x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Schools in Ajman open half-empty

Private schools throughout the Northern Emirates are reporting high absenteeism, mostly in the lower primary grades.

Ajman // Half of private-school pupils in Ajman have stayed away from classes this week, citing the threat of swine flu, according to Musa al Gharib, the head of the private schools section at the Ajman Education Zone. Many other private schools in the Northern Emirates that had been due to open this week have delayed the start of their terms, some for fear of spreading the virus.

Mr al Gharib said it was Ajman's biggest case of absenteeism in the first week of a new school term, with fewer than 2,000 of approximately 4,000 students turning up. "More effort is needed to create awareness and confidence among parents that the country is well prepared to protect their children at schools," he said. He said other concerns, such as the financial crisis, could be playing a part, but that the H1N1 virus threat was likely to be the main cause since schools were usually able to give parents in financial difficulty time to pay their fees.

Mr al Gharib said the education zone was working closely with the Ministries of Education and Health to implement the national swine flu prevention measures, and that all schools had had a team of their staff trained to deal with the virus. An administrator at Al Hikam Private School said attendance had been low compared with previous years, but they were expecting it to rise over the coming days.

"Most absenteeism is in Grade 1 to Grade 3," he said. "Some of these classes were half empty in the first days." Obaid al Qaoud, director of the Umm al Qaiwain Education Zone, said three of the four private schools offering foreign curricula had postponed their starting dates, with just one, the Choueifat International School, starting this week. But he denied that the other three had delayed their starting dates out of fear of swine flu. He said all the schools had put in place necessary measures to counteract the disease, and had delayed the start of their terms for other reasons.

Mohammed Azzem, a secretary at Umm Qura school in Umm al Qaiwain, said the school was delaying the start of term to let its students fast with their parents. Officials from the New Indian School said the school was still under construction and not yet ready to receive students. They said it would receive students at the end of Eid. Officials from the East English School said the school was moving to a new location, and that this was the cause of the delay.

Saeed Rashid al Katbi, the deputy director of Fujairah Education Zone, said five of its six registered private schools had started their academic year. The other school was waiting until the end of Ramadan. Mr al Katbi said the zone had already implemented the national swine flu strategy in all the six schools. "We know there are still some fears among the parents that their children will get swine flu from other students," he said.

"All we want to tell the parents is that the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education have set a genuine strategy to protect their children from swine flu." Ali al Shalloubi, head of the private schools section in Sharjah Education Zone's eastern office, said they had set up a training centre in the region to help train more school staff deal with swine flu. Last week Dr Ali Ahmed bin Shakar, director general of the Ministry of Health and the head of the national committee to combat the spread of swine flu, said at a meeting of representatives of private schools at the Sharjah Medical College that no school had been allowed to delay the new academic year due to the global swine flu threat because the country is well equipped to manage the pandemic even at schools.

ykakande@thenational.ae