With students, parents and teachers getting into the swing of distance learning in the UAE, we asked a selection of schools to give us an insight into their approach – how does your experience compare?
To keep children’s education on track while they stay home, distance learning – with teachers often delivering classes through video call programs – was introduced. With the follow up news that schools would remain shut until the end of the academic year, greater investments are being made into the digital schooling approach, and ideas being discussed as to how to improve the future of distance learning.
To find out more, we spoke to a range of school across the region about how they’re tackling the quick change over into a virtual classroom:
Beaming a balanced curriculum into students’ homes
While your child’s distance learning schedule will depend on their age and stage, keeping the learning experience as broad and balanced as possible is top of mind.
“We’re in a very unique time and it’s not an ideal situation, but we want to turn a difficult time into a positive one,” says Ian Wallace, Headmaster at Horizon English School, which caters to kids aged three to 11.
“We are continuing to offer a broad and balanced curriculum that includes subjects such as PE, Science and Social Studies, as well as English and Maths. We appreciate that there may be limitations to completing a PE activity, for example, but we want to ensure that the opportunities are always there.”
Keeping expectations manageable
At Horizon English School, each child has received a home learning exercise book where they can complete their activities. “The expectation is that students will complete a classroom task, take a photo and upload it onto Seesaw, and teachers will offer feedback and pointers,” said Wallace. “We don’t want to lose that interaction and hinder learning. The goal is to have children wanting to log onto Seesaw and see what they have in store for them that day.”
Choosing digital tools that are quick and easy to use
Turning to tried and trusted apps and is helping parents and students stay up to speed more easily.
“We have invested in and are using a number of online learning resources and platforms, and we are using these to provide engaging online learning activities and experiences for our students,” said Rob Hitchings, Vice Principal & Head of Secondary, Dubai Heights Academy. “Seesaw is one such platform that students and parents are familiar with using.”
Teachers at Repton Abu Dhabi, Repton Dubai and Foremarke Dubai are in contact with students through student-driven online applications, sharing instructions, assignments and feedback on the Seesaw, Showbie and GCSE Pod application, which are available on the iOS and Google Play Store.
Streamlining your kid’s kit
While your little ones may be no stranger to an iPad, many parents have been left wondering whether they have all the kit needed to facilitate online learning. Repton and Foremarke parents have been advised to provide students with an environment conducive to learning, such as access to devices, Wi-Fi, and a safe and quiet space to conduct course plans.
For Horizon English School, the aim is to ensure that each of the school’s early years children have access to an iPad or laptop to watch an instruction demonstrating an achievable hands-on activity to do around the home, such as finding shapes in the house or garden.
If your child doesn’t have a computer to work from, there are some initiatives that could help. As a case in point, Emirates NBD and Emirates Islamic are contributing Dhs4 million (from their Charity Fund) to the UAE’s Ministry of Education to provide laptops to UAE students who need them.
Students needn’t be online all day long
You may be worried about screens at the best of times, but distance learning isn’t about being glued to a tablet or monitor.
“Students are not expected to be entirely online but receive a variety of learning activities for them to complete both online and offline and to upload work or evidence as appropriate for teachers to provide feedback,” said Hitchings. “We appreciate that there may be limitations to completing an activity, but we want to ensure that teacher student interactions and learning opportunities are always there.”
Offering flexibility for those who need it
For those who are juggling everyday responsibilities or work with helping kids with distance learning, flexibility is high up on the agenda.
Dubai Heights Academy’s distance learning programme is designed to be practical, realistic, and agile enough to adapt to the learning environment the students find themselves in. “It’s flexible enough to work around different family schedules and childcare situations,” confirms Hitchings.
“We appreciate that every home will have a different situation, and it will be a stressful time – and we don’t want to add to that stress,” added Wallace. “We have a commitment to learning and we want to facilitate that, but we also appreciate that our families have different schedules and childcare situations. We need to be understanding about this.”
When doors are temporarily shut, technology is also being utilised to keep kids and parents in close communication with teachers.
At Dubai Heights Academy, teachers and senior leadership remain contactable through Seesaw and email while Horizon English School is running an ‘open phone’ policy during this time. Repton and Foremarke students have additional access to Microsoft Teams to communicate with teachers, as well as access work.
Need some help creating a productive environment for distance learning? Read our top tips for creating a comfortable work space and limiting screen-time.