Bespoke timetables, student support systems: How Dubai schools activated e-learning in 24 hours

Institutes switched to remote learning after several staff and students received positive Covid-19 PCR test results



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Nandini Sircar

Published: Tue 4 Jan 2022, 7:01 PM

Last updated: Wed 5 Jan 2022, 8:00 AM

Private school managements in Dubai held emergency meetings to discuss strategy as they switched to remote learning in less than 24 hours at the start of the second term.

Schools sent out detailed internal and external communication plans to staff and parents.

Many institutes in the Emirate switched to distance learning on Monday and Tuesday (Jan 3rd, 4th) after receiving a significant number of positive tests reports and close contact notifications within their school communities.

Campbell Douglas, Principal/CEO of GEMS Wellington Academy – Al Khail, said, "As we saw the number of cases start to rise amongst students and staff at the end of last week, and then through the weekend, we were able to connect online with our Academy Leadership Team to discuss the issues.

"These discussions centred around what we call the 'tipping point', the point at which it is no longer viable to run the school safely and effectively because of the number of staff that are out due to Covid related issues, whether that is testing positive, or being a close contact.

"This is not just teaching staff, but everyone else vital to making a school run effectively – support staff, security staff, cleaning staff, and administration staff.

"One of the determining factors in our decision was the number of unknown test results. We know testing services were doing their absolute best to get results back to people, but one only had to look at queues at (PCR) testing sites around Dubai to understand the huge increase in demand they were experiencing.

"By Sunday, after not having enough test results back for our staff, we decided to move to Distance Learning."

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Douglas adds, "In less than 24 hours, staff had created bespoke timetables for each year group, specialist subjects were set to go, and our pastoral teams were set up with wellbeing initiatives for students and support plans in place for families."

Reiterating this, Deepika Thapar Singh, CEO-Principal, Credence High School, said, "A large number of the faculty and parents had travelled during the winter break and many RT-PCR tests results taken on arrival are still pending, therefore keeping the safety of all in mind we took permission from KHDA for remote learning for a few days."

Headteachers explain that due to the experience of previous online classes and the need to offer remote learning up until the end of last year, the switch to distance learning was relatively easy.

Principals also underline that one of the most critical aspects of the previous remote learning phase was the need for a well-structured and well thought out plan to support student mental health and wellbeing, which is often adversely affected during periods of isolation.

Simon Herbert, Principal/ CEO of GEMS International School – Al Khail highlights, "The emergency meetings were held both inside and online, outside school. The leadership team of our school are used to reacting swiftly, and my colleagues in Primary and Secondary adapted to the news with a calm, effective approach. Cases of positive PCRs results rose quickly, including many asymptomatic, which led to a rise in close contacts. This situation had to be addressed, and the health and safety of the whole community were as always placed foremost.

"We decided to gain approval from the authorities for an initial period of distance learning, given the number of staff (administrative, support and academic) affected. Putting this into action has been smooth, as our leaders, teachers and teaching assistants have experience across the last two years of making rapid change to the delivery of our education."

School leaders also say a decision like this made just before the start of a new term is never easy, and everybody wishes to return to face-to-face learning as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, parents themselves have been urging schools to shift to distance learning despite having to navigate between work and family obligations.

Antony Koshy, Principal, Global Indian International School, Dubai, said, "There were cases of staff and students either having tested positive or being close contacts. There were an increased number of requests from parents to shift to online mode.

"We had remained fully prepared for receiving our students safely but decided to give everyone more time to settle. Almost everyone welcomed the decision and understood our commitment towards the safety of all attending school. We remain fully prepared and trained for shifting to online, blended or on-site modes of education and hence the transition was seamless for both staff and students.

Some parents have to attend office in-person, and the shift to online learning is a challenge for them, but they too have been understanding towards the school's decision."


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