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Head teachers in Dubai and Sharjah are hoping to be able to return to face-to-face learning within a week after a significant number of school closures on the first day of term.
Yet many pupils returned to in-person lessons in Dubai on Monday, with some schools more than 80 per cent full.
About 30 schools informed the authorities of their decision to return to distance learning, owing to positive Covid-19 cases among staff, pupils or the wider community.
Principals across the city said as delayed PCR results trickle in over the next few days and holidaymakers return, school attendance should return to normal.
At the American Academy for Girls in Dubai, 75 per cent of the 498 pupils returned to face-to-face lessons on Monday.
Principal Lisa Johnson said the key for the next few weeks was going to be flexibility.
“In spite of the weather challenges and increasing Covid numbers, we have approximately 75 per cent of our pupils attending in person,” she said.
“I had many parents comment that they were grateful that we were open to support their work schedules.”
Dubai British School – Emirates Hills also welcomed pupils back to class. Of the 1,180 pupils enrolled at the school, 80 per cent were able to make it to in-person lessons.
And at Greenfield International School in Dubai, about 80 per cent of pupils were back in class after a long winter break.
Allan Weston, principal at the IB curriculum school, said it was clear that "many are still working their way back from overseas".
Rob Commons, principal of Uptown International School, said about four fifths of the 1,400 pupils were in classes on Monday.
"Of the students not in school, many are awaiting PCR results, although some parents have chosen to wait until tomorrow before sending their children to school because they are understandably concerned at the rising number of cases.
"I’m confident that we’ll have a much higher attendance rate tomorrow and for the rest of term."
Lengthy queues at PCR testing centres
There were long queues at testing centres in Dubai, with some people waiting several hours to be seen. Although tests are not mandatory for pupils to return to classes, many parents sought to get tested after flights.
In Sharjah, where tests were mandatory for all returning pupils, hundreds missed their first day back as they struggled to get appointments.
Ibrahim Barakeh, director of Al Shola Schools Group, which runs five schools attended by about 10,000 pupils, said more than half of its pupils were absent.
“We expected a large number of pupils to be absent on the first couple of days for two reasons,” Mr Barakeh said.
“The first reason is that some medical centres were either overcrowded or closed, and the second is because of the weather.”
He said in some classes more than 70 per cent of pupils were absent.
Sharjah Private Education Authority has asked schools, nurseries and universities to continue face-to-face lessons from Wednesday, January 5 at the latest.
“The first centre I went to was overcrowded and the entrance of the second one was clogged with rainwater,” said mother-of-two Munawar Hamza, 49, from Jordan.
On Sunday, Ms Hamza took her son and daughter to a centre at Ajman University, but the results did not come back in time, meaning both her children had to stay at home on Monday.
Adam Nofal, a Grade 12 pupil at Sharjah American School, waited nearly five hours to be tested at Thumbay Hospital in Ajman on Sunday.
“I headed to the centre at about 1pm and returned home a little after 6pm,” he said.
“The result didn’t come through before the start of the first school day but my school sent an email informing us of a shift to online learning for 48 hours anyway.”
On Monday, Mohammed Darwish, chief executive of permits and compliance at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai, said despite some campuses being closed, the majority of the more than 190 private schools in the emirate opened for business as usual.
"Thorough health and safety protocols remain in place for all private schools in Dubai,” he said.
“We are working closely with each school to ensure that these protocols are followed and that teaching and learning continues.”