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As the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the world, the challenge for teachers, and parents alike, has been finding ways of engaging students with curriculum content remotely, so their education doesn’t fall behind. At GEMS Metropole School in Dubai, we have taken a proactive approach to ensure our students have the necessary resources to continue learning and maintain a sense of community and connection with their peers and teachers – all of which help foster a sense of continuity at a time of extreme change. It is also this proactive approach that will stand us in good stead as we look to not only return to school but ensure students don’t fall behind in their education over the summer.

Here, Naveed Iqbal, Principal of GEMS Metropole School discusses the ways in which education technology resources have been vital in not only maintaining his students’ education during Covid-19 but also in supporting his plans for the new academic year.

Learning independently before lockdown

Remote learning is not something new at our school, in fact, we have utilised Edtech resources such as EducationCity alongside the physical classroom for several years. This is, in part, because we believe remote learning gives our students the opportunity to work independently and deepen their understanding of subject knowledge at their own pace. This view is further supported by research undertaken by the Dubai British School which found that, on the whole, independent learning improves students’ all-round skills such as critical thinking, as students begin to question the content they learn, enabling teachers to provide differentiated tasks for students’ varying abilities.

We’ve also experienced the benefits of online learning resources first-hand, with our students coming to class better prepared thanks to their online revision worksheets and activities that reinforced key learnings from the days prior. Our students have also been able to take greater ownership of their learning by testing their knowledge through fun online challenges which uncover their strengths and areas for improvement in core subjects like maths and English. These edtech resources which join-up the learning experience have also been an impactful tool for our teaching staff with valuable insights informing future lesson plans and topic areas that need greater attention.

While already a central pillar of our teaching and learning at GEMS Metropole School, each of these aspects of Edtech, and more, have been vital in maintaining students’ education throughout Covid-19 school closures. Arguably, a large part of our success is due to the pre-existing infrastructure and integration of Edtech that we, as a school, are committed to providing. The familiarity of these platforms with our students and staff has meant we were able to provide a smoother transition to a remote learning model than otherwise would have been achieved and continuing to use the same learning and teaching materials has ensured as much stability for our students’ education as possible.

Remote learning during school closures

At GEMS Metropole School it has been important for us to help our students maintain the routine they would have had if they were in their regular classroom. As the school has had to move entirely online, remote education has helped support the delivery of lessons through a synchronous approach to learning and teaching. Synchronous styles of learning have allowed us to deliver live, interactive lessons to our students that recap the content taught previously through this resource. For example, the use of Learn Screens, which enable our students to review content taught in a certain activity, while also exploring and interacting with the material, has been a largely positive flipped learning experience. There is also no added pressure of working to the time constraints of a physical classroom as students can work, at home, and at their own pace to ensure they have a good grasp of the concepts before moving on to other tasks and activities.

Taking a literacy lesson for instance, edtech resources have helped our students learn how adjectives create vivid images by utilising gamified content to keep them engaged. Once our students have finished learning the content, and are confident in their ability, they can put their knowledge to the test with targeted activities. The creative and imaginative scenarios in these mini tests and check points help engage our students with the topic in question, while also preparing them with the content they need to actively contribute in video conferencing lessons. This has also given our teachers a greater understanding of individual student needs, in order to effectively support them and their academic progression during the pandemic.   

Returning to school

As we turn our focus to returning to school, it is important for us to remember the lessons learned during lockdown, and the wide-ranging benefits of remote learning. The plans around the reopening schools is, of course, incredibly intricate and challenging from a health and safety perspective, but we also need to ensure that students’ attainment doesn’t suffer from what is a new teaching and learning experience.

Extensive guidelines have been provided by Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority, and while there are procedural changes that have been introduced around entry to the school, drop-off and pick-up protocols and readiness plans in case of a second lockdown, it is the changes that occur within the school grounds and classrooms that are most impactful.

There are the logistical factors such as the requirement for teachers and students to wear face masks and to maintain 1.5m distance in each classroom, but these will also affect how provision is delivered and to whom. For example, maintaining social distancing within the classroom is sound in theory but in practice, it will require us to operate with reduced class sizes depending on the size of the year group and capacity of the classrooms.

As has proven so valuable for our teachers and students throughout lockdown, online learning is a central pillar of our back-to-school plans. Not only because schools are being encouraged to avoid hard copies of learning materials for hygiene reasons but because it will provide a more equitable educational experience for our students. Of course, we are welcome our students and staff back to school but with reduced class sizes blended learning has become even more of a necessity for us. As educators, we have a duty of care to ensure high-quality academic provision is maintained and it will be through online resources that provide personalised instruction, assessment functions, and data-driven insights and progress indicators that will achieve this for each and every student.