UAE schools expect most pupils to return to class next week

More than a million pupils are due to start the new academic year on August 29

Latest: Dubai private schools to end all distance learning on October 3

Schools expect to see the vast majority of their pupils back for face-to-face classes next week.

Some said more than 90 per cent of schoolchildren were forecast to return for in-person learning on August 29. Others expected to see closer to 75 per cent.

The National canvassed a dozen schools and operators, including several of the largest. The numbers projected are higher than those of last term, when many schools had to open, then close, when they detected cases.

It follows the announcement on Monday night that all private schools in Dubai must end distance learning on October 3.

The federal government on Sunday said that unvaccinated children aged 12 and over would be tested for Covid-19 every week, and that those aged from 3 to 12 would be tested monthly unless they had been immunised against it.

Private-school regulators in Dubai and Sharjah said they were not affected by the ruling.

Last year, parents were still very cautious but now they want normality
Rachael Wilding, Smart Vision School, Dubai

At Dubai British School Emirates Hills, principal Simon Jodrell said he expected almost all the 1,161 pupils enrolled would be back for face-to-face classes next Sunday.

“We had a couple of parents who asked for blended learning and we are happy to accommodate them,” he said.

Matthew Tompkins, principal at Gems FirstPoint School, said he expected more than 97 per cent would return for face-to-face lessons.

Online learning is an option for pupils at the school, as it is at most others.

Rachael Wilding, principal of Smart Vision School in Dubai, said families’ attitudes had changed.

“Last year, parents were still very cautious but this year, they are all are saying: ‘Enough. We want normality,’” she said.

The school has close to 300 pupils, of whom 96 per cent are expected back for in-person classes.

“We can accommodate every year group and every child, and our school community are taking full advantage of that,” Ms Wilding said.

Some schools said occupancy was expected to rise significantly, but that many parents still wanted to keep their children at home.

At International Indian School in Baniyas, Abu Dhabi, 650 of the 900 pupils enrolled are expected back for face-to-face lessons.

By the end of the last academic year, only 390 pupils attended in person.

Principal Dr Beno Kurien said most pupils and families were frustrated with online learning and wanted real interaction.

“This year, more pupils want to return to classes, while earlier a larger number of families chose online learning,” he said.

“Pupils are fed up with online classes and children miss being in school.”

He said most wanted to be in class even though they will have to undergo tests.

Private school pupils in Abu Dhabi who are 12 years and above must take a PCR test every two weeks to return to school.

At India International School in Sharjah, only 1,000 pupils out of 5,600 chose in-person classes last year.

Next week, 2,800 pupils are expected to resume face-to-face learning.

Manju Reji, its principal, said vaccination was giving pupils the confidence to return to class.

More than 60 per cent of pupils at the school aged 15 and over have been vaccinated. Previously, parents were concerned about infection, with some pupils dependent on public transport to travel there and back.

“If they are vaccinated, parents are happy to send them to school,” Ms Reji said.

She said some children with low immunity or other health conditions were still studying at home.

Punit Vasu, the chief executive of Indian High School. Courtesy: Indian High School

At one of the biggest schools in the Gulf, Punit MK Vasu, chief executive of the Indian High School, said he expected the majority of its 15,000 pupils at its three campuses would return to classrooms soon.

“Although we are still waiting for final guidelines from KHDA, we sent a survey to parents to understand their preferences with regards to the mode of learning,” he said.

“Parents with younger children worry more as they may not be able to follow all safety protocols or sometimes forget to keep the mask in place, or may touch their face too often.”

The school is offering distance learning as well in-person classes and a hybrid model.

Vaccine will restore confidence, says school head

Some families in the country still favour online learning but this will change as more pupils receive the Covid-19 vaccine, heads of schools believe.

“I think that there will a surge in the number of pupils opting for in-person learning around January as more children will have received the vaccine,” said Shiny Davison, academic director at Gulf Model School in Dubai.

Last year, 800 of the 2,600 pupils enrolled at the school chose in-person classes.

“I am expecting around 850 to 900 pupils will be in classes next week,” she said.

Ms Davison said many young pupils struggled to wear masks while at school, which prompted families to opt for online learning.

“I would tell parent of children above the age of 13 to ensure their children get vaccinated and can come back to school,” she said.

“It’s very important that children come away from the screens and engage with teachers and peers. This will have a big impact.”

Rob Commons, the principal of Uptown International School Dubai, said a few parents at all schools were reluctant to send their children for in-person classes.

He said that with more and more children being immunised, the risks of Covid-19 infection in schools were becoming less severe.

“The increased vaccination rate, along with the way that schools are ensuring pupils maintain distance, wear masks and wash their hands regularly, is having a very positive impact on parents’ confidence, and more parents are sending their children back for face-to-face learning,” he said.

Updated: August 24th 2021, 8:27 AM