Dubai's private schools prepare for all pupils to return on Sunday

Optional distance learning will come to an end on October 3 - and only children with an exemption are allowed to study remotely

Redesigning classrooms and staggering entry and exit times for pupils are among the changes schools will have to make before all pupils return on Sunday.

From October 3, all pupils have to return to classes as about 18 months' of distance learning comes to an end.

Schools have recruited teachers and bus drivers, bought new furniture and upgraded internet packages to prepare for the return of pupils.

Only 1,000 pupils have returned to in-person classes at Gulf Model School in Dubai but nearly all its 2,700 pupils will come back for face-to-face lessons from Sunday.

"This required a lot of preparation from recruiting teachers, staff and drivers. We have redesigned classrooms and staggered exit times,” said Shiny Davison, academic director at the school.

“We will have staggered break times so that at one time we have only 300 to 400 children in the playground.

“We had 13 school buses running during the pandemic and now we will have 25.

“For many of our kindergarten pupils, this will be the first time they will be coming to school."

Of the 235 pupils in KG1, only 85 are currently attending in-person classes.

Pupils and parents will be offered the chance to tour the school to see the safety measures for themselves.

The school said recruiting staff was a challenge. They have hired 40 new employees, taking the total to 200.

“In recruitment, we face a huge challenge as ours is a low-fee school and we cannot go for extra support with our current teachers or staff. We have to match-up duties,” Ms Davison said.

Pupils in grades one to 12 will have to maintain a one-metre distance between each other while younger children have been placed in bubbles. Acrylic sheets separate two bubbles in a classroom to limit infection in case of a positive case.

The school will have an induction day to encourage pupils to become involved in activities.

Pupils will also have staggered exit points at four gates to avoid overcrowding.

The school fee ranges from Dh356 to Dh647 ($96-$176) per month, and staff had to make most of the posters and signage in-house to save costs.

“I would not say this is back to normal, but it's reintegration. The physical routines are so different now and masks are still around,” Ms Davison said.

Schools said some parents were reluctant to send pupils back for in-person studies.

“There are still parents who are unwilling to send their children. We have told them it will not be back to online learning. We expect that they may move schools," she said.

Sumaiya Shaukat, head of the kindergarten at Gulf Model School, said the biggest challenge schools faced was gaining the trust of parents.

“Most parents feel their children are too young to cope with Covid-19 restrictions,” she said.

“To build that trust we need to have orientations and make them aware of the protocols."

But pupils are looking forward to having everyone back in classes and meeting their friends.

Mohammed Tahseer, a 17-year-old Indian pupil at Gulf Model School, said: "When studying online, we can’t contact teachers easily and also face internet issues. It’s exciting to have everyone back together.”

At The Indian High Group of Schools, more than 10,000 pupils will return to in-person lessons for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak.

Punit MK Vasu, the group's chief executive, said about 95 per cent of 13,000 pupils at its schools had been studying online.

“On Sunday, everyone will come back and we have to take precautions inside and outside the school,” he said.

“We have divided pupils into groups, created bubbles and invested in new furniture.

“All staff members have been vaccinated, entry and exit procedures staggered and interactions between different groups limited.

"We have made changes to the infrastructure and created a designated health and safety committee.

“We did not want our pupils to use private transport so we added more routes so they could take the school bus."

The school also trained the transport staff to ensure children’s safety.

Mr Vasu said that as some parents were reluctant to send their children for in-person lessons, the school organised interactive sessions and formed a designated group that worked with families to build trust.

Pupils are not required to be vaccinated to return to school and no regular testing is mandatory in Dubai. A safe distance of one metre is recommended, but not mandated.

At Delhi Private School Dubai, 2,000 of about 4,000 pupils enrolled have been attending in-person classes but on Sunday, almost all pupils will return to face-to-face learning.

"It's a challenge to have all children on the campus with safety measures in place. We have modified timetables with longer breaks and monitored breaks to avoid overcrowding," said Rashmi Nandkeolyar, the school's principal.

"We will be careful at the times when pupils come in and leave."

The school may open its canteen after a month if Covid-19 cases continue to drop.

Classrooms will be redesigned and staff have taken out all extra furniture to make space for children.

"We have had to change a lot of the furniture. We had double desks in many classes and had to replace these with single desks," Ms Nandkeolyar said.

Sanitisers and masks will be in place and classes will be able to accommodate up to 30 pupils, while children in lower grades will be divided into bubbles of 15 pupils.

At Gems Our Own Indian School, 50 per cent of the 3,737 pupils returned to in-person classes in September but all will be back on Sunday.

Lalitha Suresh, the principal, said she was excited to have pupils back on campus.

She said it would be difficult for schools to understand how children who were returning to school after a gap of a-year-and-a-half had changed and how their learning abilities had been affected.

"A lot of investment has been made in terms of partitioning and creating bubbles in lower classes. We have new play areas and touch-free taps at school," she said.

Extracurricular activities and sports such as cricket and football have resumed at the school.

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Updated: September 28th 2021, 7:21 AM
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