Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 3 July 2020

Coronavirus: UAE private schools preparing to welcome pupils in September

At a meeting of school leaders, operators urged the authorities to ease regulations and offer assistance

Schools said they are ready to return in September, but anticipate significant changes to the school day and more learning from home. Pawan Singh / The National
Schools said they are ready to return in September, but anticipate significant changes to the school day and more learning from home. Pawan Singh / The National

Private schools said they were ready to welcome back pupils in September and urged the authorities to ease regulations.

At an online meeting on Thursday organised by Education Business Group, a private school association representing more than 100 schools, executives discussed how they could bring back more than 800,000 pupils into classrooms.

Schools are set to return for the new academic year in September but expect to run a "blended" programme with lessons taught in school and at home. No decision has yet been made by the authorities.

Some school groups said they needed flexibility to put staff on reduced wages or on unpaid leave, and even asked the government for financial support.

Our human resource expenses are 60-70 per cent, so we need flexibility to perhaps furlough staff and decide how we manage our staff

Ajay Mankani, Fortes Education

"The health pandemic has forced all schools in the UAE to shut down and we faced logistical and operation problems," said Ajay Mankani, director of Fortes Holdings, which runs schools and nurseries across the country.

"We are asking for support from the government. We are asking for flexibility in choosing our operating models."

Mr Mankani claimed easing regulations on teaching (subjects and timetables) may be needed to continue running.

“We need flexibility in terms of our human resource practices," he said.

"Our human resource expenses are 60 to 70 per cent, so we need flexibility to perhaps furlough staff and decide how we manage our staff, while keeping with the regulations of the UAE".

"If, on the other hand, the government allows schools to open physically in September, and gives schools the flexibility to choose their operating model, whether blended or in staggered shifts, schools would not need to furlough staff. In fact, many schools may need to hire additional staff because of social distancing protocols that limit class sizes."

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Coronavirus latest: images around the UAE

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Alan Williamson, chief executive at Taaleem, which runs 13 private schools, stressed the need to have pupils back in the classroom.

"The economy needs parents at the workplace and not at home educating their children," he said.

"The private sector in UAE employs more than 50,000 teachers in education and that is a major massive part of the workforce.

"Opening schools is the best way of ensuring those 50,000 jobs are secure.

“It is imperative that schools open not only from an economic perspective but from a social perspective."

Mr Williamson said the UAE had the advantage of learning from countries that allowed pupils to return before the summer.

“We are watching Scandinavia, the Far East and Europe so that UAE schools will have a tremendous advantage when they open," he said.

"We saw that when we transformed our schools in a week and we are ready to transform our schools back into the new norm."

Mr Williamson said the group was working with education regulators, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai and the Department of Education and Knowledge in Abu Dhabi, to find the best way to bring back pupils in September.

"Schools need to open for the well-being of children," he said.

"The social aspect is being missed. We are missing science labs, sports fields, dance studios and arts studios. We are missing the totality of the curriculum."

Last week, a global poll found four out of five teachers said it was not yet safe to return to the school.

The poll involved more than 4,000 teachers from 33 countries at the T4 Conference, one of the world’s largest education fairs.

Sir Christopher Stone, global chief education officer at Gems Education, said that while there is a certain amount that could be taught online, children need to interact.

Mr Stone said online learning might leave behind children who are more vulnerable, or those who had special needs, or some who needed team work to succeed.

Updated: June 5, 2020 04:57 PM

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