UAE Head of South View School Dubai Stranded in UK as Omicron Covid-19 variant Bites. Top Schools fight back to protect Children’s education.
The pressures caused by the exceptionally infectious Omicron variant have resulted in huge pressures across UAE education, including leaving David Flint, Principal of the SchoolsCompared rated outstanding South View School in Dubai, stranded in the UK.
The impacts have seen schools across the UAE battling issues of staffing and how best to deliver the very best education for students safely, this seeing, amongst others, Horizon English School, Smart Vision School, Victory Heights Primary School, Kent College Dubai and DESSC moving to online learning this week. A significant number of GEMS Education schools in Dubai have also remained closed to in-school learning.
David Flint told SchoolsCompared.com:
“A robust and truly committed, child-centred team – and planned access to video conferencing technologies, has enabled the school to run smoothly and effectively on return from the Winter holiday.
Despite the challenges of Covid-19 and a new working week, South View has been able to deliver meaningful, quality learning experiences at this challenging time for all our children in the UAE and around the globe. At South View our approach is 110% children first.
Starting one’s day at 02:30 hrs to deal with time difference between the UK and UAE has been something I never expected in education, but it has worked remarkably well because of the preparation put in place to deal with all such eventualities. I look forward to returning to school next week.”
Elmarie Venter, Chief Operations Officer of GEMS Education told us:
“GEMS Education continues to work very closely with the authorities in the UAE to keep our school communities as safe as possible following the move to distance learning.
We are continuously monitoring the situation and look forward very much to welcoming our students back into the classroom as soon as it is safe to do so.
We will never compromise on the health, safety and wellbeing of our students, their families, and our staff.
We are keeping our families up to date with all developments and thank them for their understanding and cooperation.”
Kent College, speaking with our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor, issued the following statement:
“Over the past few days, we have received messages from a number of our staff and parents who are returning from travel and also those who have stayed in Dubai, to let us know that they have either tested positive with Covid-19, our are close contacts with someone who has tested positive. Due to the high number of cases, we are unable to cover all staff who are going to be absent. After careful review, we have reached the conclusion that for at least the first 5 days of this term, we will move to distance learning in all phases of the school. We will continue to review this situation.
“We realise this is not the way any of us would like to begin the new term, however with safety being a priority, we feel that families are better protected by closing the school not for 5 days, rather than open with reduced and compromised staffing. If we do not close now, we potentially may need to close for a longer period of time due to greater outbreaks in the coming weeks. We are also mindful that children under the age of 12 no longer need a negative PCR test to return to school, so containment of any positive cases is increasingly difficult.”
Dubai English Speaking College saw close to 50 members of staff infected with Omicron, such is the infectiousness of the new Covid variant, and now expects to see the school opening on Monday after closing this week.
Dubai College took an “all hands on deck” approach, even calling in the expertise of some of its parents who are trained teachers to volunteer at the school to fill in for absences caused by Omicron.
The new Omicron variant has caused an outpouring of frustration on social media, with parents divided on how schools should respond. Some parents have taken the view that “we just have to learn to live with Covid” and “schools should open, even if they have to merge classes.” Others believe that the “safety of children, their parents and teachers” must always come first. “If a child loses a parent, there is no going back from that” one parent wrote.
Whilst a minority view, a number of parents criticised schools and teachers, believing that they should have isolated alone over the holidays and not seen their families or left home at all to avoid the need to close schools. This resulted in a huge backlash from other parents as well as schools. Sasha Crabb, recipient of the SchoolsCompared.com Top Schools Award for Best School Principal in the UAE 2019-20, and Principal of Victory Heights Primary School, recipient of this year’s Top Schools Award for Best Primary School in the UAE, voiced the upset of many across the teaching profession that they should not be blamed for the high infection rates of the latest Covid-19 variant. The view was also reflected by Andrew Gibbs, Principal and CEO of Dubai English Speaking School and Dubai English Speaking College in an impassioned and heartfelt defence of all teachers and their care for children sent to parents.
Mark Leppard MBE, Headmaster of The British School Al Khubairat, eloquently captures the challenges facing parents, students and teachers:
“Academically, particularly for older students, [home learning] is manageable.
For parents particularly of younger students it is difficult.
For teachers, it is soulless as they go into this profession to inspire learners and regardless of technological advances, it cannot replace being face to face with a class.
Everyone is trying their best – but we all need that social connection. It is part of our human make up.”
Omicron is hugely infectious with a factor of 15, and believed to be the second most contagious virus in the world after measles with a factor of 18. The consensus, however, is that the the Omicron Covid-19 variant is significantly less dangerous than the Delta or previous variants. The key risk is of UAE hospitals being overwhelmed because of its rapid spread, and this will ultimately determine the approach taken to school opening by the UAE government and regulators. The key ‘call to action’ from schools, the UAE Government and the World Health organisation is focused on the vital importance of vaccination. WHO epidemiologist Dr Abdi Mahamud said:
“So the main message is, if you are vaccinated, you are protected, but if you are vulnerable or if you have not been vaccinated, this Omicron – however light or mild it may be for others – it could hit you very hard. So, vaccination (is) very critical.”
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