For many families in the UAE, this past week may well have involved a number of packed activities: from wrapping up holidays, to shopping for uniforms, stationery and getting school bags ready for the first day of the new academic term.
After what has hopefully been a rejuvenating break for pupils, parents and teaching staff, the first days back after summer usually involve households re-learning to cross familiar obstacles: waking the children up earlier than they've been used to for several weeks, feeding them breakfast and leaving the house on time to ensure they make it to the school bus. Or if parents are dropping them off in private vehicles, making it to school on time, via roads that are packed with several thousands of other commuters facing similar time constraints.
As school runs merge with the office rush hour, particularly on a Monday, road safety reminders are not out of place. A well-timed initiative by the Federal Traffic Council has sought to make August 28 an Accident Free Day. Factoring in the morning stress of the first day of back to school, the traffic campaign states that if drivers sign an online pledge to not break traffic regulations, they can have "black points" erased.
This is a strong incentive for drivers and a worthy initiative for safer roads. All it needs is for drivers to follow the best practices: avoid speeding, maintain safe distances and be cautious while changing lanes and overtaking. There are other road safety tips that experts have given The National; following them is to everyone's benefit. There is no excuse for past fatal accidents – that have involved school buses and pupils – to ever be repeated. Or for speeding vehicles causing inadvertent yet devastating losses to parents.
In time for the new school term – or school year, depending on the curriculum – Dubai has launched a high-tech bus equipped with smart safety measures, including surveillance cameras and alert systems that would ensure no child is left on board. Abu Dhabi already has school buses equipped with cameras.
As pupils, teaching staff and parents once again find their routines, it is noteworthy that this will be the first year after 2019 to be totally free of Covid-19 restrictions. Pupils will not have to wear masks or face any hindrances, unlike the years of remote learning that were stressful for a number of reasons. According to the UN, by April 2020, close to 1.6 billion children and youth were out of school. That pupils have done well in their GCSE, despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic, is a testament to the strength of the UAE's education system, including its institutions, and the resilience of pupils.
Educators will do well to gently remind the pupils headed back to classrooms that they are among the privileged. In 2018, about 258 million children and youth were still out of school. By 2030, the UN estimates 84 million children will be out of school if measures aren't taken to educate every child, correcting global setbacks, including those caused by the pandemic.
Even as the right to a quality education remains one of the key UN Sustainable Development Goals, millions of young people around the world are not going to be sitting at the school desks they deserve to be at. As in the case of the Palestinian children of the Ain Al Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, or the Afghan girls and women that The National has recently written about, not everyone is fortunate enough to be educated. As tens of thousands of pupils in the UAE head back to school for the new term on Monday morning or later this week, it is an important perspective to keep in mind – one that might propel countless young people to give their best at school.