In Dubai, parents and staff had been hopeful that all schools would be open, however as the last-minute PCR results of teaching staff rolled in, it quickly became apparent that many schools would be forced to close as staffing levels dipped below a safe and sustainable minimum. In the end, over 30 Dubai schools (including most of the GEMS group, the UAE’s largest education provider) switched to distance learning, with some making the announcement as late as 10pm last night. For some students, their school day was disrupted by last minute bus cancellations as staff shortages took their toll on more than just teachers.
Reaction from parents has been mixed. Some displayed frustration at the prospect of more online learning and disruption to their own work life. Social media chat rooms across the country lit up with claims the closure could have been prevented. A small number of parents have suggested that teachers should have been forced to remain in the UAE, rather than travel during the Winter break, or indeed whether school staff should have moderated their behaviour in other ways, to prevent infection and subsequent school closures. That said, other parents had a more sympathetic viewpoint. Vanessa Quinn, Mum to a Year 2 student at Horizon English School said;
“I feel for teachers, they are getting a hard time for this! I have no issue with teachers travelling, they are people who need a break as much as the rest of us. It’s all a challenge, we just have to be kind to ourselves and others and do what we can”.
Selina Schoeman, a UAE mum and popular local blogger, was pleased that her children had been able to return, in person, to classes at the Royal Grammar School Guildford, Dubai. Speaking to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Mrs Schoeman told our reporter;
“My husband and I are very happy that the school is open. We feel that the school is making an extra effort to be safe. Children are masked and distanced, and they thrive in an in-school, face-to-face environment. The KHDA has made sensible changes in light of the increased numbers, reducing exposure opportunities in the canteen, extra-curricular activities and more. Of the positive cases we had in our previous school last year, they appeared to be associated with outside transmission, as even though one of our children was in the ‘bubble’ system applied to Under 6s, thankfully no in-class transmission was noted. Additionally, this time last year, the numbers across the UAE were similar, yet the population unvaccinated. This year, the majority of staff, parents etc are vaccinated.
"Personally, I hope that as many schools stay open as is possible”.
At Emirates International School, Jumeirah, Principal Rob Ellis was feeling pragmatic about the new term as well as mindful of challenges still to come, especially for students approaching external examinations. Mr Ellis commented,
"Today has been a real challenge and I must commend the teachers for their efforts. We, like many other schools, have staff unable to get back into the country or struck down by Omicron. We were really hoping to start getting back to normal this term, but COVID has returned with a vengeance. As a school, we are lucky as we have many large spaces which allows us to separate students as much as possible. Hopefully this will keep our students safe.
"We are now beginning to offer a full Distance Learning service where required. Our concern is always safety first, and with reduced numbers and experience of previous strict measures, we feel we are being as COVID safe as possible. Educationally, my concern is for those exam classes who are just going to be hit again. I hope the exam boards take this into consideration this year also."
Transport woes were added to the long list of challenges for some schools and families today. Popular school bus service provider, STS, was forced to cancel a number of routes due to staff shortages. At Safa British School, the team pivoted quickly to offer distance learning to students who could not make their usual bus journey to school.
"Following a number of positive PCR test results and close contact cases involving our team over the past 48 hours, we were unable to provide our usual service today" explained STS Managing Director, Steve Burnell.
Mr Burnell continued,
"When routes are cancelled, we inform schools and parents as soon as the position is confirmed, and we thank them for their understanding that we will never compromise on health and safety. Going forward, we will provide services on routes as requested by schools that are open with teams that have been fully cleared following PCR tests. We look forward very much to returning to full normal services for all our schools as soon as possible",
Finally, and speaking on behalf of the nation’s students, Finn Mollon, son of WSA Senior Editor, Jenny, was interviewed about his experience of returning to distance learning for a local radio station. Finn had clearly taken the experience in his stride, and happily reported using his break time to meet friends in the park. He also suggested that parents "worry less" about their child's performance at school during distance learning. Some excellent advice from our 11 year old junior reporter!