Thousands of Abu Dhabi pupils returned to classrooms on Monday for the first time this year as a phased return to in-person learning was completed.
All year groups at private schools in the capital joined government-run schools across the country in resuming face-to-face education.
Schools geared up to return to full capacity on January 3, only for distance learning to be temporarily brought into force as a precautionary measure amid a rise in Covid-19 cases.
The long wait was finally over on Monday morning as pupils relished the opportunity to reunite with friends and school staff.
Earlier this month, authorities announced a phased return of pupils at all government-run schools nationwide and private schools in Abu Dhabi would take place on January 24 and 31.
First to return on January 24 were the kindergarten or foundation stage, grades 1-5/years 2-6 and grade 12/year 13, university students and anyone preparing for international exams.
All other year groups went back to school on Monday.
Pupils happy to reunite with friends
Teagan, a Year 11 pupil at Brighton College in Abu Dhabi, was delighted to be back among friends after distance learning for the first month of the new term.
“I have found it to be a big relief to be back in school after a while of online learning,” said Teagan, 16.
“I personally prefer in-school learning, as the spontaneity of conversation that we have face to face is beneficial for my learning as it opens the class up for more discussions and debates.
“I also missed being able to socialise with my friends during break times. Overall, I am more productive during in-school classes and find them more enjoyable.”
Fellow Brighton College pupil Rumaysa, 15, said on her first day back at school: “I miss seeing my friends regularly and endlessly chatting during break and lunch. Being able to collaborate on class work is something many of us cherish and find more enjoyable in school.”
School environment key to development
Rachel Boly, 44, whose two sons are pupils in years 6 and 9 at Brighton College, was overjoyed at the prospect of face-to-face learning being back on the timetable.
“It feels really, really great,” she said. “People don't realise that a lot goes into the fabric of a school day, that just builds a community around the child.
“We haven't been able to fully take advantage of that, in the last two years.
“I consider school like a nutritious meal — you have a little bit of everything. Mentally. Children need that engagement with their friends, and even with the teachers. It’s a place that is a safe haven for a lot of the kids.”
She said the pandemic remained a concern for parents but said she had confidence in the safety measures in place.
“Safety is the first thing, we all have to be safe. But, again, there are protocols in place. We've done what we've been asked to do and we've been vaccinated,” she said.
“Yes, I am absolutely concerned about Covid. More so because my son is among the vulnerable group but on the other hand, we have to create a balance.
“I'm happy that they are back. I hope they will stay for as long as people feel it is safe.”