All Abu Dhabi schools to continue distance learning for two weeks

Pupils had been due to begin in-person lessons from January 3

Private and public school pupils in Abu Dhabi will continue distance learning for the first two weeks of term, beginning January 3, 2021.

Pupils were initially set for a full return to classrooms at the start of the second term of the academic year.

On Wednesday, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee, in co-ordination with Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge, said remote learning would be implemented for the first two weeks "to protect the health and safety of students, teachers and school staff."

The committee said all pupils, teachers and school staff returning to the UAE from abroad must adhere to quarantine measures implemented in Abu Dhabi.

All pupils, including those with chronic health conditions, were previously told they could return to in-person lessons next month. This was also meant to include Years 7 to 9, who had not returned to classrooms since schools switched to distance learning in March due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Wednesday's decision drew mixed responses from parents, who said their children's safety was their priority but also that some had begun to struggle with the lack of interaction with other pupils.

Karen Leach, a working parent in Abu Dhabi from the UK, said the decision was difficult on her daughter, who was set to return to school after 10 months of distance learning.

Her daughter, 16, has Crohn's Disease but has been in remission for over a year. Doctors said it was safe for her to return to school but regulators had not yet allowed pupils with chronic illnesses to return to classrooms.

“My daughter has had little or no contact with friends since March,” said Ms Leach, who is concerned that the lack of interaction is affecting her daughter's mental health.

“Everyone was prepared to go back to school in January."

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , March 22 – 2020 :- Eden Stewart (5 years old) KG student of Dubai American Academy during the online class at her home in the Springs in Dubai. Today is the first day of distance learning as all the schools are closed as a preventive measure against coronavirus. (Pawan Singh / The National) For News/Online/Instagram. Story by Sarwat Nasir

Ms Leach said working parents would have to arrange childcare with days to go until the start of term.

Jennifer Bell, an Abu Dhabi resident from the UK, said having her children, aged 10 and 12, study at home would be difficult but she valued the focus on their security.

“I am fine with the children studying at home and support any initiative that protects the safety of my children," said Ms Bell, who works in oil and gas.

"We have to trust the authorities as they know what they are doing."

Principals of private schools previously said they expected a major increase in pupils returning to classrooms for the second term, after many had opted for distance learning during the first term of the academic year.

They said the introduction of a Covid-19 vaccine had given parents a much-needed boost of confidence.

Kelvin Hornsby, principal at Gems Cambridge International School, said the number of pupils who wished to attend in-person classes had gone up from around 1,000 pupils in September to 2,100 pupils in January. A further 1,400 pupils would be studying online.
"The decision is for the health and safety of the pupils," he said.
"Ten school days at home will protect everyone.
"We are expecting to open on January 17 for face-to-face learners."
Cambridge International School has more than 200 pupils due to sit GCSE and A-levels exams early next month.
Mr Hornsby said he was working to see if exceptions could be made so pupils would be allowed to sit the exams in person.

Raha International – which has a typical school population of 2,500 – was expecting 2,400 pupils to return to classrooms January, up from 1,300 pupils this term.

Iain Colledge, executive principal at Raha International School in Abu Dhabi, said teachers were also excited for the pupils' return.

"There is obvious disappointment not to have our pupils back on campus on Sunday," he said.

"However, we appreciate that this ultra-precautionary measure is in the best interests of our community and is for the ultimate safety of all.

"As a school, we have comprehensively planned for numerous contingencies. With this planning in place, we will continue to provide a high-quality distance learning experience for all of our pupils during this period."

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Education said all public schools in the country would continue online learning for the first two weeks of term until further notice.

It said a return to in-person classes would be announced following an assessment of “the health situation and developments”.

Only half of teachers and administrative staff can work at school premises next week, while the rest should perform their duties from home.

The ministry said it would be up to each school to draw up its operation plans and schedules for pupils when in-person classes resume to ensure safety measures are being observed amid the Covid-19 pandemic.