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Covid-19: UAE schools fully prepared for back to normalcy

nandini@khaleejtimes.com Filed on August 13, 2021
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Students, institutions, and parents prepare for back-to school post UAE’s robust vaccination drive

With UAE schools set to reopen by end of August, educationists and parents are focusing on children’s mental and emotional wellbeing as they return to school after the summer break — many of them for the first time since the Covid pandemic hit.

Schools are going all out to make them feel safe and secure on campus, even as the safety shield of Covid-19 vaccines for children and young adults (ages 3-17) are key to creating a safe learning environment for children coming for in-class learning.

And a majority of students are looking forward to attend school physically after the summer holidays, even as some prefer virtual learning or a mix of both.

Mahira Zakiuddin, academy counsellor, GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis, said: “It is important that returning pupils feel safe and are reassured that the adults in the building will keep their health and wellbeing as a priority. It is also important to normalise feelings of uncertainty and encourage students to speak to a trusted adult — whether at school or at home. At school, this can be someone in leadership, teaching staff, school counsellors or the pastoral safeguarding team.”

Zakiuddin added: “The UAE has been vigilant in providing guidance to schools regarding safe protocols. As it stands, wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and washing hands has been effective in controlling spreads. This may be disappointing for children to hear, and it is important that these feelings are validated through empathy. Parents can use phrases like ‘I hear you’, ‘I understand’, ‘I cannot imagine how hard this is for you’.

“It is extremely important before returning to school, parents and guardians have knowledge and awareness of the child’s true thoughts and feelings. Once they have been given time to be honest about their feelings, it is important that our students are reminded that these practices are for everyone’s safety. As a school community, we will continue to play a very important and brave role in containing the virus.”

Thus, parents are urged to approach the issue with compassion and empathy, to make their wards feel more empowered and better prepared to return to school.

Abhilasha Singh, principal, Shining Star International, Abu Dhabi, said: “We are looking forward to getting back to school in August. With one metre accepted as the minimum social-distancing requirement, we are expecting an increase in class strength as students return to school. I request parents to have confidence in the school as well as its staff, and urge them to send their children to school. The health and safety of students and teachers remains of utmost importance.”

As vaccination for children above 16 years of age is mandatory in Abu Dhabi, schools have urged parents to get their children inoculated within the next few days if they have not done so.

Additionally, head teachers in the capital urge all concerned parties to read ‘The Parents Guide from Adek’ which has been sent by schools.

“Parents should adequately prepare their children to attend school in the new term. Masking up can be practised with children at home who have not attended school in person at all since distance learning started. Children are energetic and get excited quickly, forgetting that they need to maintain distance between their peers in school. I request parents to emphasise at home the importance of following safety protocols and ensuring the children’s preparedness for in-person schooling,” added Singh.

Sangita Chima, Amity School Dubai principal, opined: “Our school community is planning for a fresh and resilient reopening after the summer break. We have a very large campus. Several strategies that have worked well last term will continue, while innovative features in re-designing learning spaces, using technology and adapting to safety norms as a new-way-of-life have been seamlessly implemented.”

Staff and a significant number of students aged 16 and above have been vaccinated at most schools, and they are now encouraging all students aged 12 and above to get vaccinated.

“This is a fresh new chapter for parents, educators and students to feel safe and confident. 100 per cent of eligible staff have been vaccinated in our school,” said Chima. “Childhood and adolescence years have been through a lot of uncertainty, and we have the ability to alter that for the better. Vaccinating students will positively change lives in our community, accelerate learning and enhance mental well-being. It will open a new transformative chapter to secure the long-term future of generation alpha,” she added.

Students, guardians confident

Sharjah resident Farheen Matheranwala, parent to two children from Dubai Scholars, said: “I am very happy that the government is considering the option of reopening physical schooling. To ensure both my boys make it to school starting September, I am taking all precautions to ensure their safety while at school. Besides giving them an extra pair of gloves and sanitisers and masks, I will also ensure that they take healthy meals to school.

“I have also started taking them to the parks every day just to ensure that they are exposed to the surroundings and don’t find it new once school reopens. I have instructed my children to wash and sanitise their hands regularly even when at school. Besides that, they have also been told to cover themselves with masks all through the school hours, eat from their own lunch boxes and maintain social distancing,” added Farheen.

Parents also reminded their wards to seek immediate help from their teacher or school clinics if they feel unwell or see others who are not well.

Alyssa Noor Nazri, Grade 9 Malaysian student in Abu Dhabi, said: “I have received the Pfizer vaccine. I received my second dose in June. Last academic year, I was mostly doing onsite schooling. However, sometimes, I also did online learning due to Covid-19 cases occurring in our school. Now, I’m really eager to be able to meet more of my friends and seeing an increasing number of people in the new academic year as I expect more of my batchmates opting for face-to-face learning this September.”

Indian expat Amatullah Arsiwala, student at Al Diyafah High School, said: “I am very excited to go back to school, to see my friends, teachers and most importantly feel the joy of being back in my classroom. I have already been vaccinated and will ensure that I follow safety guidelines as defined by my parents, school and the government. I am hoping that September brings us joy with the government announcing the return to school.”

Preparing your child for school

Talk to them

Children might have fears about the virus, restrictions at school, meeting fellow students and teachers. Acknowledge that this is a difficult time for them and reassure them that schools are doing their best to keep them safe.

Coping up

We often use coping strategies when we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Doing exercise, yoga, breathing exercises or speaking with friends or family are great for your kids. Let your child know it is normal to feel anxious about going back to school and encourage them to take it one day at a time as thinking too far ahead can feel overwhelming.

Be there for them

Young kids may want to vent out their experience of returning to school - their fears, their anxieties, their joys. So be there for them. Create space for talking, such as going on a walk, or the beach or cooking together to open up a conversation. Don’t assume they’re ok because they don’t show any outward signs of stress of worry. Ask them things like: what have they enjoyed about being back? Any worries or challenges?

Be positive

Talk to your child about the positives of going back to school. Meeting friends and teachers are months of being cooped up at home. Playing and learning together after such a long period of isolation. (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/)

Nandini Sircar





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