The Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee has approved the physical return of students to schools for the 2021/2022 academic year. The decision came following consultation and collaboration with parents, teachers, principals and school operators across Abu Dhabi, conducted in May and June this year. It also follows the vaccination of more than 80 per cent of teachers and school staff, including all maintenance and security teams.

Ensuring the safe return to school is an integral part of Abu Dhabi’s long-term strategy for recovery, which places the health and safety of the community at the forefront of all decisions, and reflects the success of the emirate’s handling of the pandemic so far. The back-to-school strategy aligns with international best practices, and involves all key stakeholders including the school community, health authorities, Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) and all other relevant government authorities.

Her Excellency Sara Musallam, Chairwoman of ADEK, said: “The pandemic has tested the resolve of teachers, parents, and school staff, our unsung heroes, who came together and have gone to incredible lengths to ensure that our children receive the best education possible during these challenging times. We are grateful to the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disaster Committee for ensuring that planning for the 2021/2022 academic year was inclusive of all stakeholders. While we believe that remote learning is not a perfect substitute for physical learning, we must ensure that everyone is comfortable to return to in-school instruction as much as possible.”

As part of the consultation, ADEK conducted an independent survey on schools reopening to help inform decision making for the next academic year. More than 117,000 parents representing more than 230,000 students across public, private and charter schools, and including both UAE nationals and expats, participated in the Parents Survey on Schools Reopening. About 70 per cent of students are expected to return to in-school learning, with 88 per cent of parents saying it was more beneficial for their child’s education.

Parents also believe vaccination will further enhance their confidence about the safety of schools. Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is available for children aged 12 and above. A Sinopharm immune bridge study for children was recently launched in the UAE to examine the immune response to the vaccine in children aged 3 to 17, with the emirate planning to make the vaccine available to children in the near future.

The study also shows that parents are comfortable reducing physical distancing requirements, which will enable students to attend school more days per week.

The committee stressed the importance of coordination between schools in the emirate and ADEK to ensure that schools are ready to receive students of all levels at the start of the academic year. ADEK will continue working with the schooling community and health authority and will update the protocols for reopening schools very soon. School operational protocols related to Covid-19 will be published by 15 August.

The committee also approved providing full-time remote learning as an option to parents who request it, if offered by their child’s school.

The committee noted that the physical return to schools would be continuously monitored and evaluated to ensure the ongoing safety of the school community, and that it relies on the cooperation of the entire school community in following precautionary measures to protect the health and safety of students, teachers and school staff.