Despite the surging Covid-19 cases, schools across Dubai reported a smooth start to the first-ever Friday classes that varied from on-campus to distance learning.
Principals hailed the new 4.5-day school week, which started on Monday, as a great step to enhancing student learning outcome, promoting wellbeing and strengthening family ties.
Friday, January 7, 2022, was the first half day for schools across Dubai that lasted until 12pm with condensed classes and shorter break times. With activities temporarily on hold amid the rising Covid-19 spread, schools pledged to incorporate more extracurriculars into the school week for a richer learning experience.
Back to on-campus learning after the winter break this week, Giles Pruett, Executive Principal of Arcadia Schools in Dubai, said students have not been significantly impacted by the new Friday since the school had previously set short Thursdays until 2:00pm.
“We only had to move the short day forward to Friday and reduce it by another two hours,” said Pruett. The new school hours are from 7:45am to 11:50pm on Friday, while classes on weekdays are kept close to the school’s previous system with classes ending at 4:00pm from Monday to Thursday.
To adjust to the new system, Pruett said Friday classes have been condensed to 45 minutes and extracurricular activities have been incorporated into the school week. “Previously, students had free learning time after 12:30pm on Thursdays, which has been integrated into the school week from Monday to Friday. Sports, performing arts and other recreational activities are optional for students from 4pm to 5pm.”
Pruett praised the new 4.5-day school week as an integral step to improving student physical and mental wellbeing. “With children studying hard and joining extracurricular activities, they need some down time to spend with their families.”
He added, “As a father of three, having Friday afternoon off helps me arrange a fun family activity and get more time with my children.”
Students in several private schools in Dubai started their first half school day on Friday online after the shift to distance learning amid the surge of positive Covid-19 cases and close contact notifications of staff.
Catherine Erpen, Principal and CEO of GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi, said the new half Friday created “a buzz of excitement”.
“The half day has been well received by students, parents and staff. I have no doubt that everyone will return on Monday feeling fresh and well prepared for another week after enjoying the new extended weekend.”
To ensure a smooth remote learning experience for students, the school made minor adjustments to the schedule before wrapping up the day by 12:00pm on Friday.
Erpen said the familiarity of parents, students and staff with the online platforms eased the adjustment to the new school week.
“Our classes follow the schedule as normal on a Friday with a slightly extended time for home-room before dismissal to allow students time to pause, reflect and prepare for the weekend.” The school will schedule more special activities in the future as it adjusts to the 4.5-day school week.
Shagufa Kidwai, Principal of Pristine Private School, said students shifted to online learning after a few days of classroom learning for safety reasons.
However, informing parents and students about the new timings in advance guided them into a positive Friday learning environment, which saw shorter online lessons alongside a 15-minute break time before ending the day at 11:45am.
Kidwai said aligning with the 4.5-day school week was easy for students and staff as the administration had earlier extended school timings for the academic year 2021-2022 last September to include more extracurricular activities into the curriculum. The new school day for grades 1 to 11 start from 7:15am to 1:50pm from Monday to Thursday.
“With students coming back to face-to-face learning in 2021 after a year of remote learning, they needed a rich schedule of activities to make up for the interaction they had missed in the academic year of 2020,” said Kidwai, noting that the school will resume extracurricular activities after the Covid-19 situation improves.
She added, “The 4.5-day school week enables schools to balance academic learning with extracurricular activities efficiently, while giving students more time to focus on their wellbeing and strengthen their family ties.”
Putting children in good care
Majority of nurseries in Dubai remained operational for a full day to accommodate children whose parents are working at different hours.
May Zalat, Center Director at Blossom Nursery – Mudon Branch, said the nursery continued operations normally on Friday from 8am to 5pm, giving parents the flexibility to pick up their children after Friday prayers.
“Since we are aware that working hours on Fridays are different in the government and private sectors, we want to cater to all families by providing day care for their children.”
She added, “Parents working for half day are given the option to pick up their kids after their office hours and Friday prayers, while those in the private sector with full working days can keep their children until late afternoon.”
The nursery, Zalat noted, shifted to the Saturday-Sunday weekend to enable children to spend quality time with their families as most private companies are following the new workweek along with the government. Teachers and staff work from 7:30am to 6:00pm to sanitize the classrooms and prepare a hygienic and socially-distanced facility for the children the next day.
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