x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Parents extend four-day UAE school holiday to up to 2 weeks

School principals say few parents sent their children back to class on Monday and many took them out of school days before Eid began.

DUBAI // Teachers are facing half-empty classrooms as families extend the four-day Eid holiday to up to two weeks.

School principals say few parents sent their children back to class on Monday and many took them out of school days before Eid began.

"My entire staff was back at school on the first day and stayed till the very end, but there were no pupils to teach," said Shaikha Al Zaabi, principal of the Palestine Secondary Public School in Abu Dhabi.

"Each class had three or four pupils. Not more than 30 per cent."

At Qatr Al Nada School in Madinat Zayed, principal Moza Saif Mohamed Al Mansoure was still compiling attendance figures but said they were low.

"It is a UAE cancer and we have to change it," she said. "They get a holiday and think it is fine to not come back on the first day. This is because they know there will be no repercussions. They are safe from the law."

Parents' lack of commitment to education sent the wrong message to children, Ms Al Mansoure said. "Pupils do not respect school either."

Even if only a few pupils appear for lessons, she advises teachers to continue. "Some schools just send the pupils home if there is a poor turnout. I prefer to continue teaching because that should be a lesson for the pupils who decided to skip," she said.

Ms Al Zaabi, who expects attendance at her school to be back to normal by next week, also said the onus was on parents. "They must act responsibly when it comes to their children's education.

"If the child says she does not want to go to school today, they do not question it, but just agree."

Al Zwra School in Ajman sent text messages and letters to parents emphasising the need to ensure their children were back on the first day.

"But some parents do not listen," said principal Amina Al Shamsi, who recorded less than 60 per cent attendance on Monday. "I think it is the responsibility of the ministry to get tough on parents and pupils about this."

Isaac Cherian, a counsellor and psychologist at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Madinat Zayed, said children learn the value of education from their parents.

"So, even if a parent values education but subconsciously contradicts that by not sending their children to school because it is 'just two days more', it gets imbibed."

Mr Cherian said pupils tend to approach higher education and their careers with the same laid-back approach.

"They see that it is OK to give priority to leisure and that following a schedule and disciplining yourself is not a priority."

The academic year at state schools is about 175 days - 20 days shorter than the average in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which equates to 120 additional study hours.

Ministry of Education officials have repeatedly spoken about the "culture of unnecessary holidays" parents have become accustomed to. But a code of conduct document launched by the federal authority last year mentions only a verbal warning be given to pupils who do not attend class.

"We cannot do much unless there are punishments that are laid down by the education council," said Ms Al Zaabi, whose school is operated by Adec, the Abu Dhabi Education Council.

"We want to do something about it, but at the moment our hands are tied."