UAE School Closures: What, When, How?

After a day of uncertainty, private schools in the UAE have confirmed that the spring break will be brought forward by three weeks, followed by two weeks of home learning. Here they speak to about what parents and students should expect.
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

When is the spring break and when will home learning start? Following the announcement by the Ministry of Education that all government and private schools will close for four weeks, we now have the answers. Schools clarified the dates and their plans for home learning this evening.

Term 2 will finish earlier than planned tomorrow (Thursday, March 4) and all staff and students will take a two-week spring break until Thursday, March 19. Term 3 will then start on Sunday, March 22 when learning will the delivered through online programmes.

Students are expected to return to school campuses on Sunday, April 5, but this is subject to change in light of the COVID-19 situation.

Term 3 will still finish as scheduled for most private schools on Thursday, July 2.

In response to mixed reactions from parents, Ian Wallace, headteacher at Horizon English School, wanted to reassure parents, saying: “Schools are not closed for four weeks, they are closed for two weeks. The first two weeks will be an earlier spring break, and then the summer term will start with a two-week programme of home learning."

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, Seesaw and other online platforms. Wallace explains how Horizon will endeavour to suspend classes without suspending learning.

“We will continue to offer a broad and balanced curriculum that will include subjects such as PE, science and social studies, as well as English and maths. We appreciate that there may be limitations to completing a PE activity, for example, but we want to ensure that the opportunities are always there.

“We’re in a very unique time and it’s not an ideal situation, but we want to turn a difficult time into a positive one. Does this open up the door to a real understanding of online learning and how it plays a part in a child’s education?

“We will not go completely online, though, because we don’t live in a completely online world. Each child will receive a home learning exercise book where they can complete their activities. The expectation is that students will complete a classroom task, take a photo and upload it onto Seesaw, and teachers will offer feedback and pointers. We don’t want to lose that interaction and hinder learning. The goal is to have children wanting to log onto Seesaw and see what they have in store for them that day.”

While students in Year 1-6 may be familiar with online learning in the classroom, parents with younger children in the early years sector have raised concerns about how e-learning will work for four and five-year-olds.

Mr Wallace responds by saying: “We’ve looked into what is being done in Hong Kong, where the schools have been closed for several weeks, and what is being done there to facilitate learning in the Foundation Stages. We want to ensure that these early years children have access to an iPad or laptop to watch an instruction and can then complete a hands-on activity within their home. For example, what shapes can you find in the house and the garden?

“We need to adapt their learning for the environment they will be in, and we won’t set anything that is going to be unachievable.”

Mr Wallace also offers a message of reassurance to working parents.

“We appreciate that every home will have a different situation, and it will be a stressful time – and we don’t want to add to that stress. We have a commitment to learning and we want to facilitate that, but we also appreciate that our families have different schedules and childcare situations. We need to be understanding about this.

“A key message is that just because the school is closed, our lines of communication are still open. Parents can still contact the school, and our open-door policy will become an open phone policy during this time.”

Jumeira Baccalaureate School's principal, Richard Drew, was keen to point out that for many schools, the technology being used was tried and tested - and should not be an impediment for learning: “Although closing schools is challenging we are able to support student learning through our tested on line platforms.  Teachers and students [already] use our platforms everyday...”   

Christopher Bromham, Principal of Uptown International School, also noted there will be a strong upside from the two week experience: “This is an opportunity for our students to develop independent learning skills and to explore a new way of learning.”

Dubai British School Emirates Hills Principal, Simon Jodrell, said schools were particularly sensitive towards making sure that appropriate learning was in place for those students in examination year groups.  "Teachers will, through e-learning, ensure that course content is taught, support is in place and questions are answered in real time.

In addition to the disruption to learning, the mandatory closures does affect anyone who had booked holidays for the spring break.

In message to parents, Kent College Dubai principal Anthony Cashin said: "I recognise that this news will be disruptive to pre-booked holiday and travel plans. Please rest assured that we have worked very closely with the regulatory authorities over the last few days, and the school closure and holiday dates mentioned have been mandated by the Ministry of Education. 

"These are unprecedented times and all the provisions that have been put in place by the MOE and the KHDA are for the wellbeing and health of all pupils, teachers and parents."

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