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Back to School in September?

by Eddie Rayner
UAE Schools to re-open in September 2020

Following a period of three months when students have had to continue their education through distance learning, the Ministry of Education has issued a set of guidelines for a possible reopening of schools, universities and nurseries in the next academic year in September.

Anoud Abdullah Al Hajj, an official spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, explained that a return to full-time learning would only be possible if all educational institutions adhered to strict precautionary measures. These measures include temperature checks for all students and teachers, the regular sanitisation of all areas, and a reduced occupancy of 30% on bus capacity.

“Schools will have to maintain social distancing recommended by the health authorities and reduce capacity in classrooms,” said Al Hajj, adding that “individuals working in support and maintenance services will be forbidden to enter the institutions during school hours.” There will be no student gatherings, assemblies, tripsor group activities. Schools must also ensure that students do not share meals.

Understandable Worries

Naturally, there is still a fair amount of fear out there, and parents across the UAE are understandably concerned about sending children back to school when the summer break ends.

Some parents said that they are thinking about keeping their children at home for a year until the Covid-19 outbreak has subsided. However, this approach does present several problems, as Nadia Afreen, 39, a Bangladeshi network operations executive whose daughter is enrolled in KG1 at a British curriculum school, explains:  “My daughter has started learning addition and subtraction. I cannot possibly continue teaching her other more complex concepts after I return to work full-time. But if I keep her home, she might forget these concepts. It’s a very difficult decision.”

These concerns are echoed by other parents who are actively considering a gap year for their children. This is especially true for parents with younger children. One mother of a five-year-old boy explained:  “My son had five different viral infections in just the first two terms of school, and not a single one since distance learning began. He is very prone to contracting infections, and with COVID-19 being an infection, I am not at all comfortable sending him back to school.”

Parents are also looking for more specifics about how schools will reopen. Would students go to school on certain days, for instance, would there be as many children in each class, and how would social distancing be implemented and enforced?

A Positive Approach

Other parents are more upbeat. Tanveer Ahmed, 42, a senior administrative professional from India with three daughters, said that the distance learning workload had proved to be far too heavy. “My daughters spend six to seven hours a day simply glued to their schoolwork, with no room for social interaction or a break. Schoolwork just takes far too long, and they are constantly stressed out. I would much rather have them go back to school, of course under the guidance of the education and health authorities.”

Queen Marivic, 35, a nurse from the Philippines, was also hoping for a quick return to normalcy, stating: “My three-year-old daughter is due to go to school for the first time in September. I hope that schools will function normally by then, as I would prefer to send her to a regular school. Of course, I am also hoping that the outbreak will have disappeared by then.”

Sharper Immune Systems

The authorities and individual schools will do all they can to protect children at school, including having a health and safety official resident at each educational institution to implement the precautionary instructions. In addition, nursing staff must be present on all campuses to maintain a safe environment and reduce risks to students.

And perhaps we should remember that children have ‘sharper’ immune systems, which helps them defeat pathogens. “As we get older, so do our immune systems, which results in them becoming slower and less effective at fighting off infections,” Professor Arne Akbar from the British Society for Immunology said.

The vast majority of coronavirus deaths worldwide have occurred in the elderly. Italian scientists looked at more than 1,000 children with the infection. Just one, a 13-month-old baby, developed a severe case of COVID-19 and went on to make a full recovery.

So while it is important that we are cautious, it is equally important that we are aware of the full facts. Children need teachers; let’s do all we can to ensure that this is possible.