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The start of the school year has certainly been a unique experience for all stakeholders. As we all settle and attempt to adapt to the “new normal”. Administrators, parents and students have had to think creatively keeping the primary focus on health and safety for all.

The majority of parents are still sceptical (and rightfully so ) in allowing their children to go back to school without specific assurances that the pandemic is over and that the school or authorities can guarantee 100% that the risk of contamination is zero to none. Many parents, however, have to work, and so have decided to throw caution to the wind and send their children back to full-time school, as they don’t have the provision to continue working from home. Conversely, for parents who can afford to work from home, many questions have come through for schools to answer and many focus around “How can you assure me as a parent that my child will be safe”. Despite the many coffee mornings and virtual meetings, apprehension is on a high and with cases showing no signs of decline many are even more hesitant to the different “hybrid” models in place in most schools, with many requesting to continue distance learning.

Schools have therefore had to review their learning models to accommodate parents requests or run the risk of having low registrations. The ripple effect has placed tremendous pressures on schools, to either increase or expand their workforce to ensure parents apprehensions are appeased and to keep the quality of provisions of learning according to expectations. This is where for school administrators, the planning for certain structures or designing ‘bubbles’   becomes even more challenging. Will planning for safety and implementing the hybrid model compromise the delivery of the curriculum? To what extent will the curriculum be modified so that schools do not run a risk of delivering a watered-down curriculum?

Curriculum preparation and modification for school academic leadership has, therefore required careful and thorough planning, that takes into account the continuity of learning and the health and safety of the students. Academic planning must include; careful timetabling of core subjects with well-devised curriculum modifications that will ensure the curriculum is delivered with integrity is; well balanced and enriched with activities for improved students’ sustained engagement in learning.

Assessment is another area that has taken a different form this year, although summative assessments are still on the long and short term academic plans, schools are now also looking at multiple assessment tools that provide students with an opportunity to show mastery and for teachers to show the impact of teaching. These include performance, evidence, research-based assessments which are based on a given criterion that allow students to bring concepts being taught in class through analysis, investigation and application. Marking to evaluate the impact of learning has also gone online with tools like Showbie assessment of/for learning simplified by providing feedback using audio recordings or typed feedback with good opportunities for students to respond.

Similarly, teachers have had to balance instruction for students attending face to face and those ‘beaming in’ simultaneously, as always in their usual and creative ways, by carefully balancing instruction in class and online provisions making sure students are progressing, and impact is measured continuously. Resource preparation no longer relies solely on manipulatives, whiteboards or flashcards, but take the form of researching more tools that have the “gamification” effect and also provide opportunities for collaboration when learning is online for sustained engagement and continuity of learning. Resources also include ‘virtual labs’ where students use simulations to conduct experiments.

 It’s fascinating to see teachers with classes that follow the hybrid model replicate characters from a sci-fi movie, with Bluetooth headphones and extended microphones talking to those online and supporting those in class, unphased by anyone watching as they move around the classrooms with IPads at hand ‘mirroring’ work on their screens!

To conclude we can all agree that COVID despite being despised by everyone, has certainly forced us to re-think educational and specifically instructional practices; whether schools follow hybrid models or parents requesting to continue distant learning, one thing we can all be assured of is that in the UAE learning will continue despite models or circumstances.

This is definitely a school beginning that we all hope will be successful, but sincerely pray it will not be repeated!

By: Fatma Khalid.