Teachers in Abu Dhabi are hopeful that more pupils will get vaccinated as authorities plan to ease Covid-19 restrictions based on immunisation rates in schools.
Schools with the best vaccination rates will be able to end physical distancing rules and allow pupils to go outside without wearing masks under a Covid-19 safety scheme due to come into force next term.
Under the Blue Schools initiative, a colour-coded tier system will be established. This will be based on the percentage of the school population immunised, which will determine the extent to which safety procedures can be lifted.
Heads of schools believe challenges remain to reach the top blue tier as parents of some younger pupils are still hesitant to get children vaccinated.
Pupils in Abu Dhabi aged 16 and above must be vaccinated to enter their school.
Jeff Evans, principal at Global English School in Al Ain, said he hoped his school, which has 950 pupils, would reach the 50 per cent vaccination mark soon.
The school has not surveyed parents yet and did not have figures on how many younger pupils had been vaccinated.
"Even if we could get to 50 to 60 per cent that would be great,” Mr Evans said.
"If we get to the 85 per cent we can almost be back to normal and that would be the goal for most schools. But it will depend on parents’ views and wishes.
“I think this initiative will accelerate the progress with [vaccinations]. Most parents and children want to get back to normality."
Mr Evans said vaccine drives at schools would make the process easier for parents who wished to get their children inoculated.
He said he would speak with authorities to check if vaccines could be administered on-campus for pupils who were interested.
The principal said some parents were in favour of getting their children vaccinated, others had mixed feelings, while some were opposed to it.
As vaccination rates increase within a school community, a school will advance through four colour-coded tiers: orange (less than 50 per cent of school population vaccinated), yellow (50-64 per cent), green (65-84 per cent), and blue (85 per cent and above). The school will enjoy additional privileges as it moves up a tier.
The benefits include the relaxation of physical distancing and mask-wearing protocols, and will allow an increase in classroom and bus capacity, the reintroduction of field trips, on-campus events, and extra-curricular activities, including team and contact sports, as well as inter and intra-school sports competitions.
George Mathew, principal at Gems United Indian School in Abu Dhabi, said of 3,650 pupils enrolled at the school, 1,200 had returned to in-person class.
About half of them and nearly all 270 staff members were immunised.
“Vaccination of younger groups is a challenge,” Mr Mathew said.
He said a mindset change was needed for people to understand that immunisation was a shield against the coronavirus.
“Some of the parents are still hesitating to take the vaccine. If they are not sending their child it's indicative that they are not feeling confident to take it."
Mr Mathew said pupils were mentally exhausted after studying at home for months.
"We don’t want to have a generation of pupils who have missed out on years of in-person schooling. We want them to enjoy their school life again.”
The principal said he hoped the school could come under the orange category soon, then quickly rise to the yellow tier and move to the green level.
“Getting into the blue category is going to be a long way,” he said.
“When we keep moving through the tiers we get more and more incentives and opportunities to have social gatherings, and we have more freedom to move. Children can be themselves and the relaxation we get due to tier movement will encourage the pupils. That is how we will put Covid-19 behind us."
The school is informing parents of the benefits of immunisation through talks and newsletters.
Parents of young pupils said schools were not pressuring them to get their children vaccinated.
Khadija Nisar, a 28-year-old Pakistani mother of two in Al Ain, said she was eager to see more evidence and data of the impact of the vaccines on children before getting her five-year-old daughter immunised.
“She is too young now. I would consider getting her vaccinated and follow the rules," Ms Nisar said.
“There is no pressure from the school. Since they have not made vaccinations compulsory we are waiting."
Moomal Tariq, mother of a seven-year-old in Al Ain, said the school had not pressed families to ensure children were inoculated.
“I received the vaccine but would not want to give it to my child, but I could change my mind," said Ms Tariq, a Pakistani resident.