Most parents in Dubai have backed the move to end distance learning at private schools from Sunday, but some concerns remain about in-person classes during the pandemic.
Nearly 75 per cent of pupils resumed on-site learning this term - up from 52 per cent at the end of the previous academic year - private schools regulator, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), said.
That figure will rise further on Sunday when all pupils – barring those with exemptions – have been asked to return to classrooms.
High vaccination rates among pupils and school staff - figures released last month showed 96 per cent of Dubai's private school teachers had been vaccinated and 70 per cent of children aged 12 to 17 had received coronavirus shots - have been crucial to bolstering public confidence.
Maddy Apostol, 36, said she had been worried about sending her nine-year-old daughter to school and had ensured she had received both doses of the Sinopharm vaccine.
"I'm not that worried anymore. I'm relieved that she is vaccinated and I have seen how the school is implementing safety protocols," said Ms Apostol.
Babukutty Varghese, an Indian parent in Dubai, is sending his eight-year-old son back to in-person lessons at Gulf Model School for the first time in 18 months.
“He went to school in kindergarten and would now resume in-person classes after one-and-a-half-years,” said Mr Varghese.
“Earlier the number of Covid-19 cases were high but now things are coming back to normal so we wanted to send him back to school.”
The father said sanitisation drives and safety protocols at the school have helped the family feel confident about sending their child back to the classroom.
Ebtissam Wahdan, an Egyptian mother working in Dubai, said her son had returned to in-person lessons in September.
Her son, a third-grader in Dubai, had been back at school for the majority of the past year.
“We fully embraced it. I am a single mom so for me having my son at school is ideal. He is socialising and getting education," said Ms Wahdan.
Sharrah Khilawala, a 34-year-old public relations consultant in Sharjah and mother of two, said her five-year-old daughter, a grade one pupil at Cambridge International School Dubai, had returned to school in September.
“I was ecstatic. I was really looking forward to her going back to school,” said Ms Khilawala.
“Her being in the midst of pupils was very important at this age.
“Most of the parents are excited to send children back to school.
“I have seen a drastic difference since she has returned. My daughter was eagerly waiting to go back to school. She is busier now and has a routine and a proper time table that she follows.”
Mother will stick to home-schooling
Shantelle Norman, a South African housewife and former teacher in Dubai, said she had been home-schooling her five-year-old son Cole for the past 18 months and would continue to do so.
She praised the efforts of schools to make a safe learning environment but feels comfortable teaching her child from home for now.
“I will not be sending my son back to school until I am completely comfortable that he will be safe from the current pandemic and a sense of normality is restored," said Ms Norman.
“I am sure that all parents, teachers, and educational staff do their utmost to comply with current protocols and I applaud them all, however, I am not yet willing to expose my son unnecessarily when I am capable of educating him myself.
“I feel there is too much conflicting information and uncertainty at this point and choose to reduce the risk of exposure to my family.”
Schools work to address concerns
At The Indian High Group of Schools, 10,000 of the 13,000 pupils enrolled will return to school for the first time in 18 months on October 3.
At Gulf Model School, only 1,000 of its 2,700 pupils had resumed in-person classes.
Heads of schools also said some parents were reluctant to send pupils back for in-person studies on Sunday.
“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," said Shiny Davison, academic director at Gulf Model School in Dubai.
Punit MK Vasu, chief executive of the The Indian High Group of Schools, previously told The National some parents were reluctant to send their children for in-person lessons.
He said the school has organised interactive sessions and formed a designated group that worked with families to build trust.
Since the beginning of September, KHDA has made 711 visits to schools, with an average of three visits per school, to review their compliance with health and safety measures.
Redesigning classrooms and staggering entry and exit times for pupils are among the changes schools are making before all pupils return.
Some parents, however, are still worried about the coronavirus.
Keep up to date on safety measures
Sheren Abbas, a Canadian stay-at-home-mother and head of the parent association at Arcadia School, advised parents to stay informed regarding Covid-19 protocols at schools.
Ma Abbas’ 10-year-old twins are year six pupils at Arcadia School and have been studying in-person since September 2020.
She said non-stop communication from her children's school and knowledge of their action plan helps her feel confident about sending her twins to school.
“The majority of parents want face-to-face learning," said Ms Abbas.
“From what I have seen, no matter how great online learning is, the social aspect is the number one issue for many parents."