Abu Dhabi pupils returned to classrooms on Sunday after an extended winter break owing to a rise in coronavirus cases.
The number of children resuming in-person lessons was lower than usual because some parents took up the option of continuing distance learning.
Many private schools in the Emirates are having planned half-term breaks and their pupils will return to classrooms in the next few days or early next week.
Schools were deep-cleaned and social distancing measures put in place before pupils could resume face-to-face lessons.
Pupils were due to go back to school in the first week of January but their return was delayed twice amid concern about rising infection rates.
Learners encountered a different problem on Sunday, when fog engulfed the capital and caused school bus journeys to be delayed.
Rishikesh Padegaonkar, principal of Bright Riders School in Mohamed Bin Zayed City, said Grade 12 pupils would be practising laboratory work, with some free time thrown in to help them interact with one another and relax.
“They will not be at their desks throughout the day. Pupils will participate in activities, indoor games, yoga and aerobic sessions,” he said.
Mr Padegaonkar said 15 per cent of 3,689 pupils enrolled at the school had returned for in-person classes.
For pupils in years seven to nine in Abu Dhabi, it will be their first day in school since March.
“There are children coming back after 11 months of distance learning and we have to ensure they mentally strong and able,” Mr Padegaonkar said.
“We are excited to have the children back on campus.
“We are trying to explain to them that we need them back at school.”
Teachers queued up to greet each child as they walked in to the building.
Aniket Tuli, 17, is an Indian pupil in the 12th grade at the school. He said he was looking forward to meeting friends after studying at home since early December.
“It’s our last year in school and there are so many things we wanted to do. We have missed being at school and interacting with friends,” he said.
He said pupils would at last be able to practise laboratory work before their final exams.
“There was no way we could do it online. We were missing the classroom experience,” he said.
“The feeling of loneliness sets in when you’re studying at home. We really looked forward to being back.
“Now that we are back we can clear our misconceptions and get clarifications easily from our teachers.”
Mr Tuli said he felt the use of videos during online learning helped boost pupils’ interest.
Dakshesh Gupta, 17, who is in the 12th grade, was happy to be back in the classroom.
“I am looking forward to seeing my friends and teachers again,” he said.
“Being in class meant we could study with our friends and motivate each other. When we were studying online, the interaction was limited.
“Now that we would be in the classroom, revising our syllabus would be easier and faster.”
K George Mathew, principal of Gems United Indian School, said 493 of the 3,300 pupils enrolled would return this week.
Mr Mathew said the dense fog in Abu Dhabi had hindered pupils’ return to school on time.
“On their first day back, we want to make sure that pupils have fun as well as lessons,” Mr Mathew said.
“We are welcoming them and have activities planned by teachers. There will be wellness sessions which will have elements of art and music.”
The school follows a learning model in which pupils attend school on alternate days.
Mr Mathew said pupils were excited to see one another and did not want to stay at home.
Nithin Krishnan, a 15-year-old 10th grader at Gems United Indian School, said he was excited to be back at school after studying at home since March.
"I have not been able to see my friends in almost a year. Walking back into the school was an exhilarating feeling," he said.
"During online learning, I felt there was a missing element as I could not meet friends."
Rohit Shibu, a 10-year-old Indian pupil at the school, shared the enthusiasm for in-person lessons.
"I spoke with my friends and it was so much fun to see them after a long time," he said.
"I prefer being in school to online learning because it's really important for me to talk with teachers and understand things clearly."