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Monday, October 18, 2021

Dubai: Schools are nearly back to pre-Covid normal

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Educators say the resumed proximity of students and teachers has once again brought a more natural and animated classroom ambience

Yellow school buses took over Dubai’s roads on Sunday morning — an indicator that the city is gradually returning to normal life.

As schools reopened fully for in-person learning on October 3, educators across Dubai expressed their elation about the pleasant change. Their top priority is ensuring a smooth continuation of teaching and learning in the post-Covid recovery phase.

More than 75 per cent of students returned to campus at the start of the new term, but now, all students must attend in-person classes unless they fall under the exception categories outlined by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).

Earlier this week, schools extended warm welcomes to all their returning students, with a special emphasis on cultivating teacher-student relationships in its renewed phase.

Nathan Sadler, primary principal at GEMS Wellington Academy — Silicon Oasis, said: “This week we welcomed back a group of students who have not been in school since the national closures in March 2020.”

Sadler added that close to 100 per cent of students had already returned to school over the past year, but it was nice to welcome the remaining few.

“Face-to-face friendships have been rekindled and our returning students have thoroughly enjoyed physically attending lessons such as Physical Education (PE), Outdoor Learning and Performing Arts,” he said.

Since some students have not been physically present in school for more than 18 months, Sadler said the teachers and staff are taking great care to ensure they are safe, happy and able to learn.

“We have ensured ample time is being given to families to discuss the health and safety procedures and how we will be supporting them and their child with the transition back into school,” he said.

While freedom and access to EdTech have allowed education to flourish in a more equitable and accessible way, educators stressed that the resumed proximity of students and teachers has once again brought a more natural, interactive and animated classroom ambience.

Muhammad Ali Kottakkulam, principal at Gulf Indian High School Dubai, said: “Since October 3, every educator in the UAE has been enjoying the sight of their beloved students streaming in and out of the campus … It has given back life to the school campus … I sincerely thank the government for this great decision.”

Though there were some minor challenges, Kottakkulam said the school was well-prepared to address the concerns.

“The challenges included handling a large bulk of freshers who have never seen the school before, ensuring the effective implementation of the safety protocols and their safe transportation. Schools are managing all concerns at the earliest to have a smooth flow of in-person schooling,” he said.

Simon Herbert, CEO and head of school at GEMS International School — Al Khail, said: “It feels like ‘near-normal’ school again. In our school, we’ve had an almost full school for some time, but the return of all students gives an optimistic outlook and allows everyone to benefit from what we know is crucial face- to-face learning with peers and the advantages that this brings to one’s well being and socio-emotional state.”

When asked about the challenges of full on-site learning, Herbert said he mainly sees benefits.

“Of course, there are a few logistical challenges, like keeping students from overcrowding during break-times, maintaining social distance, mask-wearing, and how to start school sports again while being cautious. All these require close attention and a sense of holistic balance.

“However, this is so much easier than organising split classrooms and remote learning, all at the same time, which places unreasonable demands on hard-working teachers,” he said.

Meanwhile, supporting students’ social and emotional needs is also high on the agenda.

Deepika Thapar Singh, CEO and principal at Credence High School, said: “Our school is brimming with complete energy, happy voices and laughter. We are all elated and so are our students. Now we have to only make use of the arrangements which we had kept ready, in case the entire batch of students start coming to school physically.”

Singh also said the safety protocols laid out by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and KHDA were clear and easy to follow.

“Continuous and rigorous monitoring and reiteration of all the protocols will keep the entire schooling community safe,” she said.

Schools are gradually restarting morning assemblies, co-scholastic activities and after-school programmes in full swing, while taking all the necessary safety precautions. Social distancing is being factored in to all these activities to quell parental worries and to keep communities safe.

Students who came back after a long haul expressed their eagerness about returning to campus earlier this week.

Pulak, a Grade 10 student at the Indian High School Dubai, said: “Finally, we are back in school and it feels simply awesome…the corridors, the noise and the live smiles of teachers and friends. Nothing can beat this happiness.”

She added that she was elated to meet all her friends in person.

“Every wall and every corner here has something to speak to us. We had been missing all this fun for the past one-and-a-half years. It is time to make up for all that,” she said.

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>> Bhangra dances, teachers in costumes: How Dubai schools welcomed students on Day 1 of 100% on-site learning

Similarly, Jeslyn Rachel, a Grade 9 student, said: “I have been doing online learning for the past year-and-a-half and have finally come back to the campus this week. At first, I was really anxious because it was a completely new experience with the masks on and the different protocols in place.”

But her anxieties vanished as soon as she stepped foot into campus.

“The school was so wonderfully set to welcome us back. As I saw the school buildings and met my friends, I felt like it was all a part of me and my memories of school were drifting back,” she said.

Nandini Sircar

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WC Times staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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