Virtual or real learning? UAE schools prepare plans for post Covid-19 reopening


Virtual learning, Remote learning, UAE schools, Covid-19 reopening

Many school heads revealed providing a balance of distance and in-school learning to minimise number of students in the school building

By Nandini Sircar

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Published: Sat 16 May 2020, 7:01 AM

Last updated: Sat 16 May 2020, 9:14 AM

Schools in the UAE are preparing different plans for a post Covid-19 reopening, with many being expectant that schools will be operational in September.
Most institutions have indicated resuming classes either on a rotation basis or remaining flexible with online classes, in case, parents are hesitant to send their wards due to the infection fears.
The optimism to reopen schools remains visible despite the Ministry of Education earlier stating that the end of e-learning and reopening of schools was "still under review".

Schools are considering a 'rota' approach
Many school heads revealed providing a balance of distance and in-school learning to minimise number of students in the school building is the practical way forward in a post-covid-19 scenario.
Director of Dubai National School Dr Aishah Siddiqua said technology and flexible learning approaches will be seminal in the coming months. "We have started our meetings already and are considering a 70:30 ratio where a certain percentage of students could come in on a given day and subsequent groups on following days to reduce 'contact time'.
Meanwhile, the others would engage in remote learning. So, schools are looking at having students within the school premises on a 'rota' basis, ensuring all social distancing measures and hygiene protocols. We are really concerned about our board classes and expert guidance and teacher interaction, which can't always be achieved by virtual learning."
Blended learning issues
While the totality of the curriculum experience is in the forefront for most schools, institutions cautioned that they need to bear in mind several other factors before adopting a 'blended' approach. Brendon Fulton, executive principal,
Dubai British Schools, said: "The possibility of a rota is one of the contingency plans that we are looking into and will have in place if required. But schools may have to consider the size of their campus and available rooms to determine what sort of rota would work to comply with student ratios should the regulators implement this."
Some other schools reiterated that different demographics will have different responses potentially.
Dr Allan Weston, principal, Greenfield International School, said: "International schools with a very small localised community and a large expatriate community will need to wait and see at what stage the lockdown is and how this has affected parent travel plans."
Echoing similar sentiments, Amity Education Middle East CEO Dr Vajahat Hussain said: "Our goal is to make sure that even when students are back to regular lessons, classes are divided to maintain the suggested distancing rules. We are also preparing a partial distance learning plan, where students come three times a week and online lessons for the rest of the week. This will give schools enough time to deep clean facilities."

Parents' reluctance due to virus fear
Many Indian schools have already commenced their new academic year are also considering this 'blended approach' from September.
Zubair Ahmad, head of HR & Administration, Springdales School Dubai, underlined that people may have to live with the new normal. "We had thought that this scenario may last for three to four months. But it almost seems like we may have to learn to live with coronavirus. Children cannot be home throughout, as it may adversely impact their learning curve. But we have to be mindful about the fact that if schools open up, how many parents will be willing to send their wards into a classroom set up given the health scare? Those are areas that we have to explore."
Dr Allan Weston, principal, Greenfield International School, said: "We need to be aware that many children are themselves potentially vulnerable due to weakened immune systems or underlying medical conditions. Parents need to feel their children are safe and particularly during this pandemic, we would want to provide as much support as possible."

Institutions await KHDA's directions
Educationists also contended that the transition plan is being prepared keeping in mind all situations. Deepika Thapar Singh, CEO-principal of Credence High School in Al Khail, said: "We are always prepared with a contingency and transition plan. A transition plan to ensure the smooth transition from virtual classrooms to real classrooms and a contingency plan in case remote learning continues after summer break. We will follow the guidelines and give all support to the regulating authorities."
School groups study global best practices  

Meanwhile, many other leading school groups in the country are monitoring international research on the matter and awaiting advice from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).
Jodh Singh Dhesi, deputy chief education officer, GEMS Education, said: "As with every other school and school group, we look forward to receiving advice from the regulator around what the situation will look like. In the meantime, we have a taskforce addressing a range of scenarios with different streams. We are studying best practices which have been implemented in countries which have commenced their journey towards reopening both public and private schools."
Alan Williamson, chief executive officer, Taaleem said: "We fully support the opening of schools and are watching the positive developments in the international arena with schools re-opening in places like China, Hong Kong and Europe, including England. We are supportive of all these staged developments."
Dr Vajahat Hussain, Amity Education Middle East CEO, said: "We will also learn from the experience of our Amity School in Amsterdam which opened on May 11 for normal classes."
Changes expected in classrooms
* Classes may continue on a rotation basis where remote learning and classroom learning are blended
*  Minimising number of students in the classrooms by dividing them into separate batches
*  Limiting classroom timing to three days in a week to allow deep cleaning of school premises
*  Analyse and follow the best practices in various countries
*  Continuing online classes until the threat is over
*  Continue classes with strict social distancing and other safety measures

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