Schools are braced for a busy end to the year as they seek to restructure learning schedules in line with the introduction of the UAE's new working week.
Public and private schools will adopt the new four-and-half-day week, which will start on Mondays and finish with a half day on Fridays, from the start of the new term on January 3.
School leaders are moving quickly to alter timetables, school hours and breaks to ensure pupils do not miss out on learning as the transition is made to a shorter week.
The new-look school week will be introduced for the start of 2022, as schools return to full capacity for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
School heads are confident of their ability to adapt quickly and efficiently after rising to the challenge of the coronavirus outbreak, which caused significant disruption to the education sector.
Scheduling new timetables
From rearranging break times to changing timings of periods to fit into the new-look week, teachers are busy planning before schools close for the winter break.
“It may be matter of maybe 100 minutes a week, but we're doing some tweaks and modifications to the timetable to make that work. That's probably the biggest logistical change,” said Fiona Cottam, principal at Hartland International School.
"I guess the biggest challenge is the sudden change.
"We just have to be very adaptable very quickly. But, I think that the pandemic has taught us a lot about adaptability and responding to things with speed and with ease."
At International Indian School Abu Dhabi, on January 3 all pupils will return to in-person lessons for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Beno Kurien, principal at the school, said they were working on plans to ensure the syllabus was completed on time.
“We are waiting for clear instructions ... so if it's a half day what will the school timings be,” Mr Kurien said.
“We will plan internally and will have to change the timetable. We have 35 periods and now have to cut these short.”
Joseph Kotarski, superintendent for the Dubai Schools group, which has two campuses in the emirate, said that traditionally most schools had an early finish on Thursday.
“With this change of finishing at noon we are losing out an hour to an hour and 40 minutes," Mr Kotarski said.
“We're looking at ways to make that time up throughout the week … that could include changing some of the break times, modifying assembly timings, offering flipped learning opportunities to pupils.
“So instead of having a 25-minute break, we might reduce it to a 15-minute break to get that extra 10 minutes somewhere into the classroom.
"It's just the quick turnaround time for modifying schedules from a systems perspective."
Schools working to rearrange logistics and bus transport
Ms Cottam said the changes could mean all schools would finish about the same time on Fridays, leading to increased traffic on the roads.
“There could be some challenges for some parents in terms of work and the time to finish work from the time they have to collect their children," Ms Cottam said.
"We will have to work with the bus companies to look at schedules and how to manage this, among other things."
She said making these modifications during the winter break may be difficult.
"I think the start of term will probably be a little bit busier than we might have hoped."
At the Indian High Group of Schools, which has more then 13,000 pupils, a majority rely on school transport.
Mr Vasu said they would have to tweak and bring about changes in their bus transport system to help pupils.
Longer school days
Some schools are looking at the possibility of extending days of learning to make sure pupils are able to finish their syllabus on time.
Punit MK Vasu, chief executive officer of the Indian High Group of Schools, said the school had a head start because 1,200 pupils at their school already enjoyed a day and a half off every week since 2018 to pursue hobbies. The programme is part of Rahhal, the KHDA's personalised education initiative.
“We're looking at the expectation that the working day will become longer. We will have to have longer hours but the logistics in that is something we have to work on,” Mr Vasu said.
Mr Vasu said he would explore the possibility of resuming distance learning on Fridays, if approved by education regulators.
A boost to well-being
Heads of schools believe the extra half day off will enhance pupils' well-being and creativity.
"We have got some fantastic feedback from Rahal parents as to how it improves the well-being of pupils," Mr Vasu said.
"This will allow learning to happen beyond the classroom and will allow technology to come in a big way. This will allow parents to spend more time with their children. It's good for the whole ecosystem."
At Dubai Schools, Joseph Kotarski, said teachers would also be off after midday on Fridays so that they are able to attend Friday prayers.
"We fully intend on finishing the day at 12pm [on Friday] in line with the government announcement. We might spend an extra half hour after school on one of the other days, just to ensure that we can cover our professional development and community learning needs," Mr Kotarski said.
Schools intend to provide support and care after hours for pupils whose parents may be working on Fridays.