Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 September 2020

Back to school: UAE teachers reveal greatest challenges after first week in class

More than a million pupils have started school in the UAE this week - and it is a very different landscape

Hundreds of thousands of pupils are back in the classrooms for the first time since March when they closed to curb the spread of Covid-19. Other pupils are still distance learning but everyone has to navigate a very different educational landscape. Here are some of the challenges they faced:

Pick-up and drop-off struggles

More than 1,000 pupils have returned for in-person classes at Horizon International School, a British curriculum school in Dubai.

The school has introduced a stop-drop-and-go system. Parents of children between foundation stage one and year one are allowed to drop children to their classrooms, while parents of children in year two and above have to drop their children at the designated areas.

Darren Gale, principal at Horizon International School in Dubai. Managing drop-off times was a challenge, he said. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Darren Gale, principal at Horizon International School in Dubai. Managing drop-off times was a challenge, he said. Chris Whiteoak / The National

"Managing all the staggered pickup and drop-off points has been the greatest challenge for us," said Darren Gale, principal at the school.

"We are relying on parents reading that information and interpreting it."

Iain Colledge, principal, Raha International School in Abu Dhabi, said about 1,000 pupils returned to their campuses for in-person classes.

Parents are not allowed to enter schools in Abu Dhabi.

"Some of the bigger challenges have been pick-up and drop-off times because of the numbers and training the parents and children to work in accordance with the new flow within the campus," said Mr Colledge.

Technical glitches at some schools

More than a million pupils are enrolled at 619 public and 643 private schools in the UAE, while over 21,000 public teachers and 50,000 private school educators returned to classrooms. Some pupils are continuing with distance learning and a few schools struggled with technical difficulties.

Matthew Lecuyer, principal at Gems Winchester School Dubai, said: “Unfortunately, a very small minority of our students encountered technical difficulties on the first day of term. As soon as we became aware of this issue, all passwords and login details were reissued to those affected."

Teachers have created new time-tables

Many teachers are live-streaming lessons and have to check on pupils learning at home.

"We have aligned our time tables so now we are able to stream our lessons live to the children," said Michael Atkinson, a British year-five homeroom teacher at Dubai British School Jumeirah Park.

"This gives children at home the feeling that they are in the class even though they are not."

Nargish Khambatta, principal of Gems Modern Academy in Dubai. Reintegrating pupils will take time, she said. Pawan Singh / The National 
Nargish Khambatta, principal of Gems Modern Academy in Dubai. Reintegrating pupils will take time, she said. Pawan Singh / The National 

Reminding pupils to maintain social distance

Re-integrating pupils back into school will take time, believes Nargish Khambatta, principal of Gems Modern Academy in Dubai.

Of 3,700 pupils about 375 to 450 pupils are at the school for in-person lessons every day.

"The school's focus is on wellbeing and re-integrating pupils but parent's focus is still on academics," she said.

Darren Gale, principal of Horizon International School, a British curriculum school in Dubai, said: "We don't want to become a draconian institution with teachers out in corridors asking pupils repeatedly to keep their distance. That does not happen even in the shopping malls."

On top of taking care of academics, teachers now have to ensure pupils wear masks and follow protocols.

Ramona Headley, a British year-five teacher at Dubai British School Jumeirah Park, said pupils were not scared at all.

"We have to encourage them to not go over and meet their friends," said Ms Headley. "They had not been in schools for nearly six months so they were very excited to see each other."

Updated: September 3, 2020 07:57 PM

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