Heads of schools in the UAE have said they hope all pupils will return to in-person classes in the new academic year, which starts on August 29.
Thousands of pupils aged 12 and above have been vaccinated against Covid-19, paving the way for a full return to in-person lessons and activities, principals have said.
Abu Dhabi authorities have approved the return of pupils to classrooms in the new term, while Dubai authorities have not confirmed whether distance learning arrangements will continue into the next academic year.
Private schools in Dubai have been open for in-person classes since August 2020.
Lisa Johnson, principal at the American Academy for Girls in Dubai, said about 250 of the 500 pupils at her school had been attending in-person classes, while the others chose online learning.
“We are certainly hoping that all pupils will be attending in-person classes next year, as our large number of online learners has made monitoring academics and wellness incredibly challenging,” Ms Johnson said.
"The challenge at the moment is planning during this interim period without guidelines as the space requirements, food service and even instructional model are affected by the number of pupils in-person and those attending online."
She said the school was prepared to respond to the needs of pupils who may feel anxious about returning to the classroom.
“We anticipate that parents will feel confident that the health of their children is not at risk levels as high as the initial outbreak and will want all pupils to attend face-to-face classes," she said.
“We have many pupils that have received the vaccine and our number of positive cases has dramatically decreased, which supports our hope that all pupils will be able to join in-person classes beginning in the fall."
Fifty-two per cent of pupils in Dubai were attending in-person lessons by the end of last term, the highest number since private schools reopened their doors last year, said a Knowledge and Human Development Authority report published in June.
'Children need to be back at school'
Ambassador School in Dubai has more than 1,300 pupils from kindergarten to grade 12 and 47 per cent attended in-person classes until the summer holidays. The rest continued to learn online.
Sheela Menon, principal at the school, said its most recent survey showed that nearly seven in 10 pupils were willing to attend face-to-face classes after the summer holidays.
“Children need to be back in school, interacting with their friends and teachers, engaging in collaborative experiential learning and play," Ms Menon said.
"The sooner this happens the better it is for their mental and physical wellbeing.
“After nearly 16 months of adjusting to the ‘new normal’ and staying away from the regular, on-campus school practices, there is a need for increased focus on bridging the ‘emotional gaps’ in children."
She said planning would allow the school to accommodate pupils while adhering to physical distancing measures in classrooms and school transport.
With all staff members vaccinated against Covid-19 and the possibility of teenagers being inoculated, parents were now more willing to send their children to school, she said.
Abu Dhabi school expects most pupils to return
Dr Beno Kurien, principal at International Indian School Abu Dhabi, said he expected the majority of pupils to be back at the school in the new term.
Until the summer holidays, half of 850 the pupils at the school were studying online.
He said many parents asked about a return to in-person classes in August.
“As ADEK [the Department of Education and Knowledge] revised the social distancing from 1.5 metres to one metre, we hope we would be able to accommodate more students from August,” he said.
“We expect 70 to 80 per cent of pupils to come back to school from August."
The school will offer online or hybrid classes to pupils who prefer remote learning.
Authorities in Sharjah have not confirmed whether private schools will resume in-person lessons in August.
In the Northern Emirates, private schools expect to continue in-person education, although they are awaiting a final directive from the authorities.