After two-and-a-half-months enjoying cooler climes and exam free days, hundreds of thousands of pupils returned to class on Sunday as the school year got under way.
The country's leaders were among those to mix among students, visiting classrooms and welcoming teachers back after the summer holidays.
The back-to-school buzz reached excitement on Sunday as the country’s leaders joined pupils for the annual end of summer ritual.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, toured a number of Dubai-based schools, including Al Maktoum Primary School for Boys and the Jumeirah Model Girls School.
In Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, visited Hamdan Bin Zayed School – the country’s first trilingual public school where children can study in English, Arabic and Mandarin. Led by principal Fatima Al Bastaki and officials from the Abu Dhabi Education Council, Sheikh Mohammed visited classrooms and met with pupils and staff to get a first-hand look of the pioneering school in action.
Back to school:
Recently, the Ministry of Education announced that 10 of the public schools it operates in Dubai and the Northern Emirates would also offer Mandarin as a language of instruction.
The new language class was one of a number of reforms the Government made to the public school system this academic year. The most transformative of these was the merger of the Adec public school curriculum that was followed by state schools in the capital region with the MoE curriculum, which was taught to government schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.
The unified curriculum, called the Emirati School Model, ensures that no child is left behind when it comes to bilingual education. Children across the country will now be taught maths and sciences in English.
“I’m really happy they have done this because what happens is there is a lot of kids who come from the other cities like Fujairah and Sharjah and it’s completely different, there is a huge gap between our curriculum and theirs,” said Mariam Al Zaabi, a public school parent and teacher in the capital. “In Abu Dhabi, we study maths and science in English, but for them they studied in Arabic. The business and economy in this country is all in English.”
Ms Al Zaabi, a maths teacher, said the news of the new curriculum was welcomed, but caught her by surprise. She had prepared her lessons for this academic year months ago.
“I was planning on having everything ready and then with a blink everything was shutting down,” Ms Al Zaabi said. “But it’s OK, I can accept it, I am trying to be optimistic. This is life. Inshallah, it will be better, I hope.
From what she had seen of the new curriculum, the maths standards in elementary school had been raised to focus less on shapes and patterns and more on formulas.
“That is better,” said Ms Al Zaabi. “I don’t care if she knows the square and the circle, what I care about is addition and subtraction and multiplication because this is what they need in their life.”
Public school Principal Fatima Al Zaabi said she welcomed the new curriculum, but said teachers and staff need more training.
“Now they are merged and we are one. It is good, really, because everything will be clear and it will be easier for the parents to understand,” said Ms Al Zaabi. “We need some more training because it is new. Even for the technology and computer labs, there is a lot of programming for them and they didn’t know about it, so they need training. Also for the moral education also, it is new, they need training.”
But as hallways filled with giddy students, the challenges of the new academic year was far from everyone’s minds, teachers and principals said.
“Today was a huge success with returning families as well as new coming back to BSAK after a wonderful summer,” said Mark Leppard, headmaster of one of the country’s oldest private schools, the British School Al Khubairat.
“There was a real buzz in the air with students meeting their new teachers as well as getting their new timetables. A series of assemblies throughout the day allowed students to set their goals for the year ahead and they were all encouraged to continue to aim high and exceed expectations. We had most of our students back in school today ready for the exciting year ahead.”
At GEMS Wellington Primary School in Dubai, returning pupils were pleasantly surprised to find their school had undergone a summer facelift. Although the school opened last week, the first assembly was Sunday.
“It was like children seeing a birthday present – their eyes peeling open at the wonder and the awe of seeing their school open again,” said Stephen Chynoweth, principal. “To hear the corridor – the chorus of children’s voices – to hear that chatter, that murmur, that life blood of our school, the children and the families back in, it was magical.”
Nura Arabi, physical education and health teacher, said teachers had been busy ensuring everything would be just right for the students’ return.
“You have to make sure everything is set, everything is ready for the students, there is nothing missing for them, making sure that all the documents and all the planning is there,” said Ms Arabi. “It was great to see the students again. I haven’t seen them for the whole summer, so for me as a teacher it’s always nice to see my students again.”
Ms Arabi praised the government’s decision to clamp down on private schools to raise standards.
“It is good for the students. It is a lot more work for the teachers, of course, but it is good for the school overall,” said Ms Arabi.
Bassam Abushakra, regional director for private school operator Esol Education, said principals at the three schools in the UAE “all have had a smooth day".
“Attendance is above 90 per cent at the three schools, which is good and as expected. By next week we should be higher,” said Mr Abushakra.
“Students are always very happy to be back at school with their friends and teachers after a long summer break, and this is no different this year, so the atmosphere has been quite electric.”