Coronavirus: Abu Dhabi schools consider part-time class model to keep pupils spread out
Staggered approach to attendance, arranging classes into ‘bubbles’, and strict behaviour regimes will be introduced
Head teachers in Abu Dhabi are devising "return to campus" plans as they prepare to welcome pupils to classrooms after the summer holidays.
Authorities in the capital have issued a set of safety measures that must be met, including staggering attendance, arranging classes into "bubbles", strict behaviour regimes and suspending physical education lessons.
Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), the emirate’s private school regulator, said head teachers would decide if pupils should attend physical classes daily or if study time should be reduced to half days, alternate days or weeks.
Parents want schools to be open and I think we went as far as we could with distance learning
Schools will require approval from Adek for the model they select and must inform parents by July 30 at the latest.
Heads of schools believe they are well equipped to face the challenges of keeping children safe when they return to the campus.
“We are looking at having half the pupils in school one day and the rest learning from home,” said Annahita Pagdiwalla, principal of Mayoor Private School which has 2,000 pupils.
“They will be switched round the next day.”
All pupils and staff should be tested for Covid-19 before returning to school.
Mandatory masks for children, temperature checks before entering the building, social distancing of 1.5 metres for all and an intensive cleaning programme are some of the key guidelines.
Ms Pagdiwalla said following a staggered approach to attendance will help in maintaining social distancing.
“We will have 15 tables and chairs in each classroom,” she said.
But making children wear face masks all the time could be a challenge.
“There is a worry the pupils, especially the younger ones, will take off their masks,” she said.
“It’s going to be important that the staff keep on top of it.”
She said parents were uncertain about sending children back to school.
“Most of the parents I have spoken with since Tuesday’s announcement feel it’s too early to send their children back to school,” she said.
“I would say around 70 per cent of the parents are very apprehensive about it.
“But I think they’ll come back around when they see it being implemented properly.”
Authorities have said all children must be enrolled in school for the 2020/2021 academic year.
Any child taken out of school runs the risk of having to repeat the grade once they rejoin the system, said Adek.
Full-time distance learning is only available to children who have a health condition that puts them at risk.
Brendan Aspell, principal of Wales International school in Abu Dhabi, said pupils will be split in two sets to enforce social distancing.
Half the class will learn a subject in one room, while the other half will be taught a different subject in another room.
“We are lucky because we are a new school with a capacity for 2,000 but we only have 850 pupils at the moment,” said Mr Aspell.
“That means we can have classrooms with no more than 15 desks in them.
“We are looking at keeping the pupils in the same classroom each day with the teachers being the ones who change rooms depending on the subject.”
Mr Aspell said the precautionary measures being taken in schools is similar to those in restaurants when they reopened in June.
“We want to keep the school open five days a week. Obviously there will be a reduced timetable though as subjects like PE will no longer take place,” he said.
“Parents want schools to be open and I think we went as far as we could with distance learning. I’m not sure it’s a realistic option to keep it going.”
Mr Aspell said the final plan would depend on how many teachers are able to return to the UAE after the summer break.
“Some staff members went home for the summer to see their families because the Easter holidays had been moved to prepare for online learning,” he said.
“They hadn’t seen their families for a long time so we will have to see how many manage to get back.”
Aldar Education, which runs several schools in the emirate, has undertaken an extensive disinfection programme before their reopening in September.
“We are ready to welcome pupils and staff back under the new reopening plans and revised learning models,” said Dave Taylor, director of operations.
“Our schools will look slightly different when we reopen, but we have plans in place to educate our pupils and parents on these changes.”
Kelvin Hornsby, principal of Gems Cambridge International School in Abu Dhabi, said the Adek guidelines were clear.
“The physical, social and emotional benefits of being in a school building simply cannot be replaced,” he said.
“The requirements to ensure the safety of all children are exceptionally clear and all Gems Education schools are already planning and practicing to ensure the highest levels of health and safety standards not just in school but across all services such as school transport and catering.”
Updated: July 23, 2020 05:17 PM