Back to school amid caution and eagerness

As schools reopen this week, bear in mind all are trying their best in these unusual times

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emitrates --- September 14, 2010 --- Parents keep their kids close as they navigate heavy traffic in front of GEMS American Academy-Abu Dhabi school. For the new school year, there will be increased traffic patrols at intersections and roads to ensure students' safety.    ( DELORES JOHNSON / The National )

When you are back to school, you are back to life. That is was what Dr Abdulla Al Karam, director general of Dubai's Knowledge and Human Development Authority said as he spoke last week about  the importance of "celebrating the human side of the schools reopening."

As parents of the over 300,000 children going back to school this week prepare young students for this extraordinary return, schools are also preparing for the challenge of having a portion of pupils be present in class and others not. It places huge stress on the system and is much more difficult to co-ordinate a hybrid system than if everyone was either in the classroom or learning from home. Despite numerous safety precautions – including the testing of more than 15,000 teachers and staff across 205 private schools and over 56,000 tests in the capital before pupils return to the classroom – parents can have their children stay home and study virtually if they are not at ease yet sending them back to school. This flexibility in hybrid teaching or blended learning is no easy managerial task.

Before schools go back in session tomorrow, we should reflect on exactly how arduous it is for schools to deliver the high standards of education expected of them while at the same time enforcing social distancing, regular temperature checks, and the round-the-clock sanitisation and hygiene checks that by now have become the norm for many of us.

Despite the frustrations of parents keeping up with frequent changes in protocol, it is important to bear in mind that schools are working on the best advice and events as they develop. It is also an incredible challenge for schools to keep up with enforcing revised guidelines as new facts come to light on ways to deliver a better teaching experience while at the same time keeping classrooms safe.

However, while reopening schools under these conditions is an extraordinarily demanding undertaking, it is the right thing to do. Pupils have been under tremendous stress. They need to resume their education in contexts as familiar to them as possible. It is essential for their overall health and well-being. They need to see their teachers, their classmates and friends, and swap stories and updates in person about these past few months.

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The success of schools reopening then comes down a great deal to individual responsibility and adhering to these guidelines

Under these trying conditions, educators are doing their best. Schools have been effective at communication, repeatedly assuring parents via emails of all the measures being taken to keep their children safe. Health risks are being assessed and kept in check and the ripple effect of even as little as two infections are systematically calculated in the clearly established guidelines.

Protocols are updated in keeping with the most stringent health guidelines. The success of schools reopening then comes down a great deal to individual responsibility and adhering to these guidelines. Parents, teachers, administrators and pupils must co-operate and together work to make a success of this new academic year.

No doubt there will be instances of teething problems and strain adjusting to this new method of schooling, for all concerned. It becomes then even more imperative for all those who make up the education system to be patient while pupils settle in.

As a whole generation enters a second academic year in a world still battling a pandemic, everyone affected by the reopening of schools needs to call upon their resolve and fortitude to brace this unusual regimen for learning.

It is, as Dr Abdulla Al Karam said, an exciting time. And with all the safety measures that are in place, we should welcome this important new phase and lend our support and co-operation to parents, children and educators. It may not be a regular back-to-school year, but it will be a defining one.