DUBAI // Half of the pupils at many public schools were absent yesterday as parents extended the Eid break despite stern warnings from officials and claims by experts that it would harm their children's progress.
There were empty desks in classrooms across the country, even though schools had been ordered by the Ministry of Education to begin classes yesterday.
Samira Al Nuaimi, the vice principal of Mubarak Bin Mohammed School in the capital, said only half of its 700 pupils showed up.
Abdul Kareem, whose son is in Grade 5 at Al Qasimia School in Sharjah, said he did not send his son to school as "it is still Eid".
"The school is open but many parents like me have not sent their children today," he said.
"They will go to school on Sunday," Mr Kareem added. There is no one in school, so I do not think there will be an issue."
He said it would have made more sense for the ministry to give children the week off so families had time to travel.
Ms Al Nuaimi said: "Some parents just decided to add these two days to a long holiday and are now travelling outside the country. We did our best to encourage all parents to send their children to school today by sending SMS and letters."
She said all classes were in session and many activities had been planned for the day.
"Children who have not come today have missed out on the revision and assignments we gave out," Ms Al Nuaimi said.
Ali Mihad Al Suwaidi, the director general of the education ministry, said last week that the authority was tired of the "culture of unnecessary holidays" among parents.
The ministry insisted pupils were to be back in school after the three-day Eid break announced by the Government.
"This may cause some discontent among parents but we want them to understand that pupils need to be in schools studying and they already have enough holiday time during the year," said Mr Al Suwaidi.
The academic year at government schools is about 175 days. Most of the 34 member countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have 195 days on their calendars, giving those students 120 more hours of learning.
Experts say the shorter academic calendar is harming the progress of children.
Awareness sessions with parents about the importance of education helped to ensure good attendance at Ahmed Bin Majid School in Ras Al Khaimah yesterday, said the vice principal Mariam Mohammed Al Zaabi. The private school had only 10 absentees yesterday.
"Only the ones who are sick or out of the country have not returned," Ms Al Zaabi said. "It is important that parents respect the rules laid down and teach the same to their children. They need to like being in school.
"We have several activities and topics we need to teach them and this term is short."
International schools that coupled their mid-term break with the Eid holidays were allowed to take the full week off.
But private schools that had told parents of a week-long Eid holiday without the consent of the ministry were ordered to revoke the announcement.
The Delhi Private School in Sharjah had planned to close for a week, but followed the ministry decision and reopened yesterday.
"We had to follow the rules and parents have co-operated with us," said Vandana Marwaha, the principal. "Only 1 per cent of our pupils - those who had perhaps made travel plans that could not be cancelled - have not turned up."
Ms Marwaha said she was glad the number of holidays had been reduced as it would have been difficult to finish the curriculum this term.
"It is better this way or else our senior school teachers would have to take extra classes on a Saturday to complete the syllabus," she said.