Fighting coronavirus: Excitement fills first day of 'new normal' classes in UAE

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Fighting, coronavirus, Excitement, fills, first day, new normal, classes, UAE

Dubai - In one campus in Abu Dhabi, The Model School, only 11 arrived on the campus - out of 5,000 enrollees.

By Nandini Sircar & Dhanusha Gokulan

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Published: Sun 30 Aug 2020, 10:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 31 Aug 2020, 8:06 AM

It was an unusual first day of classes in the UAE: Classrooms were sparsely filled, with only a few chairs occupied by students who had opted for face-to-face learning.
In one campus in Abu Dhabi, The Model School, only 11 arrived on the campus - out of 5,000 enrollees.
Those who went to schools on Sunday experienced firsthand how the country's school safety plan was put into action. Some children were brought in by their parents, while others came on school buses. The plan to keep kids safe was spot on.
School buses were less than half full to ensure physical distancing between students and parents were not entertained within the campus premises beyond a certain point.
Among the students at GEMS Our Own Indian School in Dubai, the usual back-to-school excitement was in the air, but there was also a tinge of anxiety. After all, it was the first day of a 'new normal' class after schools shuttered down in March because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Yash Vinayak Upadhaya, a Year 12 student, said: "It feels good to be back in school, although it feels like a different environment. There are doubts in your head sometimes with everything that is going on, but schools have taken all necessary precautions to ensure that we are safe. I don't think there is much to worry about."
Pupils were greeted with temperature checks at the entrance, while sanitiser dispensers lined the hallways.
Stickers and signs on the floors and walls helped ensure that they kept their physical distance, and break time no longer meant going to the cafeteria as pupils now have to eat their snacks inside their classrooms.
At Jumeira Baccalaureate School (JBS) in Dubai, where 850 pupils have enrolled for the new academic year, majority are attending on-site classes.
'8% pupils opted for e-learning'
"About seven to eight per cent of our students have opted for distance education. Parents have made that decision because they have at-risk family members at home, while some parents are just waiting to see how the situation progresses in the coming days," said Richard John Drew, principal of JBS. "If they decide to change their mind over the coming weeks, they have the option to inform us a week in advance," he explained.
The school has adopted a staggered approach in welcoming back students, so not all of their enrollees were present on Sunday.
Those who were scheduled to return to class were seen entering the campus in batches starting 8am. Primary and secondary school students were assigned separate entry points, where heads and deputy heads of departments were seen guiding the pupils to their respective classes.
After completing the temperature checks, senior students in Grades 11 and 12 sat for an induction session with department heads and teachers. "We are hoping our students quickly adapt to the new flow of things in the coming days," Drew said.
Students' excitement
Despite the adjustments they had to make amid the new normal, schoolkids who opted for on-site classes were convinced about the benefits of campus learning.
Arjun Narendra Kumar, a student at GEMS Our Own Indian School, said: "I could not focus at home. There was no teacher supervising me and I have a low attention span. So, I would frequently imagine things and drift away from the lesson. I would feel sleepy. I could not learn as much as I would learn in school. In the classroom, you have teachers supervising you."
Adityta, a Year 12 student, agreed, saying she felt bored sitting at home. "Coming to school is also about developing personal connections."
Teaching in-person, e-classes together
Teachers went the extra mile to simultaneously hold classes for online and on-site learners - sharing laptop screens on the smartboards and delivering lectures over headset mics. Even with all the new things that have to be done for this school term, most of the staff are well prepared.
Lalitha Suresh, principal of GEMS Our Own Indian School Dubai, said: "It's exciting to come back and see the children in person. I want to convey a sense of confidence to all my teachers, staff and students that we are fine and the world is a good place."
Suresh said that keeping a close watch on children to ensure that social distancing is maintained could be a challenge. "But apart from that, I am not really worried about the academics because I know the teachers will catch up. In the time of pandemic, the most important thing is the health and safety of children."
While majority of parents have opted for online classes for now, the principal is confident that the number of students in classrooms will gradually increase. 

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