x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Parents question nursery closures

If the shutdown lasts, schools must decide how teachers are to be paid, and families will face decisions on education and child care.

Moatasem, aged three, is taught how to wash his hands at a Dubai nursery school.
Moatasem, aged three, is taught how to wash his hands at a Dubai nursery school.

ABU DHABI // The announcement that nursery schools and special-needs centres will be closed as a result of the H1N1 virus has drawn mixed reactions from parents. A spokeswoman for the Abu Dhabi Education Council said the closure would not affect children in KG1 and KG2.

Nursery schools and special care centres reported last night that they had not received instructions from the Ministry of Social Affairs to shut down. The ministry did not say whether nursery schools would be allowed to collect fees from parents while schools are closed. Clive Pierrepont, director of communications and marketing for the school operator Taaleem, said teachers at its two Dubai nursery schools would be paid while schools are closed.

Mustafa Sanver, a professor from Turkey whose three-year-old child attends the Giggles nursery school in Abu Dhabi, said he did not believe schools should close. If H1N1, the virus that causes swine flu, "is not going to get to our child through nursery, it will find some other way - the mall, the playgrounds, or an adult might bring it to the home as well, or by the kids visiting each other", he said. "There are so many other ways of getting it."

Closing schools "reduces the risk, but it doesn't completely get rid of it; therefore, I don't believe they should close it down." He said Giggles was already taking precautions; since the school reopened for the present term, it has checked passports, and children who have been abroad have been sent home for a week. The school has also warned parents not to send sick children to classes. "They should closely monitor the kids, and I think the families should be more alerted," Mr. Sanver said.

"If they see that their kid is sick with a fever, they shouldn't send their kid to school, but other than that, I don't think they should close down schools." Mr Sanver said he would seek alternative instruction for his child while nursery schools are closed. Dr Jon Craig, a general practitioner at the American Hospital in Dubai, said shutting down nursery schools was unnecessary and would not curb the spread of H1N1.

"If swine flu is going to spread through the community, then to close nursery schools right now may be simply delaying the inevitable," he said. "The question is how long do you keep them closed for? Do you keep them closed for a week, for a month, for a year, until the pandemic has died down?" Dr Craig added that although children under five were at higher risk of contracting H1N1, closing nursery schools would not stop them from getting the flu if there were an outbreak.

"If we all stopped interacting with each other completely, then of course you could stop the spread of a virus, but you can't do that," he said. "Children are still going to be exposed to viruses from contact with the other people they are in contact with, from their parents, because their parents are not going to not socialize and go to work." "It makes sense to me to close a nursery school where there has been a concerned case, but to automatically do it just as a preventative measure begs the question of how long do you do it for, and whether it makes any difference in the long term."

The shutting down of nursery schools will leave some families - particularly those with two working parents - in the lurch. But other parents support the decision. Aseena Benny, an Indian mother in Abu Dhabi whose daughter Sarah is in playschool has kept her child at home because she is concerned about H1N1. "I think that all parents are a little bit concerned. I, myself, I paid for school, but I don't want to send her," Mrs Benny said. "Kids her age do not have much immunity or protection, [and] they don't know how to protect themselves from catching a cold."

Mrs Benny supports the Government's decision to close nursery schools. "I think, for me, she's small; she's not going to miss much learning. It's better that she be at home." klewis@thenational.ae with additional reporting by Matthew Chung