Coronavirus: UAE schools give a glimpse of what back to class will look like

Masks, thermal scanners and no swimming, 'The National' takes a tour of campuses as they get set to welcome pupils back

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Desks placed metres apart, thermal cameras at entrance points and gym locker rooms turned into Covid-19 isolation wards, welcome to the class of 2020.

Schools across the UAE have started to adapt classrooms and common areas in preparation for reopening on August 30, more than five months after being closed due to Covid-19.

Lesson schedules and lunchtime rotas are also being tweaked to align with physical-distancing practices.

Taaleem's Dubai British School – Jumeirah Park, will welcome back 1,230 pupils through its doors, including 150 new enrollments.

Over at the GEMS Dubai American Academy (DAA), half of the pupil population will return to classrooms and the remaining 1,300 will carry on with digital learning from home.

Entering school safely

Both schools have dedicated entrances and exits for primary and secondary sections.

Staff and pupils will be required to wear face masks while on the campus.

Thermal cameras at the British school will be fitted later this month.

Between 7.30am and 8am, parents would be able to drop their children off in person via these dedicated entry points, said Amy Falhi, head of primary.

Pupils in Year 1 and 2 will be dropped straight off to their classroom doors.

For afternoon pick up, timings would be staggered for the primary section only, which has about 800 pupils.

The schedule would be split into two 20 minute slots, from 2.40pm to 3pm for the first pick up and 3.10pm to 3.30pm for the second. She said a rota would be distributed to parents and organised alphabetically so that siblings could exit the building at the same time.

At DAA, thermal cameras have already been installed at every entry and exit point.

Reducing movement on campus

Children at the British school will no longer do lesson rotations and stay in one classroom to reduce traffic flow.

An additional 10 classrooms were opened up to accommodate returning pupils and staff.

“Usually, each teacher has a classroom for their corresponding subject and pupils move from lesson to lesson but this creates a lot of movement,” said Maris Keijser, head of operations at the school.

“To reduce the amount of contact points, pupils will now stay in one classroom for the whole day and the teacher will go to them.”

Parents have been given the option to continue distance learning for their children but Brendon Fulton, executive principal at British school, said only a handful opted to continue it.

At DAA, there is capacity for more than 2,000 pupils, but the campus will bring back only half of their pupils to adhere to physical distancing.

Stickers that represent traffic flow have been placed throughout the campus to help staff and pupils move without crowding.

Pupils will be given lockers that are several metres apart and they will not be allowed to gather in hallways or near lockers as part of the precautionary measures.

How Dubai's schools are preparing to reopen during Covid-19 pandemic

How Dubai's schools are preparing to reopen during Covid-19 pandemic

Sanitisers, masks and clinics

Both schools have more than 100 automatic hand sanitiser stations fitted across the campus.

At DAA, the gym locker room has been turned into a Covid-19 isolation ward. The school hopes the room will be used only as a "last resort" if and when a staff member of pupil falls ill.

Nurses at the isolation ward will be present in full personal protective equipment (PPE).

If a person starts experiencing Covid-19 symptoms, he or she will be kept in the room and leave the campus through an exit door in the ward. This is to eliminate any possible contact with others.

Teachers will be telling the primary kids the nurses in PPE are “astronauts” so they do not “feel afraid” if they need to be checked by them.

What will classrooms look like?

Lesson capacity at the British school has been reduced from 26 pupils per class to 20 so that children can be seated 1.5 metres apart, as per the safety measures enforced by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

Depending on class size, Mr Keijser said one teacher and one teaching assistant would move between two rooms during lesson time.

“We wanted to keep the learning experience as normal as possible," he said.

“Due to the size of our rooms and tables, two pupils can still sit on the same desk while maintaining a safe distance.”

Over at DAA, some classrooms can have only up to 10 pupils.

Each classroom has a large television with a camera, so home-learners can tune in to the live classrooms.

Lunchtime and sports will change

Pupils in the primary section at the British school will eat lunch in their classrooms to avoid large crowds gathering in one place.

The canteen, which usually has capacity for 280 pupils was reduced to 100, and tables that once seated six people would now seat just two.

"All pupils will start off eating lunch in their classroom and once we get settled in we will slowly reintroduce the more senior pupils back into the canteen area," said Mr Keijser.

At DAA, common areas will not be accessible and lunch must be eaten only at the canteen with physical distancing in place.

In terms of changes to lessons plans, most have stayed the same, however physical education (PE) lessons would focus on non-contact sports. There would also be no swimming lessons held in both schools.

About 295,000 pupils will return to 209 private schools in Dubai in September, after schools closed in March to contain the spread of coronavirus.

This year, Taaleem, which operates 13 schools across the Emirates, will welcome more than 12,200 pupils and 1,600 staff back on campus, including 900 teachers and 300 learning assistants.