UAE schools may continue with a form of blended learning in the next academic year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Hussain Al Hammadi, Minister for Education, said.
He said he firmly hoped to see all pupils back in class in September 2021 – but that it was too early to be sure.
At present, most government-run schools are closed, while private school operators are running a mix of online learning and in-class teaching.
But the model for next year is expected to be the closest to normality since February 2020, when the pandemic disrupted global education.
"Next year, hopefully, we are back to normal, but it's still too early to call," he told The National.
"The expectation is we will be back to normal. But you are aware, with this pandemic, nothing is for sure.
"For now, we have some schools selecting physical attendance. And parents can choose [whether to send their children], since we are still in pandemic."
A major vaccine drive means 52 per cent of the population is protected against coronavirus. Much of the remainder is forecast to be inoculated by the autumn.
Mr Al Hammadi said despite the disruption during the pandemic, teachers, parents and the country's leaders had ensured pupils continued their education.
A Ministry of Education representative said that the decision would be based on the pandemic situation later this year.
"The nature of school attendance in the next academic year depends on the health conditions," it said.
"We cannot determine or predict now how it is going to be. The matter is subject to following the health developments one step at a time.
"The decision will surely be in the interest of our students and teaching staff."
Earlier, on Abu Dhabi's Al Emarat TV, he said many schools were investing in e-learning, digital whiteboards and video conferencing when the pandemic hit.
But there was still a major push required in March and April last year when the scale of coronavirus became clear.
"So the groundwork was there but was implanted in schools," he said.
"When Covid happened, the leadership [made decisions] for the safety of the students and teachers and for a safer environment and for the continuation of education."
At present, all schools in the Northern Emirates are closed after surges in several areas.
In Dubai, private school head teachers have the authority to operate a mix of distance learningand in-class lessons.
Many schools continue to run a blend of e-learning and have pupils in some days. Isolated outbreaks in recent months led several to close and reopen, in consultation with the authorities.
In Abu Dhabi, some schools operate a mix of in-person learning and home studies, and some are back full-time.