Coronavirus: virtual tours prove a hit as UAE schools look to welcome new pupils in September

Parents given more flexibility as number of children transferring increases and overseas applications ease

Dubai British School, Jumeirah Park, will welcome new pupils in September. Courtesy: DBS
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Schools in the UAE are setting up online tours for parents and pupils looking to move schools.

Due to the pandemic, many school officials said they had to tweak their enrolment process to offer parents more flexibility.

While some schools have noted a reduction in overseas applications, others reported more pupils were transferring from local competitors.

Despite the current climate, many private schools are set to welcome hundreds of new pupils from September.

Al Salam Community School in Dubai, which opened in September 2019, received many requests from parents and pupils looking to join after the summer break.

"We opened with just under 800 pupils and we are expecting to welcome at least 300 new pupils in September," Kausor Amin-Ali, founding principal, told The National.

“We have seen the majority of applicants moving to us from the more premium sector of the education market.

We opened with just under 800 pupils and we are expecting to welcome at least 300 new pupils in September

“As it stands, we have begun to cap year groups in order to ensure quality provision and enable our plan for a 100 per cent return to school on August 30 at our campus in Al Twar 2.”

A UK curriculum school catering to FS1 to Year 13 pupils, fees at Al Salam start from Dh22,000 up to Dh38,000.

Taaleem, which operates 13 schools across the Emirates, is also set to welcome hundreds of new pupils when schools reopen.

“New enrolment across our schools has increased by 35 per cent compared to the same time last year, of which 87 per cent are from local competitor schools and 13 per cent are from overseas,” said Shahida Patel, head of admissions.

“We have over 420 new pupils joining our British Schools Group.

Kausor Amin-Ali, founding principal at Al Salam Community School, Dubai. Courtesy: Kausor Amin-Ali

“We have adapted our enrolment process to offer overseas parents more time and flexibility to accept spaces, as they wait for flights to resume and job offers to be finalised.”

Taaleem’s Raha International School in Abu Dhabi, which offers an IB curriculum, has about 700 new pupils enrolled for the new academic year.

“We have 2,200 pupils on the original campus and 300 on the new phase 1 campus, the construction of which will finish by August-end,” said Iain Colledge, executive principal.

“Admissions for the first phase of our new campus are completely full."

Catering to FS1 to grade 12, tuition fees at the school start from Dh39,330.

For parents trying to decide which school for their children to attend, the traditional approach was to explore different options by touring a school.

As schools across the UAE closed down in March to curb the spread of Covid-19, education leaders had to adapt their enrolment process.

Many offered live online tours and video interviews with families, including Dubai British School - Jumeirah Park, which will welcome 130 new pupils after the summer break.

“We have been holding weekly Zoom meet-and-greet sessions with groups of up to 10 families at a time,” said Brendon Fulton, executive principal.

“Prior to the meeting, the families were sent a virtual walk-through of the school with the head of primary and secondary.

“Our overall school enrolment target prior to the Covid-19 outbreak was 1,200 pupils and we have exceeded that target with no unusual amounts of families leaving.

Brendon Fulton, executive principal at the Dubai British School - Jumeirah Park. Courtesy: DBS

“We have had significant interest from families at other schools in Dubai as well as families who will be new to Dubai in August.”

While the Knowledge and Human Development Authority has now announced that schools can conduct tours of schools, the online approach proved a success for many.

At Emirates International School Jumeirah, Shirley Harrison, head of high school, said it plans to keep some elements of video interaction in place once classes resume.

“We will definitely continue to offer parents evening consultations on Zoom because the feedback from parents and teachers has been great," she said.

“In fact, we had a record turn out from parents logging in for evening sessions because the virtual approach was just more convenient for them.”

While the school has said goodbye to about "100 families who have had to leave Dubai" due to the pandemic, the IB school will be welcoming new pupils this year.

“So far we have 145 pupils who will be brand new to EISJ from September,” Ms Harrison said.

“This is a mix of pupils joining from countries such as Canada, The Netherlands, Singapore and also Dubai pupils who are moving to us as a good-value, quality IB education option.

“Overall, we have enrolled almost 2,000 pupils for September, very close to what we would expect at this point in the year.

“We are only a little down on last year’s figures, which is remarkable given how challenging the situation is around the world.”

Tuition fees at the school start from Dh35,054 up to Dh74,283.

At Dunecrest American School in Dubai, a spokeswoman said it was receiving more "late-stage applications and enrolments" than usual.

"We anticipate that our total new intake will be around 130 new pupils by September and we will cap our total enrollment at 425," she said.

"We are very fortunate to have the vast majority of our current pupil body returning to Dunecrest in September but, regrettably, a few families are repatriating home and we will miss them as part of our community."

Private schools across Dubai and Abu Dhabi are getting ready to welcome hundreds of new pupils when schools reopen in September.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority said the learning experience would look different when classrooms reopen, and schools could choose whether they wanted to return to full-time classes or have a blend of in-person and online learning.