The UAE will begin a gradual return to normal education in public schools and universities as well as Abu Dhabi private schools from February 14, 2021.
The Ministry of Education set out the details on Wednesday.
The decision came as many schools are closed as a precaution or because of Covid-19 cases among staff, pupils or parents. Private schools in Dubai resumed in-person classes in August with individual schools closing periodically because of an increase in case numbers.
"The option of distance education will remain available until the end of the current school year, taking into account the importance of co-ordination between parents and school principals," the ministry said.
Safety precautions in place for schools were reviewed and updated to take into account the latest coronavirus developments. These will continue to be updated throughout the school year.
The return to classrooms will be staggered with schools expected to maintain a hybrid learning system.
The ministry said the decision was made "based on the recommendations of authorities and taking into account the wishes of pupils' parents".
On Wednesday, Abu Dhabi's Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee said classroom education would resume for all grades at the emirate's schools with e-learning would be an option until the end of the academic year.
The committee said it approved a "preventive protocol" for schools to ensure the safety of staff and pupils.
In-person classes were initially set to resume – for all public schools in the UAE and private schools in Abu Dhabi – at the start of the second school term in January but were delayed twice because of increasing case numbers.
In preparation for normal classes, private school regulators organised vaccination drives for staff.
This week, Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge said 15,000 staff members – about 60 per cent of the total staff – received the first dose of the Sinopharm vaccine during a voluntary drive.
The Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai is also leading a vaccination campaign for school staff with many schools reporting that the majority of their employees have been immunised.
Abu Dhabi private school pupils in years seven to nine, who have not returned to classrooms since March, will also resume in-person lessons.\
Nicola Neethling, vice principal at Raha International School, said the school had not held in-person classes since December 10.
"We are extremely excited to welcome our pupils back to school for face-to-face learning," she said.
"We are particularly excited about the return to on-site learning for our secondary middle year programme. Many of these pupils are eager to get back to school and see their friends and teachers."
Secondary pupils have been unable to return to on-site learning this academic year.
"We will wait for guidance from the Department of Education and Knowledge, however, we anticipate that secondary pupils will need to be tested before they return," said Ms Neethling.
Mark Leppard, headmaster at British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi, said he was pleased that the school would reopen after mid-term break.
"I must admit since we have had this extension of distance learning, it's been quite a heavy mood in the schools," he said.
"Now, we feel like a weight has been lifted off our minds.
"We closed in December with the intention of being back on the January third. The opening was postponed and we have been waiting."
He said 97 per cent of parents had opted for an in-person return to classes.
Teachers are also looking forward to welcoming middle year pupils after a 11-month break from face-to-face learning, he said.
The school has planned for secondary pupils to have the campus to themselves for a day while all other pupils study at home to reorientate them to in-classroom learning.
"After nearly a year away, we will need to give pupils some time, brief them, and address their challenges," said Mr Leppard.
"Pupils really want to come back but there will be some anxiety because they haven't been back in a long time."
New pupils that joined the school this year will enter the classrooms for the first time. He said anxious or concerned pupils are advised to seek help from their teachers.
Kelvin Hornsby, principal at Gems Cambridge International School in Abu Dhabi, said their pupils would return to classrooms on February 21, after a mid-term break from February 14 to 20.
He said the school had been sanitised and prepared for their return.
The school closed for winter holidays on December 10.
Close to 2,100 pupils of 3,450 enrolled at the school previously committed to an in-person return.
While younger pupils will be in school every day, pupils in years one to six will alternate.
More than half of the school's 334 staff members have already taken the first shot of the vaccine.