School timings in UAE: To change or not to change?
A main factor involved in the process was: beating the rush-hour traffic that resulted in fatigue during the commute and caused frequent delays.
Although the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) urged schools to start later to allow students to sleep in, UAE teachers and parents had different concerns to worry about - the morning traffic.
While the Ministry of Education recently denied a change in school timings, which mostly start from 7.30am to 2pm with some variations among schools, debates have been stirred on whether delaying class hours would enhance the traffic flow throughout the country for students and teachers who take an average of one hour each daily going back and forth.
Following such lead was the International School of Arts and Sciences (ISAS), the first school in Dubai to introduce revised timings from 8.30am to 2.45pm instead of 7.50am to 2.30pm.
The change was inspired by research, such as the AAP's study that showed that 87 per cent of high school students don't get their required 8-9 hours of sleep, supporting pushing back start times for kids at least 8.30am as it's better for their mental and physical health. Even a half-hour delay, some studies showed, can have dramatic effects on improving children's health and academic performance.
But a main factor involved in the process was: beating the rush-hour traffic that resulted in fatigue during the commute and caused frequent delays.
"Last year we witnessed 80 per cent punctuality rate, and it took us a lot of effort to get students to commit to the 7.50am timing," said Muhieddine Soubra, the school's principal. "This year, however, we can say we have seen 100 per cent attendance from students on time."
Located at Al Warqa, ISAS is among a compound of schools that had the same starting hours, which caused traffic jams during the mornings. "It would take commuters around 15-20 minutes to get to the entrance of Al Warqa, but closer to 8.30am, the way would clear up," said Soubra.
While timings for public schools are regulated by the Ministry of Education, private schools, universities and early learning centres fall under the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).
Benefits of revised timings have also been reflected on student productivity.
According to Steven Porter, English teacher at ISAS, starting early in the morning had students often feeling the effects of sleepiness. "It was tough to get them in the mood of learning and get them to be as active and dynamic as possible. But now as we start later in the day, benefits have been obvious in allowing students to be fully awake and attentive by the time they reach school," said Steven.
Echoing similar sentiments was Cathy Bagaturia, English and Science teacher at Alitqan American School in Sharjah.
"Students come to school sleepy and often late. I support changing school timings but not later than 10am to keep minds fresh for absorbing information."
She pointed out to "the nightmare of morning traffic" but said, "I'm not sure how much that would delaying class hours would enhance the situation especially for Sharjah-Dubai commuters."
Waking up early teaches discipline
For Monica Valrani, CEO of Ladybird and Early Learning Centre, starting the day early is a form of discipline that must be taught to children.
"It gives them a sense of responsibility they should carry with them to college and workplace. When students come to school early, they have time to socialize and play with their friends before starting classes."
Valrani added that finishing school late bites into time for homework and extracurricular activities. She noted that delaying school timings upsets th morning routine of working parents who have to drop their children before heading to work.
Lekha Sunanand, Head of Business, Economics and Accounting Department at Al Maarifa English Private School, said mornings are the best to obtain highest levels of concentration from students. The traffic, however, remains the problem that causes many latecomers.
I don't think waking up early here is the question as far as education is concerned, it's that time is wasted on the way to go to schools," she said. firstname.lastname@example.org
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