pm.

Mostly online

Meanwhile, Ambassador School in Dubai, has seen 80 per cent of its students opting for distance learning, school principal Sheela Menon had recently told Gulf News. Once a week, students will have the option to attend school, a small group at a time.

“We appreciate the flexible and compassionate approach of [Dubai’s] KHDA [Knowledge and Human Development Authority] in announcing the 100 per cent distance learning option for students. At Ambassador School, more than 80 per cent of parents opted for DL [distance learning] 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 had said.

Blended learning

Matthew Tompkins, principal/CEO, GEMS FirstPoint School — The Villa (FPS), said to avoid congestion at the beginning and end of every day, timings will be “slightly staggered”. FPS will be offering 100 per cent on-site education to all year groups in a blended learning scenario. In line with KHDA directives, the school will also be offering a 100 per cent distance learning option for those who request it.

“We understand that some parents prefer to keep their children at home for a little longer and we will fully support these families with a 100 per cent distance-learning programme,” Tompkins said.

A classroom with social distancing measures being readied at North American International School
Image Credit: Supplied

“We have also re-written the timetable to minimise movement around the school, maximising learning time and enhancing student safety. The classroom will look a little different, with desks spaced out to achieve social distancing. We will also be creating a number of learning ‘bubbles’ — discrete learning areas — that groups of students will keep within. These will be used to help students access some live streamed lessons on a rotation basis — to ensure class sizes comply with regulations. These bubbles will have the same high levels of safety as the classrooms,” he added.

Hybrid model

Meanwhile, The Indian High School in Dubai (Oud Metha campus) said in response to frequently asked questions from parents: “All grades will resume lessons from 30th August as announced. We will move into a hybrid model where all students will be offered a mix of Face-to-Face (on campus) and Distance Learning (DL) sessions. Some days of the week will be completely in DL mode and students will stay home. Details of days and timings will be announced very soon.”

School surveys

In Abu Dhabi, the education sector regulator, the Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), announced last week that parents can choose to keep children at home for distance learning in the upcoming school term.

A number of private schools in Abu Dhabi last week told Gulf News that they were in the process of polling parents about their preferences.

“Our surveys have shown that 33 per cent of families want a face-to-face or a blended learning model, including about 98 per cent of students in the board exam years of Grade 10, 11 and 12. But this still means that two-thirds of families prefer to keep their children home for distance learning — more than we were initially aware — so we will offer the option,” said Dr V.V. Abdulkader, principal at The Model School, Abu Dhabi.

Kindergarten students following the long-standing Indian curriculum school will be offered distance learning, with blended options available for students enrolled in Grade 1 and higher.

“We are still discussing the exact details of the reopening model, and expect to share them with parents next week,” he said.

Similarly, most other private schools are still ironing out the finer details of reopening their institutions.

A representative at a popular IB curriculum school said parents will likely be informed this week.

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