Abu Dhabi parents relieved at extension of distance learning as Covid-19 cases rise

Private schools in the emirate hope to welcome pupils back to classrooms on February 7

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Parents in Abu Dhabi told of their relief after authorities extended distance learning for another three weeks owing to an increase in Covid-19 cases across the UAE.

Although they were concerned about the lack of time children would spend learning in a classroom, parents said they took comfort that their children's health was a priority for authorities.

Pupils were set for a full return to classrooms on Sunday but this was postponed by Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee on Saturday "as a precautionary measure to limit the spread of Covid-19".

Parents were initially given the option of continuing distance learning or sending their children to school.

Sonika Jain, a 44-year-old Indian banker, said she already planned for her children to learn from home this term.

Her daughter and son, who are in Grades 8 and 11 respectively, have not been back to school since March, when authorities first introduced distance learning.

“We chose online learning as the number of cases in the UAE has been on the rise," said Ms Jain.

“I am worried to send them back as cases are over 3,000 every day."

It is difficult for the children, but this is for their safety and ours

She said she taught her children to be independent and cook so they could take care of themselves while she was at work.

"My son has online classes to prepare so he is extremely focused on studies. However, he is not able to interact with friends," she said.

Nihal E, a 36-year-old from Egypt, said keeping classes online was the right course of action after the number of cases increased.

Her sons, aged 11 and 13, attend Al Yasmina Academy, a British curriculum school in Abu Dhabi.

"I was anxious about sending them to school," she said.

"lt is difficult for the children, but this is for their safety and ours."

Saturday's announcement was the second time the return to classrooms was delayed this term. Initially, in-person classes were to resume on January 3, but distance learning was brought in for the first two weeks of term.

Some parents were worried long-term home study would adversely affect their children's academic development.

Karen Leach, a teacher from the UK, said it had been almost a year since her daughter, 16, attended classes in person.

“My daughter and I were both in tears when she was told she could not return to class,” she said.

Her daughter has Crohn's disease but has been in remission for more than a year. Doctors said it was safe for her to return to school.

Ms Leach said she was worried her children, aged 16 and 18, would not perform as well in their International Baccalaureate and GCSE exams this year.

Though GCSE exams have been cancelled in the UK, IB and IGCSE exams are still going ahead.

Heads of schools said the announcement came as a surprise because they were prepared to welcome pupils again.

“We know there would be disappointment from the children and the families and we were sad to not open the campus," said Iain Colledge, principal at Raha International School in Abu Dhabi.

The school expected to welcome 2,300 pupils in January – up from 1,300 pupils. The school has 2,500 pupils.

Pupils attending private schools in Years 7 to 9, or from about the age of 11 to 14, were set to return to their classrooms in January after a 10-month gap.

"We are 100 per cent hoping for a full return of pupils to the school on February 7. However, we are prepared for any eventuality," said Mr Colledge.

“It’s a wait and watch situation in terms of how we will open.”