Coronavirus: How would UAE parents and employers manage e-learning until 2021?

A second term of e-learning from home, or reduced school hours, would have major implications for employers and workplaces

Alicia with her daughter Brooke Hol, 8.
First day of distance learning at the Hol family’s household.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

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Employers across the UAE would be under pressure to allow parents to work from home until next year if e-learning continues after the summer.

Workplace consultants said long-term virtual classes, or a shorter school day together with home study, would have significant implications for much of the workforce.

But they said it could also deliver much-needed workplace flexibility - and a culture of productively working from home.

As The National reported on Sunday, the country's largest school groups said they were gearing up for e-learning to continue in September and last until January 2021.

Claire Donnelly from MHC Consulting in Dubai, which advises on workplace productivity and trains executives, said working from home made sense for many office-based firms.

The workplace is going to have to mimic whatever arrangements schools make to allow parents to manage

“This shows how long social distancing is going to have to stay in place,” she said.

“The workplace is going to have to mimic whatever arrangements schools make to allow parents to manage.”

Scenarios for schools include having pupils in small classes for 70 per cent of their learning and studying from home 30 per cent of the time.

The Ministry of Education said the end of e-learning and reopening of schools was "still under review" and would depend on ongoing efforts to combat the coronavirus. An official earlier outlined three scenarios - none of which involved pupils returning to the classroom for 100 per cent of teaching.

More broadly, Ms Donnelly said it was important that companies did not rush their staff back to the office.

“It’s clear social distancing is going to be here for some time and only 30 per cent of the workforce is allowed into an office right now,” she said.

“You have to look at the practicalities of going back to the office. What happens if you work on the 13th or 14th floor of a building? How many people would be allowed into a lift at one time?

“It makes sense to keep working remotely while social distancing is in place.”

Louise Karim, managing director at recruitment firm Women@Work, said the best employers would show their staff leeway in difficult times.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - November 25, 2019: Louise Karim, Managing director of Women@Work. Panel discussion on women and the challenges they face at work. Monday, November 25th, 2017 at Rove Hotel, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“Employers are really going to have to show flexibility over this,” she said.

“Many people have nannies but they can’t be expected to educate children – it’s not their job for a start. You would also hope the load would be shared by both parents."

She also said many parents would push for further reductions in fees into the next academic year.

“Schools will have to reduce their fees because parents are going to be doing so much of the work,” she said.

“This is already having a major impact on people’s lives. So many people are being sent on extended leave or completely losing their jobs.

“This means people are busier than ever because they are working in smaller teams but expected to produce the same output as before.”

Although no official decision has been made yet, parents said they were already considering how childcare may work.

Rashid Gaouhari, 40, a French father of children aged five and nine at school in Dubai, said he would have to hire help at home should online schooling continue in September.

“I have no idea how we will manage. The main challenge for parents is that my wife and I will still have to go back to work," said Mr Gaouhari, who works in IT and sends his children to a French curriculum school.

"Who is going to help my children if we are not at home?"

Despite attempts by schools to improve e-learning, he said young pupils need help throughout the day.

"The children need to log in to applications and often face issues with this, and also need to print documents. I have to do this all day long," he said.

“With my younger one, we need to explain activities to her before she can work on these."

Anna Mansour, 34, a mother-of-two from Ukraine, said she was not willing to pay Dh60,000 for the next academic year just for-e-learning.

“I cannot agree with a decision to put us through it until next year,” she said.

“I’m already thinking about going back home and enrolling my five-year-old son in a school there.

“Some schools are offering reduced rates as long as parents meet certain criteria but that’s not close to being enough.”

Ms Mansour, whose son attends Clarion School, runs her own business consultancy.

She said it had been difficult to keep the company afloat in the current climate while supervising her children at the same time.

“We struggle with the online learning as I’m not a teacher and don’t have the time,” she said.

“I’m supposed to pay more than Dh60,000 for next year but definitely won’t be spending that just for online teaching.

“Going back home and sending my son to an English-language speaking school will probably cost about the same. But at least I will get the real thing and he’ll be able to socialise with other children which is a crucial part of why we send them to school in the first place.”