Five models UAE schools can follow as pupils return to class

From alternating weeks to 'pupil bubbles', schools have adopted various measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus

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As pupils this week return to classrooms across the UAE for the first time since March, schools have had to find creative ways to keep them and staff safe from Covid-19.

From staggered returns to pupil “bubbles”, schools have adopted different models of learning to prevent the spread of coronavirus while still providing quality education to children.

More than a million pupils are enrolled at 619 public and 643 private schools in the country. And more than 21,000 public teachers and 50,000 private school educators will be returning to classrooms this week.

Education authorities in Abu Dhabi gave schools a choice between five models: to allow pupils back to school full time, on alternate days, for half days, alternating weeks, or a combination.

In Dubai, schools were given the freedom to create their own models to be approved by regulators.

These are the different ways schools across the Emirates will be managing classrooms this term:

Here are some safety measures in place as UAE pupils return to their schools

Here are some safety measures in place as UAE pupils return to their schools

1. Alternating weeks

Some schools, including Brighton College Abu Dhabi, have chosen to alternate in-person classes for a week, followed by online learning the following week.

The decision was made to ensure compliance with safety measures set by authorities that include physical distancing and limiting class sizes.

“We are now following a week of on campus learning, followed by a week of online distance learning approach for Pre-Prep (from FS2) and Prep (year three-six), and distance learning for the time being for seniors (year seven upward,” said Simon Corns, headmaster of Brighton College Abu Dhabi.

“This is the best model we can manage while complying with the most recent safety requirements.”

2. Alternating days

Limits on classroom sizes and mandatory physical distancing has presented challenges for schools with high pupil populations.

Indian High School has more than 17,000 pupils, making it the UAE’s largest school. To meet safety measures, the school will operate at 50 per cent capacity for in-person classes. Pupils will only attend on-site classes on certain days of the week.

Pupils in kindergarten will have face-to-face classes once a week, while grade one to eight will come to school for in-person classes two days a week. Grades nine to 12 will have lessons at school three days per week.

Punit Vasu, chief executive of Indian High School, said the hybrid model was necessary for them.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 30 AUGUST 2020. STANDALONE. First day of school. Gems Wellington Academy in Al Khail opens for the start of the school year. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Anna Zacharias. Section: National.
Pupils return to Gems Wellington Academy on Sunday. Antonie Robertson / The National

“All students will be offered a mix of on-site face-to-face and online distance learning sessions.

“If a parent feels strongly against their child attending face-to-face lessons they have been given the option to choose distance learning,” he said.

3. Staggered return / combination

Private schools in Abu Dhabi are staggering the return of pupils to the classroom.

Most pupils aged between four and 11 started in-person classes on Sunday. Classes also resumed for children in kindergarten to Grade 5 under the US system, and for FS2 (Reception) to Year 6 under the British one.

Pupils in all other years will resume face-to-face lessons in about a month. Authorities have said that pupils in Abu Dhabi aged 12 and above must be tested for Covid-19 before returning to campus so the delayed start will give schools and children more time to organise this.

At Raha International School in Abu Dhabi, groups of pupils will have staggered orientation classes the first and second week of term before returning full time in the third week.

American Academy for Girls in Al Mizhar, Dubai, has opted to bring pupils back gradually using a combination of staggered and full return models.

On Sunday, 200 pupils returned to campus while a different set of 200 children attended school on Monday. Full attendance will resume after this week while around 100 pupils have chosen to continue online learning for the first term.

Children will be studying together in small bubbles of around 10 pupils to limit the potential spread should there be an outbreak.

To make room for the pupils, the school is using outdoor spaces for breaks and has converted a music lab to a physics classroom.

Member of Al-Mizhar American Academy for Girls assists a student wearing protective masks as they return to school after months on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020, in Dubai, UAE. (Photos by Shruti Jain - The National)
A staff member at American Academy for Girls guides a pupil on her first day back. Shruti Jain for The National

4. Half days

Schools in Abu Dhabi were given the option to split the school day in two, providing in-person classes for the first few hours and allowing pupils to continue home learning for the remainder of the day.

This system would ensure fewer pupils on campus at one time and encourage individual study at home.

Brighton College Abu Dhabi previously said preschool pupils will initially do half days when lessons resume.

5. Full return

Schools with smaller populations and larger campuses have reopened completely and have welcomed more than 1,000 pupils back to classrooms on Sunday.

Many parents told The National they prefer in-person classes as children need engagement and interaction.

At Dubai British School Jumeirah Park, which chose a full reopening, more than 1,200 pupils started classes on Sunday.

Only six per cent of the pupils at the school group are studying online this term.

Horizon International School in Dubai will be bringing back nearly all pupils back to classes this week.

Of 1,100 pupils enrolled in foundation, primary and secondary sections at the school, 92 per cent will be at the school for face-to-face classes this week.