The long-awaited first day back at school next week will bring new challenges for teachers across the Emirates, who must swiftly learn new lessons about education in the Covid-19 age.
In some schools, pupils will follow a hybrid schedule, taking classes on campus on some days and online on others.
With so many moving parts, parents are curious as to how teachers will ensure all pupils have a coherent learning experience.
The National spoke to several schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to find out how the blended learning approach would be managed.
Some teachers will live-stream from classroom
More than 1,000 pupils will return to class at Jumeira Baccalaureate School in Dubai next week. About 80 pupils – or seven per cent – have opted for distance learning.
“We will implement a synchronous model allowing pupils at home to feel part of the in-person learning with their peers,” said Richard Drew, the school principal.
“We hope this model also allows for structure of the school day for the online learners so the transition back to school will be smooth.”
He said teachers would not split their time between pupils in class and those at home. Instead, they would communicate with all pupils at the same time during any given lesson.
“The start of the lesson will be synchronous, while the middle part of the lesson is used to have students work independently,” he said.
“We will aim to do this so students are not online the entire day.
“We expect teachers to find time during the lesson to reach out to those online to check if they are okay and that they have understood the lesson content.”
Mr Drew said the school would have 84 teaching staff for the new academic term, compared with 89 last year. But once all pupils return to campus full-time, an additional two or three teachers would be hired to meet the demand.
Same materials distributed to all pupils
At Gems Wellington Academy – Al Khail, 234 pupils who opted for distance learning will follow the normal school timetable. Lessons will be live-streamed from the classroom to their devices at home.
“Our IT configuration in school, with cameras and microphones, means pupils will have direct access to the classroom, as if they were there,” said Campbell Douglas, principal and chief executive of the school.
“They will be able to interact with their teachers and peers and contribute to the classroom setting from home.
“Their work will then be completed digitally and uploaded through the normal school platforms for marking and feedback.
“The school platforms will also allow for personalised approaches to be implemented, with students able to ask questions and have their progress checked asynchronously.”
This year, the school has 97 teaching staff on-site, the same number as last year.
Schools across the Emirates said teachers would us the same materials in both settings and would stick with the same curricular progression to ensure a consistent quality of learning for all.
Buddies assigned to distance learners
At Dwight School Dubai, a new school which offers an International Baccalaureate curriculum, a blended teaching approach will be adopted.
“We have 400 pupils enrolled for the new academic year and 380 have opted to return to campus full-time,” said David Hutson, head of the school.
“We have a great team of 50 teachers and our class sizes are small so we can easily follow all safety and social distancing guidelines.
“There will be no separate teacher for in-person and online lessons.
“We have opted to integrate the class so those working from home will be included in the live learning.
“They can interact with the teachers and ask questions just the same as pupils in class.”
For early years to KG2 classes, he said the teacher to pupil ratio would be one to 10 and for all other classes, one to 15.
Buddy systems, or peer mentorship, will also be adapted to help pupils transition into the new blended learning approach.
Mr Huston said buddies who are on campus would be assigned to distance learners.
These pupils will make sure that those working from home are up-to-date with their work so they feel as connected with learning as those who opted for face-to-face lessons.
Not all schools will live-stream classes
Simon Crane, the headmaster at Brighton College Dubai, said it was trying to manage the new blended approach in a smart way so teachers’ workloads were not doubled.
Of the 400 pupils enrolled at the new school, about 380 pupils were expected to head back to campus full-time on Sunday.
“All of our curriculum and lessons will be shared on our platforms so that children can access these,” he said.
“At the moment there are no co-curricular activities, so during these slots teachers will use that time to talk to pupils who are learning remotely on an individual basis.”
Classes will not be live-streamed at the school but pupils will get individual support.
Teachers will be spending the majority of the time, about five to six hours, delivering in-person classes and one-two hours delivering online lessons every day.
Mr Crane said it has also prioritised teachers’ well-being.
“We have an email curfew from 6pm to 6am [so teachers] have the appropriate downtime away from their screens,” he said.
At Delhi Private School Dubai, teachers will conduct in-person classes for part of the day and online classes for the rest.
If a teacher is required to teach five English lessons per week, three of those may be on-campus and two may be online.
At Delhi Private School Dubai, only a few of the 3,800 pupils enrolled at the school have chosen in-person lessons, with the majority studying online.