Dubai pupils having to adapt back to the classroom after 18 months away

Teachers found many pupils had fallen behind in social skills as well as studies

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 08 SEPTEMBER 2020.  Affordable schools in Dubai. The Gulf Model School where fees range from Dh350-Dh650 per month located in Al Muhaisinah 4. Shiny Davison, director of learning at Gulf Model School in Dubai. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Anam Rizvi. Section: National.

Ensuring pupils are reacquainted with the classroom and helping them catch up on academic gaps were the biggest educational challenges in the past month, the heads of UAE schools have said.

Hundreds of thousands of Dubai’s private school pupils walked back into classrooms on October 3 after the emirate brought an end to distance learning for most.

Teachers found children had fallen behind in social skills as well as studies and have spent the past month trying to get them back to speed.

“Some of these kids in extreme circumstances had spent 18 months sitting in their bedroom with a laptop," said Timothy Roberts, principal at Raffles World Academy.

“After the shock of coming back to a busy vibrant school, we had to spend time reinforcing basic principles and rules.

“Children forgot how schools work, how to smile, say hello to each other, be cordial with peers ... the social element has been sadly lacking in distance learning."

"The main issue was the fact that they had not been in school for the best part of 18 months."

Mr Roberts said he has enjoyed the return to in-person learning. Online study was a real challenge for teachers, he said, as it was a practice for which they were not initially equipped.

“For secondary schools, they had to do things at once. Hybrid learning is very hard for a teacher to accomplish. They had two sets of pupils – some in class and some at remote locations – and they were trying to teach both at the same time," he said.

At Gulf Model School in Dubai, almost all of the 2,600 pupils returned for in-person classes in October.

Shiny Davison, academic director at the school, said many children didn't progress as expected with their studies, especially in reading and writing.

“Children have fallen behind. Their speed with reading and writing has gone down. It’s taking a big toll," Ms Davison said.

“There are a few concerns with reintegrating them with listening, writing and reading skills. It is taking time.

“We are asking parents also to be patient with their children. We have not faced any radical issues with behaviour in the classroom but academics is our major concern.”

The school chose to focus on a week of induction and mental wellbeing to help pupils get used to the classroom environment once again.

Ms Davison said in the latest assessments, she found some pupils were struggling.

She said that maintaining social distancing among pupils in class was a challenge for schools and created space constraints.

“One of the biggest challenges we faced was we that had to keep the bubble system and segregate children, which is tough throughout the day," she said.

"The pupils are travelling on the buses together and going to the washroom. Sharing of resources can be avoided anyway without the segregation. It's not required."

She said bubbles were kept in place to ensure pupils did not share resources.

In a bubble, the class is divided by a plastic screen into groups of up to 15 pupils.

Sharrah Khilawala, a 34-year-old public relations consultant in Sharjah and mother of two, said her daughter, 5, a grade-one pupil at Cambridge International School, Dubai, returned to the classroom in September.

She said when her daughter resumed in-person learning she had trouble readjusting to the change after such a long layoff.

"During distance learning, academic and social learning were both lagging behind," Ms Khilawala said.

"Initially, when it was time to go to school, my daughter did not want to go. She would say: 'Why do I have to go to school now when I have not gone all this time? Can I just study online? Can I sleep more?'

"The first week was bad ... she wasn’t eating as she had become used to eating with us at home.

"It was a big change initially but she got used to it eventually."

She said her child's writing and reading speed had fallen behind and the school, providing feedback, said she needed to work on her handwriting.

The mother said that her child was faring better now that she was back at school. She said young children had a short attention span and could focus much better in face-to-face lessons than remote studies.

Updated: November 3rd 2021, 7:25 PM