Back to school: UAE teachers turn living rooms and kitchens into virtual classrooms

Teachers reported a 100 per cent attendance on Day 1 as eager pupils got back to school

Teachers in the UAE gave up their whiteboards and desks for makeshift classrooms inside their homes as mandatory distance learning started nationwide on Sunday.

A total of 50,869 private school teachers and 21,153 public school teachers will be using their digital skills for remote teaching as campuses remain closed until the end of the month.

The National visited the home of a Canadian couple in Dubai, both who are teachers, on the first day of distance learning.

Zach Stewart and Laine Palendat, teachers at the Gems Dubai American Academy, had a buzzing household as they prepared for a day of online teaching.

The family set up different work corners in their three-bedroom home, with Mr Stewart stationed in the bedroom on the first floor of the house.

Using a dressing table as a desk, the psychology teacher said all of his 24 pupils marked ‘present’ for homeroom in Google Form by 8.50am.

“There was a 100 per cent attendance. I think the pupils are a bit eager to get back to school and do something they are familiar with,” he said.

By 9.40am, Mr Stewart was live on camera with 18 pupils who showed up to their virtual lesson on psychology, using Zoom.

“There were a couple of tech issues at first, but then every kid got on. We had a conversation as a class, which I was leading and then we split the pupils into small groups with a task,” he said.

“Every pupil was engaged. As I was popping around, it was really nice to see the different conversations they were having. A lot of them looked really relieved to be seeing one another.”

It was a busy day for Mr Stewart.

He gave two live lessons that were each 45-minute-long, checked on pupils and marked assignments. He was finished with his live classes by 1pm.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Ms Palendat started her first and only live lesson on Zoom with 23 KG1 pupils at 10am.

To mark attendance, she asked the pupils to take a photo of themselves and post it on the educational platform.

“You can mute individuals and it was a chance for every person to have their voice heard,” she said.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , March 22 – 2020 :- Zack Stewart , Grade 12 teacher at the Dubai American Academy taking online class from his 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

“In that sense it was really manageable and somewhat easier than having them all in the classroom talking all at the same time. I think the kids were really happy to see and wave at each other. I’m really grateful we get to connect like this.”

Ms Palendat said the main challenge the younger kids will face with online learning is being able to play with their peers.

She has given the parents some ideas of play-based learning to help the young ones move around a bit.

“Their first activity, for example, was going through their toy box and finding toys that begin with a certain letter,” Ms Palendat said.