Sharjah pupils undergo mass testing ahead of return to class

Pupils underwent nasal swabs on Thursday ahead of school next week

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More than 100,000 Sharjah pupils will return to private schools this Sunday for the first time since March.

116 schools across the emirate have revamped their facilities to ensure strict safety measures in place.

Distancing, Covid-19 tests for over-12s and regular sanitisation will make this a year like no other. On Thursday, thousands of pupils attended school, in casual clothes, for a PCR nasal swab test to ensure they are Covid free.

The National spent the day with principals, parents and pupils who have spoken of their hopes and fears ahead of Sunday's big return.

I'm very nervous from this whole Covid thing, but it is nothing that we cannot overcome

"We have nearly 800 pupils: 200 of them are above 12 and have undergone the mandatory testing for Covid-19. Results will be out later on Thursday," said Keith Sykes, principal of Victoria English School in Sharjah.

"A track and trace system was developed to help identify who was in contact with who if any one got infected.

"Over-12s have been put in a bubble in the school to protect them," he said.

All pupils will pass through thermal screening and any children reporting a temperature above 37.5C will be asked to study remotely.

The school has also come up with a novel way of encouraging hand washing, by turning dozens of barrels into colourful sinks and are installed across hallways.

An isolation room, a clinic, distancing stickers and more medical staff are also part of the new school year.

“I'm very nervous from this whole Covid thing," said Inaya Nasir, 13, and in grade 8 who was waiting for her test. "But it is nothing that we cannot overcome."

SHARJAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , September 24 – 2020 :- Keith Sykes ,Principal, Victoria English School explaining about the Covid 19 safety measure at the Victoria English School in Sharjah. New Covid safety setup in different areas of the school such as hand sanitizer, safety message, social distancing stickers pasted on the floor, disinfection tunnels installed at all the gates of the school. Schools in Sharjah are opening on 27th September.  (Pawan Singh / The National) For News. Story by Salam
Keith Sykes, principal of Victoria English School in Sharjah, tells of the Covid-19 safety measures in place. Pawan Singh / The National

She did consider studying online given the increased number of cases lately but changed her mind.

“I looked at how the government and my school handled all this very well, and now I’m back and very excited about it.”

Sharmin Syed, a 15-year-old Indian in grade 11, doesn’t care if she won't be shaking hands or hugging her friends, she is just happy they will be together.

She said the test felt very strange. “It was like swallowing chlorine."

Their English teacher, Matthew Keyes, believes the pandemic has made these pupils stronger. “It is a challenge but I’m excited to have my pupils back,” said Mr Keyes.

"I missed interacting with them and pushing them - it is not the same with online learning."

Some schools will implement a rotation system because of capacity constraints. And the founder of the Al Shola School Group - which operates a network of schools in Sharjah -  said no stone would be left unturned to ensure a safe environment for pupils.

“It’s a completely different world now and we have had to change our mentality to adapt,” said Ebraheem Baraka.

Mr Baraka said staff will be tested every 15 days for Covid-19 and no classroom would be above 50 per cent capacity.

"We are disinfecting everything, including the classrooms, corridors, bathrooms and school buses."

Parents also spoke of their struggles with remote learning.

Nora Khaled, an Egyptian mother of two, had to sit with her grade 2 daughter from 8am to 2pm every day
"It is essential this particular age group of pupils go to school to learn and see kids their age instead of being stuck with their parents at home all the time," said Ms Khaled.

"I trust authorities are taking all measures possible to keep our children safe in schools."

Jordanian mother Jumana Yousif had to balance work with supervising online learning.

“I head to work at 7am leaving my grade 3 daughter and my son in kindergarten 2, with their father," said Ms Yousif.

The classes' different timings was really helpful - otherwise I couldn't have helped

Her daughter takes online classes in the morning while her son’s classes start at 4pm.

“The classes’ different timings was really helpful - otherwise I couldn’t have helped."

Meanwhile, pupils in other emirates have returned to the classroom but not all schools have brought children back.

Hundreds of pupils in year 10 to 13 in Abu Dhabi are being tested for Covid-19 ahead of their return to school campuses next week.

All other year groups were to return to school in late September or early October as part of a staggered plan. However, authorities said children in grades 6 to 8 (years 7 to 9), between the ages of 11 to 14, will continue with distance learning for the “foreseeable future”.

About 17,000 teachers and staff at Sharjah's private schools were tested for coronavirus before the new term.