Headteachers predict thousands more pupils back in schools from January

One school said it was preparing for the return of 1,000 children – up from 150 last term – as fewer parents keep their children at home

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 08 SEPTEMBER 2020.  Affordable schools in Dubai. The Gulf Model School where fees range from Dh350-Dh650 per month located in Al Muhaisinah 4. Shiny Davison, director of learning at Gulf Model School in Dubai. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Anam Rizvi. Section: National.

Principals in the UAE are predicting a major increase in pupils returning to classrooms next month.

They said the introduction of a Covid-19 vaccine was giving a much-needed boost to parents' confidence.

One Dubai school expects at least 1,000 pupils back on January 3 – up from 150 last term.

Many others across the UAE say more parents and pupils want in-person classes.

Sheela Menon, principal at Ambassador School, an Indian curriculum school in Dubai, said that in the last term, only 12 pupils out of 890 attended classes in person.

For the start of the new term on January 3, more than 250 of Ambassador’s pupils will be back for face-to-face lessons.

"We feel more confidence, optimism and willingness in parents to send children to school," Ms Menon said.

This will be a real comeback for pupils

“The vaccine has given a much-needed boost to the people's confidence. Schools are expecting more students to be back for face to face learning."

Schools across the country are trying to regain a sense of normality after a year of disruption. They closed in March to curb the spread of Covid-19 and learning went online. Many parents, teachers and pupils adapted but in-person classes are still preferred by most.

This preference, along with rigorous safety measures, informed the controlled and phased opening of schools from August. Parents always had the option to stick with remote learning but now the focus is slowly shifting back to the classroom.

Out of more than a million pupils in the UAE, the numbers going back next month are in the hundreds of thousands.

Ms Menon said schools were cautiously resuming campus activities. Athletic activities would still be limited to non-contact sports in smaller groups.

Shiny Davison, director of learning at Gulf Model School in Dubai, said she had noticed a strong response from parents to the return to school in January.

Out of 2,400 pupils, about 1,000 will return next month. Only 150 attended face-to-face lessons in the first term.

"This will be a real comeback for pupils," Ms Davison said. "From January, schools will definitely have a sense of being back to normal.

“The vaccine is here and parents and pupils want to come back.”

Ms Davison said parents increasingly felt that children in younger grades needed to be at school.

“In term one, there was a lot of fear. By term two, people learnt to live during a pandemic,” she said.

Abu Dhabi institutions are also set for changes because all their pupils, including those with chronic health conditions, can return to in-person lessons next month.

Pupils attending private schools in years seven to nine, or from about the age of 11 to 14, will return to their classrooms in January after a 10-month gap.

"A major change for us is that we can have more than 15 children in each class as long as we are able to follow social-distancing guidelines," said Iain Colledge, executive principal at Raha International School in Abu Dhabi.

The school is awaiting official guidance on resuming its extra-curricular activities but Raha International expects 2,300 pupils in January – up from 1,300 pupils this term. It has 2,500 pupils.

"Now, parents have seen schools are doing things in a safe manner. Around 150 to 200 [pupils] who had chosen distant learning in the last term, have now picked in-person classes," Mr Colledge said. The school polled parents in December to find out how many wanted their children to return to in-person education. Close to 94 per cent of parents chose in-school learning.

Nav Iqbal, principal at Gems Metropole School in Dubai's Motor City, said it would take time for normality to return for its 2,500 pupils.

"The main point around the vaccination is that families who may have opted for online learning in term one may now consider sending their children back into school," Mr Iqbal said.

“At Gems Metropole, we have 10 per cent of our families who opted for distance learning and we expect this number to decrease in the next term.”