Abu Dhabi parents eager to send children back to school after months at home

Parents say prolonged time away from other pupils is harming children

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 08 APRIL 2020. Unused school busses stand idle at the GEMS Wellington International School in al Sufouh. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Standalone. Section: National.

Parents in Abu Dhabi are keen for their older children to return to school next month, fearing prolonged time away from other pupils will hurt their development and mental health.

Education authorities in the capital said children from kindergarten to Grade 5 in US-curriculum schools, and Reception to Year 6 in British ones, would start the new academic year on August 30.

Classes for older pupils would resume four weeks later.

Dua Ahmed, a lawyer, said she was eager to send her daughter back to school because the teenager was missing out on valuable time with classmates.

Ayesha, 14, is in Year 9 and will head back to her British-curriculum school in Abu Dhabi before the end of next month.

“Children are missing out on human and social interaction with their friends,” Ms Ahmed said.

She said schools had done a great job of keeping parents informed of updates, including new safety measures to protect their pupils, but the plans should have been announced sooner.

Children are missing out on human and social interaction with their friends

“This has been very difficult for parents who came back early as they had to quarantine but they could have stayed back in their home countries," Ms Ahmed said.

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Education and Knowledge, the private schools regulator, announced measures for the safe reopening of schools.

These included limiting classroom sizes to 15 pupils and maintaining a physical distance of 1.5 metres between children.

All private-school staff, and pupils aged 12 and older, must also take a coronavirus test before returning to lessons.

Ms Ahmed said details as to how and when children must be screened have yet to be relayed to parents.

“As a rule, doing the Covid-19 test is good but we have not been informed about how, where, when and how often we have to do the tests," she said.

“If you test the children before they come to school, we know they are free of Covid-19 when they get to school, but how often will they be tested to ensure that status does not change?”

Ms Ahmed said that despite some confusion, parents felt comforted by the stringent measures in place.

Restricting classroom sizes and staggering attendance would keep children safe, but “the children will not get the opportunity to meet their friends”, she said.

Sara, a Pakistani mother of two, said she was worried about her daughter in Year 7 not returning to school for six weeks.

She said she was disheartened that the decision to delay attendance for older pupils had been announced at the last minute, making planning harder.

“I had thought that the older children would definitely go back to school,” Sara said.

“I feel everyone should have been allowed back in to school as children’s social, emotional and mental health is being impacted.”

She said her children struggled with distance learning and had not had much social interaction with pupils their age.

“The last time they met children at school was in February,” Sara said.

“My 7-year-old son has become myopic because of increased screen time.”

The Ministry of Education has given parents the choice of continuing with distance learning or returning to classes for the autumn term.

Not all parents are comfortable about sending their children to school and many have opted for online learning.

Amna Mustafa, from India, chose distance learning for her two sons, Ali, 11, and Rayaan, 9, one of whom has asthma.

"I opted for distance learning in term one," Ms Mustafa said. "When things are better I can think of sending my sons to school.

"But I am reluctant to send them while they still have to wear masks.”

She said she would be comfortable sending her children back when daily cases decreased to the point that schools relaxed some safety measures.

Children at her son’s school have been told they must wear gloves while eating.

Ms Mustafa said she would also feel more comfortable if all pupils were tested before reopening, rather than only those 12 and older.

“I do not know why they are testing one group of children but not the other,” she said.


Gallery: A look inside a Dubai school's Covid-19 safety measures: