UAE pupils prepare for first in-person exams since pandemic started

Pupils must wear masks, while invigilators of the International Baccalaureate exams will wear gloves

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UAE pupils are returning to radically changed exam halls this month for the first in-person tests since the Covid-19 pandemic started.

International Baccalaureate tests are the first to take place since schools closed in March.

Pupils must wear masks, while invigilators will use gloves when touching exam papers.

Across the UAE’s IB schools, classes are being reorganised, rooms cordoned off and desks set to ensure physical distancing for the tests, which will run until November 13.

The majority of pupils sit the baccalaureate exams in the UAE in May, but the start of in-person exams marks a cautious return to normality.

We ask [families] to declare whether their child has displayed any symptoms of Covid-19 or come into contact with anyone showing symptoms

“Students have been already told of the rooms in which they will sit the exams and the social distancing measures we have in place in school,” said Amy Cooper, assistant principal at Gems Wellington Academy in Silicon Oasis, Dubai, which has four pupils sitting IB exams, in chemistry, biology, IT and psychology.

“We are asking families to declare any family holidays or travel plans over the upcoming long weekend. We will then again contact each family 24 hours before each exam, asking them to declare whether their child has displayed any symptoms of Covid-19 or come into contact with anyone showing symptoms.”

At least 43 schools offer the IB diploma programme in the UAE. It is becoming increasingly popular, with many pupils in the UAE preferring its focus on independent thinking.

Schools in the Emirates hold IB exams in May because the diploma programme has two sessions: May for the northern hemisphere and November for the southern hemisphere. UAE pupils sit for some exams held only in November or repeats.

Some schools prepared for next month’s tests by staging mock trials earlier this month. Greenfield International School in Dubai had 75 pupils get ready this way.

Greenfield International School in Dubai Investment Park. Greenfield International School

“All the pupils and invigilators had to wear masks and the children were seated almost two metres away from each other,” said Sarah Atienza, the school’s IB diploma co-ordinator.

“We know pupils might feel thirsty as they sit exams with masks on. We have allowed pupils to bring their own water bottles although food and drink are not allowed in exam halls.”

Only 15 children were in each class at a time and a block of the school building was cordoned so other pupils could not enter.

The safety guidelines from IB include maintaining social distance and ensuring pupils wear masks.

Edwin Humpel, a 17-year-old South African pupil at Greenfield, will sit his exam in Afrikaans in November, while the rest will be held in May. “We had mock exams that took place with safety measures in place and this helped me feel more comfortable about my upcoming exams,” he said.

Pupils were awarded grades on the basis of predicted scores and coursework in May but Edwin was looking forward to taking the test.

“I wanted to write my exams because these give an opportunity to show what you are capable of,” he said.

It is a similar story at Gems Wellington International School.

“We are pleased to be following the guidelines set by Dubai Health Authority and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority [Dubai’s schools regulator] in order that our students may take the examinations that will allow them to progress to their next stage of education,” said the school’s principal, Maryssa O’Connor.

“These examinations are essential for our pupils as it is an opportunity to express themselves in a form that they were unable to in the May examinations.”

A survey by International Baccalaureate Organisation in September regarding exams in November, found that 73 per cent of schools would be able to administer the exams using local guidelines, while 27 per cent of schools would not.

IB exams are set to finish on November 13.

Separately, it was announced on Wednesday that UAE schools will hold in-person exams next month with Covid-19 safety measures in place.

The Ministry of Education confirmed pupils at government and private schools that follow its curriculum will sit first-semester tests from November 15.