School Closures: Parents & Schools React

In response to news that all schools in the UAE will be closed until April 5, parents are asking how schools can suspend classes without suspending learning – and principals are quick to reassure families that they have a solid distance learning policy in place.
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

Parents and teachers woke up to the news this morning that all primary and secondary schools will be closed for four weeks. The Ministry of Education announced last night that all UAE schools and universities, both government and private, will close from this coming Sunday, March 8 until Sunday, April 5.

While the news shows that the UAE government is ramping up measures to stem the spread of the Covid-19 virus, it leaves many questions unanswered.

  • Will private schools take an earlier two-week spring break from March 8 and then ‘reopen’ to offer online learning to all students at home? Or vice versa?
  • Will schools that had planned a spring break from March 29 to April 9 now start Term 3 a week earlier on April 5?
  • How will private schools offer online learning to all students from FS1 and kindergarten through to Year 13/Grade 12?
  • How will students currently preparing for IGCSE, A Level and IBDP exams be supported?

What the parents say…

The talk on the school gate today was filled with a mixture of confusion, fear, the need for reassurance, as well as optimism, composure and relief.

Michelle Nickson, who has children in FS2 and Year 5 at Horizon English School, said: “Although it’s not ideal, it is for the better good of us all, and I put my trust in the school. At least we have been given two days’ warning of the closure period, and it’s not an immediate shutdown.

“I think that schools have been preparing for this for a while now, and I am confident that we will get the support we need from Horizon to continue their learning while at home.”

Janine Miller, whose Year 1 son attends Jebel Ali School said: “While the intention behind closing the schools is to keep our children safe, I feel the containment was better while in school and not in public spaces such as malls and play areas, as well as not travelling, which is proven to cause the spread of disease.

My main concern is the psychological impact of kids being told not to come to school or be around other people due to disease, particularly younger kids who cannot comprehend this with sensitivity.”

Those parents with perhaps the most concern have older children, who are currently preparing to take their I/GCSE, A Level or IBDP exams in May.

Nadine Hill, whose Year 11 daughter is taking her GCSEs at DESC in two months, said: “I feel that DESC are on the ball as planning for GCSEs and methods of online learning and online revision are already in place. I also think it is a sensible decision to have the two-week holiday first so that schools can get a structure for online learning in place.

“I am concerned though. There are still several weeks of learning left for my daughter, and study leave does not start until May 7. She still has coursework to complete and new content to learn, so what is the plan of action? My daughter has a GCSE PE practical on Monday March 23, so how can that now happen? She will also miss many ‘twilight’, weekend and holiday revision classes that are currently being held at the school.

“The UK GCSE boards need to support our students and quickly get a plan of action as the children are already getting stressed about the learning that they will miss. Our concerns need to be addressed as soon as possible.”

What the schools say…

Private schools in the UAE are yet to officially confirm the closure period, leaving parents slightly in the dark. So far, schools are sending out ‘holding’ messages to inform parents that they are waiting for clarification and official guidance from the KHDA.

For example, DESS and DESC have told parents that will they will clarify dates and other important issues, as well as "information about remote learning learning provision", before close of play tomorrow (Thursday).

What we can expect is that private schools will take the first two weeks (March 8-19) as an early spring break, and then offer distance learning for the second two weeks (March 22 to April 2).

Amidst the uncertainty, Ian Wallace, headteacher at Horizon English School, is very keen to reassure parents.

"We are finalising our home learning programme to get ahead of the game. We will then be well-prepared to maintain our levels of excellence, excitement and engagement in learning.

“Just because our students are not in school does not mean that there will be a dip in learning. For example, our teachers will prepare video tutorials and role-playing activities to engage students. We have already invested in Seesaw, which is such a strong resource for online learning, and it’s one that students are familiar with using in the classroom.”

Parents can expect private schools to use various methods of home and online learning to minimise disruption to their students’ education; these include Google Classrooms, vodcasts and Seesaw. Schools are expected to learn from countries such as Hong Kong where schools have been closed since January.

As part of a global family of schools, Nord Anglia International School Dubai says that it is well-prepared to deliver the online learning required during any mandatory closure period.

Principal Matthew Farthing said:

"As one of 66 Nord Anglia Schools around the world, many of which have already been closed in China and South East Asia as well as the Middle East, we are very well prepared to support distance learning and benefit from being able to share the experiences of our other schools.

"While I do not see this as a substitute for all of the experiences of daily schooling, I do think we can learn a lot as we consider a future which will involve more blended learning as students draw from online resources and communities outside of their immediate school."

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