Abu Dhabi schools prepare for pupils' return on Sunday

Years seven to nine have the opportunity to return to classrooms for the first time in close to a year

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 28, 2020.  First day back to classes on the reopening of British School Al Khubayrat, with Covid-19 protocols for the safety of  students, faculty and parents.  Victor Besa/The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Haneen Dajani
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Abu Dhabi private schools are preparing for the return of thousands of pupils to classrooms next week.

Lessons are scheduled to resume on Sunday after being twice delayed since the start of the new term in January because of an increase in coronavirus infections.

For pupils in years seven to nine, it will be their first day back in school since March.

Last week, Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge said 15,000 school employees – about 60 per cent of the total staff – received the first dose of the Sinopharm vaccine during a voluntary drive held before the reopening.

Head teachers have organised wellness sessions and set aside additional time away from curriculums to focus on children's mental health in response to what will be a crucial moment in the lives of many young people.

Rishikesh Padegaonkar, principal at Bright Riders School in Mohammed Bin Zayed City, said he expected 20 per cent of the school’s 3,600 pupils to opt for lessons in the classroom.

“We encourage parents to send their children for face-to-face lessons, especially those in older grades,” Mr Padegaonkar said.

School life amid a pandemic:

“The Grade 12 exams will be held in-person and pupils have not been able to practice in an exam atmosphere this entire year.”

The school will open with three models: distance learning, face-to-face lessons and a hybrid model.

Mr Padegaonkar said it was vital for Year 12 pupils to return to in-person lessons as they needed to practice laboratory work and sit for mock tests before their board examinations.

India’s central board for secondary education has postponed examinations from March to May. Pupils will sit for exams in person.

Mr Padegaonkar said mock tests and practice sessions were important to instil confidence in pupils before they appeared for final exams.

“They have not come to the school the entire year and we want pupils to appear for practical exams. This is the need of the hour," said Mr Padegaonkar.

The principal said the school had disinfected classrooms, ensured pupils would be socially distanced, and reduced capacity of school buses.

Pupils over the age of 12, as well as school staff would be tested for the coronavirus before they returned to school.

School vaccination campaign:

The school set up thermal cameras at all entries and exits, and restricted movement of pupils to decrease risk of infection.

Wellness sessions would be organised to help children with their mental and emotional health.

The school converted activity rooms to isolation rooms as these are not part of the main building and have their own access points.

Shibanti Bhowmik, principal at Abu Dhabi Indian School Al Wathba, said about 300 of 3,343 pupils had opted for an in-person return in January before rising infection rates prompted an extension of distance learning.

She said the numbers may have further dipped, after pupils studied at home for an additional three weeks.

“We will welcome children and organise wellness sessions for them. But, I don’t know how many parents would be eager to send their children,” she said.

To encourage parents to send children to class, the school created a video showing the preparations made for reopening.

Pupils who choose in-person lessons can go to school three days a week. There is also an option to study remotely.

“We have made all the arrangements and briefed parents on the precautions to be taken from the time a pupil boards the school bus to the time they reach the school," Ms Bhowmik said.

The school also reduced the number of administrative staff on the premises by creating morning and afternoon shifts. Some staff members were asked to work remotely.

At the school, teachers have created a virtual coffee club to chat and discuss challenges.

Ms Bhowmik encouraged teachers to prioritise well-being over curriculum time.

"It is important to talk to pupils about their problems," she said.

"One does not have to set apart a time for wellness. Teachers can take a few minutes out of the class to talk to pupils about how they are feeling."

The school will set up a virtual celebration for Year 12 pupils, who will be graduating this year.

Public schools across the emirates will open for in-person lessons on Sunday, although pupils may choose to study online.

Many schools have planned mid-term breaks in February.

British School Al Khubairat will reopen in mid-February after their break.

The school has planned for secondary pupils, who will return after 11 months of distance learning, to have the campus to themselves for a day to reorientate them to in-classroom learning.

Other pupils will learn from home.