To look at how schools are responding to new norms in the UAE.
Abu Dhabi: More than a month has passed since students resumed their studies in unprecedented environments. For the first time, UAE school children have made the choice between grade and classroom education, and while many have chosen to continue their home schooling, a fair number of students have returned to school.
Without exception, students and teachers alike face challenges, and come up with great ways to use them.
One of the main problems identified by schools is the amount of teacher work. According to the Daily British School, Jumeirah Park, managing teachers’ burden remains a “major challenge”, especially as many teachers turn class members and divide students at the same time.
Almost all – 95 percent – school students have chosen to come to school in person, while fewer students prefer to study grades. Principal Brendon Fulton said, “Balancing classroom teaching and learning arrangements for the few children living at home is in dire need of teachers. However, as a grade study program, we were asked to submit a third term last year, we continue to gather feedback and make adjustments where necessary to ensure that the well-being of staff and students remains a priority. ”
Rethinking classroom practice
Fulton added that teachers are also being asked to find new ways to work under normal circumstances. “With the need for social exclusion, common classroom activities, such as working in groups, now need to be considered. Teachers work hard and collaboratively to share and use best practices to ensure that learning remains fun and attractive, without compromising on safety, ”he said. This includes having visible meetings and other online school events.
Fulton added that students who returned to study face-to-face were “kind” in following the COVID-19 protection measures. “They understand the need to wear a mask and a public address, and they, in turn, are the school’s ambassadors. Their independence and responsibility for the job has been very rewarding, ”he added.
Trusted teachers with change
It has not been easy for schools to ensure that students “have as much academic and dynamic educational experience as before”, due to the epidemic, said Simon Herbert, chief executive officer of GEMS International School – Al Khail. “Art is important – schools can’t function as they used to, so in meeting this ‘new norm’, we hope teachers can bring us the best practices and apply the lessons learned from this epidemic,” he added.
GIS Al Khail students have also been a “powerful influence for good”, using their ingenuity to produce a video before it is too late to show what getting back to school will be like.
School leaders intervened
At Jumeira Baccalaureate School, Dubai, senior and middle leaders intervened to support teachers and provide day-to-day relief, especially during breaks and afternoons, said principal Richard John Drew. This helps them adapt to a new standard structure – mixing classes and teaching grades. However, learning under the epidemic has been very difficult for teachers and young learners, he added.
“Teachers in the Early Years spend all day with their students so the opportunity for breaks and so on is very limited. It was also a challenge for students at first, especially those in their early years to fully understand the rules of social exclusion. Play-based learning is common for our young learners but now they have to go the distance of society. And they can’t afford other machines that they would normally use, so learning has to be different, ”said Drew. Collaborative planning, sharing new habits and “being honest about what works” have all helped employees develop “outstanding practice”, he added.
It still offers a full program
“We recently did a student survey and we were very pleased with the students’ response. They are very happy to go back to school, and they really appreciate the hard work that the staff are doing to make the lessons stand out but also to keep them safe. We have been able to continue our studies and feel that although we have had to make significant changes, we are still able to offer a comprehensive program including PE, Arts and Languages. It’s also good to see more than 90 percent of our students return to school, ”said Drew.
The fear of parents dropping their children out of school due to security concerns has been a major challenge to overcome – and rightly so, said Nargish Khambatta, Principal and CEO, GEMS Modern Academy, in Dubai. “We started the first consultation session, aimed at grade, followed by general teaching sessions in August informing parents and students of the current safety measures, times, seats, etc. In addition, the integration of the Response Team working closely with the Senior Leadership Team ensured that priority was placed on the delivery of the highest quality of life and safety, ”he added.
Return to normal (new)
Khambatta said the concerns of parents and students had gradually been replaced by confidence that, following social divisions, the school was a safe haven. The number of students who have transitioned from full-time education to mixed schooling after a month is “encouraging”.