After a year of global disruptions in education due to Covid-19 that led to pupils studying remotely from home, a semblance of normality earlier this year started to return to schools in the UAE capital. Assured of safety measures in Abu Dhabi schools, parents slowly began sending their children back to class when the city in February announced reopening in-person classes.
As The National reported, this was a relief to many students, teachers and parents who are unlikely to have experienced such a prolonged departure from a conventional school term.
As of February 21, Abu Dhabi's Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek) had conducted inspections at 221 schools reopening for in-classroom education and 119 nurseries. But given the global Covid-19 scenario and the number of daily cases, the lingering concerns of parents and some educators were understandable. These worries translated into the fact that the number of pupils who resumed in-person lessons, nearly a year into the pandemic, was lower than usual. Some parents opted for continued remote learning for their children.
Now, a quarter of a year from when Abu Dhabi schools first began to welcome pupils back into classrooms, more parents have grown confident of safety being prioritised on school campuses, which indicates that more pupils are set to head back to class.
The UAE's global ranking for vaccination rates has assuaged parents' fears of their children catching the virus. Schools are as safe as they can be, with more than 80 per cent of teachers and school staff, including maintenance and security teams, having received the jab.
This is clear in a recent survey of 117,000 parents, who represented more than 230,000 students across private, public and charter schools; 88 per cent said it would be better for pupils to return to classes in person.
The number indicates a significant shift in thinking and a lessening of parents' anxieties.
When more children go back to class, many more mothers and fathers can focus on their jobs, after a year of having to manage childcare or being extra hands-on with homework and monitoring class schedules, along with managing demands of the office.
Apart from easing the load on parents, this is a positive step for educators and teaching staff too. With more pupils back in class, teachers benefit as well. Online teaching is not without its challenges and multiple stresses.
As Sara Musallam, chairwoman of Adek, said: "The pandemic has tested the resolve of teachers, parents, and school staff, our unsung heroes, who came together and have gone to incredible lengths to ensure that our children receive the best education possible during these challenging times."
And the challenge is greatest for students. We cannot underestimate the effect the disruption of the past year has had on them. Returning to class is not just about textbook learning. With safety precautions in place, as they are in Abu Dhabi's schools, in-person interactions with teachers and classmates are infinitely beneficial for children. It imparts a sense of kinship and routine to their days. Meeting friends during the break period is essential. At primary school-age, a shared learning environment with classmates forms well-rounded personalities. And with more pupils being back in class, society will move one step closer to relative normality.