New schedules and longer days: How Dubai schools adapted to a four-and-a-half day week

Teachers adjusted lessons in line with major changes to the working week at the beginning of 2022

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Aug 30 , 2015 : Students waiting to go in their classes on the first day of school at the Dubai British School in Jumeirah Park in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News. Story by Nadeem Hanif  *** Local Caption ***  PS3008- BRITISH SCHOOL01.jpg
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In December last year, UAE schools were informed that they would move to a four-and-a-half-day week from January.

With only a few weeks to institute the change, head teachers needed to be quick to establish new timetables.

Schools shortened breaks, extended the work day and created new timetables that would allow them to finish the curriculum on time.

Reworking the school day

Rebecca Coulter, principal at Dubai British School Jumeirah Park, said the biggest challenge was reorganising the class timetables.

“There was an initial headache because we have a set amount of hours to cover the curriculum in, and taking away that kind of time on a Friday meant we had to squeeze it elsewhere … so we did change lesson lengths,” she said.

“We looked at modifying our break times and our lunchtime, and we did modify the curriculum. We did look at extending study periods and shortening breaks for a little bit.

“In January, we extended our school day by about 30 minutes. It is very difficult to change a timetable halfway through an academic year. So, we worked with that for the remainder of the academic year.”

The school worked with a temporary timetable and consulted parents in March to understand what had worked for families and what had not.

After extending the day by 30 minutes in January, the school changed the timetable again ahead of the new academic year starting in late August, by instituting a later start.

To finish the syllabus on time, the school ensured teaching time was left undisturbed.

“We were really careful to protect the children who were sitting their GCSE and A-level exams,” said Ms Coulter.

“When we needed to gain more time, we took it off things like assemblies and tutor times, so not necessarily teaching time.”

She said the half day on Fridays had been welcomed by parents, pupils and staff.

“I think when it happened this time last year, nobody really understood what was going to happen,” she said.

“But now you see families that are going away or are making the most of the weekends because they have got the extra time together.

“Also, there is a greater scope for pupils to be able to pursue their interests out of school.”

Maintaining length of breaks

Some Indian curriculum schools in the emirate had to extend school days to complete the curriculum but chose not to reduce break times.

Deepika Thapar Singh, principal at Credence High School in Dubai, said: “The biggest challenge was planning and managing the effective implementation of the curriculum without leaving out any part of it.

“There is no doubt that the Indian curriculum is syllabus-heavy but if you plan well, you can finish it on time. We were able to finish the syllabus by extending the school day timings.

“The school day timings were made longer by 40 minutes: 10 minutes earlier in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon. This small change has resulted in increased productivity and improved work-life balance.

“We think breaks are also an important part of the school curriculum, so we did not reduce breaks to make up for the lost time.”

Benefits to the pupils

For the pupils themselves, the change has had an overall positive effect.

Abdolrahman Mobaraki, 10, a fifth grader at an IB curriculum school in Dubai said: “It [the move to a four-and-a-half-day week] wasn’t a big challenge for me and my studies have improved after this transition.”

He said the one thing he struggled with was preparing and arriving for Friday prayers on time after returning from school.

“On Friday, when I have extra time off, I play football with my cousins and spend time with my family,” said Abdolrahman.

“I like having more time off on Friday. It has helped me because I have more time to play football with my brother and cousins.”

Shiny Davison, principal at the Indian Academy in Dubai, said lesson times had to be increased but the four-and-a-half-day work week helped to set a trend in well-being for families.

“We did extend the time by about 20 minutes each day, which compensates for the half-day lost,” said Ms Davison.

Until last year, the school day on the first four days of the week was from 7.30am to 1.45pm, whereas the new school day is 7.30am to 2.15pm.

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