September School Opening: What Parents Want

We know the safety concerns, we appreciate the efforts the authorities has taken to make sure we are safe, but weighing the pros and cons, what exactly do parents in the United Arab Emirates want when it comes to starting school again in September? We find out...
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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WhichSchoolAdvisor's annual school survey.
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

What do parents want for September when it comes to school? decided to find out by adding a simple question to its school survey.

The question we asked was how parents want schools to reopen, and the choices we gave were:

- To open now, normally
- To open in September, normally
- To open in September, with strict health and safety checks at the entrance
- To partially open in September, with a blended learning solution
- To continue to offer online only, distance learning, indefinitely.

The first thing to make clear is that the majority of parents want schools to open. Across all age ranges, fee price points and curricula, over 6 out of 10 (64%) of respondents to our survey want schools to open in September (or earlier), in some form. A significant minority, 36% of parents, want distance learning to continue. That means that a majority of parents have weighed up the risks and rewards, and decided, that for them, the rewards of returning to school outweigh the potential risks of doing so.

Drill down into the details however, and things get interesting. Perhaps the most obvious divide depends on age. Parents with children in primary are, considerably, more risk averse than those with children in secondary school. Over eight out of 10 parents with children in secondary want the return to in-school education, with 3% wanting schools to open now, 13% in September under pre-Covid conditions, 45% with strict health and safety checks on entrance and just 20% with some form of blended learning. Less than one in 5 (19%) favour online learning continuing.

This is almost reversed for parents with Primary aged children, with over 55% of respondents, still a majority, favouring some form of return to school, but with a sizeable 44.6% wanting online learning to continue. An additional 17.4% of parents of primary aged children want a blend of learning (between in school and online) to continue.

KG/FS parents are more closely aligned with Primary parents, but are actually less risk averse. Some 34% of parents with children at KG/FS want online learning to continue, but 66% want schools / KGs to reopen. Just 1 in 5 want some form of blend of learning.

Chart / Data

Geographical divides

There is also a significant difference in the views between the emirates. In Dubai, 87% of parents want schools to reopen in September, and just 13% for schools to continue to distance learning. In Abu Dhabi, just over 55% want schools to reopen, and just under 45% of parents want distance learning to continue.

One reason for this may simply be demographics and housing. Respondents in Abu Dhabi are more likely to be Emirati, Arab or from the subcontinent, and more likely to have a number of generations living in the same household. They are therefore, quite naturally, more concerned about the risk of Covid-19 affecting elderly relatives living in close proximity to children.

We can see a similar story across emirates, if we look at curricula. Just 11% of parents sending their children to UK curriculum schools want online learning to continue past September, with 50% of parents just wanting health and safety checks on entry, and another 17% wanting pre-Covid-19 style schooling. That compares to 45% of parents at Indian curriculum schools wanting online learning to continue.

Schools, for their part, have indicated that they want schools to reopen, and they believe they are ready. As well as the social imperative, schools will no doubt also be considering the economic fallout out of a decision not to reopen schools. On forums, parents are already discussing schooling options in alternate countries. There is also the unfortunate discrepancy in how much schools can charge. There is a considerable difference in the perceptions of value (and therefore what can be charged) between in-school and online education. We address those differences here.

Please note, the WSA Parent Survey continues to collect data throughout the year, updating elements of our reviews in real time. This keeps them relevant, on point, and valuable to prospective parents researching their next school. If you have opinions on your school, and have not taken the survey in 2020, please take it here.

The particular questions noted in this article have so far received 1,150 responses from respondents across the United Arab Emirates. Most responses have come from Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

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