UAE: Why schooling will be different for children born in Covid era

Thousands of students have spent their infancy in socially distanced environs

By Sahim Salim and SM Ayaz Zakir

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Published: Thu 25 Aug 2022, 3:36 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Aug 2022, 10:38 PM

Come academic year 2022-23, Maryam Shaikh will be going to school for the first time. She is counting the days to August 29 when she can go and make new friends.

Her mother, Tayyaba Anwar, said sometimes the little girl is anxious about going, but is generally excited.

Maryam has not been exposed to nursery learning. She is among thousands of students who had their infancy in the socially distanced limitations of the Covid era. Experts told Khaleej Times earlier that social and separation anxieties may be common among children born just before or during the pandemic.

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Supplied photo

Mariam has become familiar and comfortable with the Arab Unity School, thanks to a series of orientation sessions, Anwar said. “It will take a few days to settle in as we had been together over the past years.”

Zidane Gayaz said he has been looking forward to go to school for a long time. The four-year-old, who will join foundation stage 2 at Al Safa British School, is “super excited”.

His mother, Ninu Hyder, said: "He has been shopping for his school necessities like water bottle, books, stationaries, lunch box, etc with much enthusiasm. He even gave me a menu for his lunch box," laughed Hyder.

She said she will miss him as “he has been a daily part of my routine”. “It will take a little time to adjust.”

New normal schooling

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Supplied photo

For children born in the Covid era, learning at home had been marked with “a lack of resources” as it is more focused on “screen time activity and (virtual) interactions”, according to an educator.

“When children are observing and learning only through a screen, they are missing out on so many other opportunities on developing other important skills,” said Ami Maclennan, nursery director, GEMS Wellington Academy - Silicon Oasis.

“Covid has meant that children have been alone with the same adult(s), which can cause attachment issues and limit their understanding that we live in world with many different people, personalities and cultures.

“Covid restrictions have led to children being unable to do such simple tasks such as using a knife and fork. Many children are still in nappies long after they should be toilet-trained and there is a general regression of basic skills.”

Teachers need to set up experiences where children can exercise communication and language skills; personal social and emotional development; and physical development, but ensure they are done “on their terms, at their own pace”.

“In school, children are constantly encouraged to be independent in their learning, thinking and doing and taking time on actually learning these basic skills during school,” said Maclennan.

She explained that both parents and children may have anxieties that are related to their own experiences of the pandemic. “It is up to the school staff to take the time to really communicate with parents and families, listen to their concerns and work together to ensure a smooth transition where everyone feels safe and secure.”

She highlighted how it is important to know and accept that what works for one child may not for another. “We need to give children time and space to support their needs. This may mean a staggered start, with children slowly building up their time in nursery.”

Helen Wilkinson​, head mistress, Brighton College Abu Dhabi, said they anticipated that more children may have delayed speech and social skills compared to previous years.

“We have intentionally procured many new resources that will enable children to play cooperatively and encourage them to talk to one another. (We have introduced) toys and activities that are designed for two, such as sand pipes, water tubes, push and pull games.”

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Supplied photo

Chitra Sharma, principal, JSS Private School, said teachers have been “specially trained” to let the students settle into the class for the first 15 days “through a variety of small and individual-based tailored activities”.

She admitted that schooling for “Covid era entrants” is not going to remain the usual.

“It requires a smooth and gradual transition of pedagogies, learning experiences and assessments. That is why the challenge of virtual to physical transition has been at the core of our teacher’s ‘new skills repertoire’ development, which makes sure that students learn to gradually minimise the social skills gap for better classroom learning.”


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