The second term of the 2021/22 academic year began in UAE schools today. For the first time, the UAE’s school term officially began on a Monday, as schools switched to the newly revised working week. From this week, schools will operate from Monday – Friday, with an early closure on the final day of the week. Shifting calendars and schedules have been the least of the challenges facing some schools however, as rising case numbers of Covid19 in the community has seen large numbers of schools closed for physical attendance.
In Dubai, parents and staff had been hopeful that all schools would be open, however as the last-minute PCR results of teaching staff rolled in, it quickly became apparent that many schools would be forced to close as staffing levels dipped below a safe and sustainable minimum. In the end, over 30 Dubai schools (including most of the GEMS group, the UAE’s largest education provider) switched to distance learning, with some making the announcement as late as 10pm last night. For some students, their school day was disrupted by last minute bus cancellations as staff shortages took their toll on more than just teachers.
Reaction from parents has been mixed. Some displayed frustration at the prospect of more online learning and disruption to their own work life. Social media chat rooms across the country lit up with claims the closure could have been prevented. A small number of parents have suggested that teachers should have been forced to remain in the UAE, rather than travel during the Winter break, or indeed whether school staff should have moderated their behaviour in other ways, to prevent infection and subsequent school closures. That said, other parents had a more sympathetic viewpoint. Vanessa Quinn, Mum to a Year 2 student at Horizon English School said;
“I feel for teachers, they are getting a hard time for this! I have no issue with teachers travelling, they are people who need a break as much as the rest of us. It’s all a challenge, we just have to be kind to ourselves and others and do what we can”.
Selina Schoeman, a UAE mum and popular local blogger, was pleased that her children had been able to return, in person, to classes at the Royal Grammar School Guildford, Dubai. Speaking to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Mrs Schoeman told our reporter;
“My husband and I are very happy that the school is open. We feel that the school is making an extra effort to be safe. Children are masked and distanced, and they thrive in an in-school, face-to-face environment. The KHDA has made sensible changes in light of the increased numbers, reducing exposure opportunities in the canteen, extra-curricular activities and more. Of the positive cases we had in our previous school last year, they appeared to be associated with outside transmission, as even though one of our children was in the ‘bubble’ system applied to Under 6s, thankfully no in-class transmission was noted. Additionally, this time last year, the numbers across the UAE were similar, yet the population unvaccinated. This year, the majority of staff, parents etc are vaccinated.
“Personally, I hope that as many schools stay open as is possible”.
Transport woes were added to the long list of challenges for some schools and families today. Popular school bus service provider, STS, was forced to cancel a number of routes due to staff shortages. At Safa British School, the team quickly pivoted to offer distance learning to students who could not make their usual bus journey to school. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has approached STS for comment on this matter.
Speaking on behalf of the nation’s students, Finn Mollon, son of WSA Senior Editor, Jenny, was interviewed about his experience of returning to distance learning for a local radio station. Finn had clearly taken the experience in his stride, and happily reported using his break time to meet friends in the park. He also suggested that parents “worry less” about their child’s performance at school during distance learning. Some excellent advice from our 11 year old junior reporter!