COVID-19: Dubai private school students ditching online classes to return to lessons on campus

Students return to school at the Gems New Millennium School Al Khail, Dubai.
Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: Some Dubai schools have this term seen a huge spike in students switch from distance learning to direct classes on campus.

School principals said growing confidence in COVID-19 safety measures at school, a desire to experience school life again and the arrival of vaccines for the coronavirus are some reasons why more students are coming to school.

Last term, before the winter break, 47 per cent of Dubai private school pupils were exclusively engaged in distance learning until November, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority had then said. The rest were coming to school for classes or doing a mix of both.

In January, after the winter break, GEMS Modern Academy saw the number of students attend class at school jump from around 550 to almost 1,600, said Nargish Khambatta, principal and CEO of the school, who is also vice-president for education at GEMS Education.

‘Isolation fatigue’

Nargish Khambatta

“Parents have realised, after the success of the classes in school last term, that schools are safe spaces to send their children and we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of students returning to school. I suppose there is also isolation fatigue and everyone is eager to get back to normal school, confident that the right safety measures are in place,” she added.

Matthew Tompkins

Another school, GEMS FirstPoint School — The Villa, saw 92 pupils make the switch to in-person classes, said Matthew Tompkins, the school’s principal and CEO. It also had 38 new joiners at the beginning of this term. “We attribute this rise to the robust, consistent and transparent stance that the school has taken during the pandemic. Our parents, students and staff are kept up to date with developments as they happen and know that they can contact us at any time. Our students have responded to the new expectations with positivity and maturity, they collectively take responsibility for each other’s safety as we continue to protect our FirstPoint family,” he added.

‘Record of safety’

Brendon Fulton

Some schools already had almost all students back on campus last term, and the gap has narrowed even more this term. At Dubai British School, Jumeirah Park, less than five per cent of students are attending classes through distance learning, said executive principal Brendon Fulton. “Since the beginning of the academic year, we are now seeing even less families opting to keep their children at home. Understandably, some families wanted to take the time to see how well the school managed the safety protocols, and so we are pleased that many families are now far more confident to have their children in the school given our record of safety thus far,” he added.

‘Pressure from students on parents’

“We have also seen a lot of pressure from students on their parents, as they desperately want to join their friends back in the classroom. For these parents, we’ve walked them virtually through our safety protocols and so most are now happy for their children to return to school. Although still very early on, we are starting to see a positive impact of the availability of the vaccine,” Fulton said.

Shahida Patel

Shahida Patel, Head of Admissions — Taaleem Schools, said: “We have had an overall increase in the number of students attending our schools for the second term, this is because of a significant rise in new joiners. In a few schools, there has been a very slight increase in those choosing online learning for the first part of this new year due to a recent, delayed or expected return from travel and them awaiting negative PCR test results. Indications are that many of those who have chosen online learning for whatever reason will shortly be looking to join their peers on campus. The majority of our schools are above 90 per cent for on-site attendance.”

‘Learning doesn’t just happen in books’

Deepika Thapar Singh

Meanwhile, Credence High School has seen the ratio of face-to-face students rise from eight per cent to 30 per cent this term, said principal and CEO Deepika Thapar Singh. “Among the many reasons, the most evident reason for the students to come to school for in-person learning is the students’ and parents’ trust in us concerning all the safety protocols followed at school. Besides that, the school has made conscious efforts to educate them about how important it is for the children to come to school for learning as well as physical and social growth which doesn’t happen within the four walls of their homes. Learning doesn’t just happen in books but also on the playground, sports field, cafeteria and auditorium which will hopefully function normally as before, with the news of COVID-19 vaccine launch in the market already,” she added.

‘The fear has subsided’

Mohammad Ali Kottakkulam

Mohammad Ali Kottakkulam, Principal, Gulf Indian High School, said “the fear of people to send their wards to school has subsided when compared to the days of 2020 and more and more are expressing their readiness to send them for face to face lessons”. He added that the vaccines are one reason why there is less concern; another reason being the “recognition that students need some more personal attention, grooming and remediation in a physical way, with special focus on the examinations and practical lessons, especially when the [CBSE] board exams are reconfirmed to remain in the physical mode”.