Abu Dhabi pupils to return to school campuses for in-class learning from September

Abu Dhabi school opening
A survey of parents, representing 230,000 students in the emirate, found that 70 per cent were expected to return to in-class learning. Picture for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi schoolchildren are set to resume in-class learning from the start of the 2021-2022 academic year this September, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee announced today.

The decision follows the vaccination of 80 per cent of school staff and consultations with educators and parents.

70 per cent pupils expected to return to classes

A survey of parents, representing 230,000 students in the emirate, found that 70 per cent were expected to return to in-class learning.

Distance learning option

The academic year, which begins in September for most international and UAE schools, will, however, allow parents to opt for full-time distance learning, in case this is offered by their children’s school.

The emirate first approved distance learning by licensed schools in March 2020 as a means to limit the COVID-19 outbreak. After a semester of mandated distance learning for all, authorities allowed in-class learning for students in selected grades. The following term, which began in January 2021, students of all grades were allowed to return to their classrooms. Till now, however, parents across the emirate have been allowed to opt for full-time distance learning for their children.

Consultations

Parents, teachers, principals and school operators weighed in on the return to school in September, with the consultations conducted by Abu Dhabi authorities in May and June.

“Ensuring the safe return to school is an integral part of Abu Dhabi’s long-term strategy for recovery, which places the health and safety of the community at the forefront of all decisions, and reflects the success of the emirate’s handling of the pandemic so far. The back-to-school strategy aligns with international best practices and involves all key stakeholders, including the school community, health authorities, Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek) and all other relevant government authorities,” the committee said.

“The pandemic has tested the resolve of teachers, parents and school staff, our unsung heroes, who came together and have gone to incredible lengths to ensure that our children receive the best education possible during these challenging times. We are grateful to the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disaster Committee for ensuring that planning for the 2021-2022 academic year was inclusive of all stakeholders. While we believe that remote learning is not a perfect substitute for physical learning, we must ensure that everyone is comfortable to return to in-school instruction as much as possible,” said Sara Musallam, Adek chairperson. The exact model of school reopening and operation will be announced by August 15, the committee said. Adek will continue working with the school community and health authorities to update the return-to-school protocol.

Adek survey

As part of the consultation, Adek conducted an independent survey on school reopenings to help informed decision-making for the next academic year. More than 117,000 Emirati and expat parents — representing more than 230,000 students across public, private and charter schools — participated in the Parents Survey on Schools Reopening. The findings indicated that 70 per cent of students were expected to return to in-school learning, with 88 per cent of parents saying it was more beneficial for their children’s education.

Protection through vaccination

Parents also believed vaccination will further enhance their confidence about the safety of schools. Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is available for children aged 12 years and above. A Sinopharm immune bridge study for children was also recently launched in the UAE to examine the immune response to the vaccine in children aged 3 to 17 years, with the emirate planning to make the Sinopharm vaccine available to children in the near future.

Reduced physical distancing

The Adek survey also revealed that parents were comfortable reducing physical distancing requirements, which will enable students to attend school more often during a week.

The committee noted that the physical return to schools would be continuously monitored and evaluated to ensure the ongoing safety of the school community, and that will rely on the community’s adherence to COVID-19 precautionary measures to protect the health and safety of students, teachers and school staff.