On the 8th March 2020 the UAE officially closed all of its schools due to the COVID19 pandemic. Schools were required to offer online learning for an indefinite period of time. Our Year 11 and 12 students during the week of the 8th March had exams. It was optional as to whether they could come into school to sit these exams. Some students chose not to and there was no online exam offered as an alternative. The UAE had a high number of cases each day and as a result, put a curfew in place from 8pm to 6am and we were all confined to our homes except to get groceries or medical treatment.
On the 22nd March after a one-week break students began online learning with a set program of work. There were no live or recorded sessions rather a timetable of work for the week. On the 29th March, online schooling began with a mix of live and recorded sessions. Our school hours are normally 7:30am to 3:30pm; for seniors, their school day was now reduced to four hours from 9am to 1pm. Every teacher had to reduce the content of what they were teaching. Other constraints included under the Sharjah Private Education Authority (SPEA) teachers were not allowed to issue homework; IB final exams were cancelled; assessments requirements were reduced; and no exams were held. Ramadan also impacted teaching and learning with students fasting in the month of May. The UAE continued to remain in online learning for the rest of the academic school year with the year ending on the 25th June.
On August 31st students were due to return to school, however, our education authority SPEA ordered schools to go online for two weeks. This was again extended for a further two weeks. Students were provided with four and half hours of live online teaching. Some of our Year 11 and 12 students returned to face to face classes on the 27th September with online learning still being an option until December. Students continued with four and half hours of a hyper-flex model of teaching. With this model, the teacher is teaching students online as well as the students in the class. Students are required to wear masks and social distancing is enforced in each classroom with 1.5 meters between each desk.
Students had limited access to the Guidance Counsellor who provided them with university advice via individual Google Meet sessions. Students were not able to have the normal ‘drop-in’ sessions that previous seniors had. Information was disseminated to students via emails or a pre-recorded information session.
The wellbeing of students and their mental health has been a major concern of the school. Students have been confined to their homes since March and over a very hot summer in the UAE, a time when students normally travel. Students have either contracted COVID themselves or have family members contract the virus.
On January 3rd 2021 we returned to school with news that one of our Secondary Deputy Principals had tested positive to COVID-19. This meant that most of our leadership team and numerous teachers were in isolation as they were close contact people with the Deputy Principal. Three days later several more teachers and school staff had tested positive and the school closed and resumed full on-line learning. With many teachers and families testing positive the impact it has had and continues to have on teaching and learning is significant. There are not enough supply teachers to cover for those who are unwell and students have been disadvantaged with regards to their learning, delays in preparation for assessment and feedback on drafts. Online will continue indefinitely.
It was around this time that the U.A.E. experienced its highest rates of Covid-19 daily cases. As such, the Sharjah Private Education Authority, the department responsible for all schools in Sharjah, made the decision to return to e-learning for all students in the Sharjah emirate. This decision remained in place until the end of Term 2, which finishes in late March.
In the final term of the school year, on-site learning recommenced with significant social distancing protocol in place. As such, the vast majority of students remained at home, and completed the school year in the online environment. In line with the protocols, classes were restricted in terms of movement and activity. This impacted teaching and learning opportunities in the senior school in particular as use of science laboratories and sporting facilities, as well as collaborative and peer-led activities were prohibited.
With falling case numbers and a significant proportion of the UAE population now vaccinated, the 2021-2022 school year has seen the resumption of on-site teaching and learning. From October 31st, 2021, e-learning there will be no more compulsory provision of online learning. At the same time, we have seen a large return of students physically to on-site school, and reintroduction of the use of various school facilities and extracurricular activities.