Since the announcement that face-to-face learning would resume under strict protocols, there have been several commendable developments in UAE’s school sector that have set a global benchmark for the reopening of schools. Before I begin describing what has happened from a school leader’s perspective, I must preface it by stating what has not always been evident to many: this is the first global pandemic that we have faced in our lifetimes and therefore any policy decision related to it, would also by definition be a first. Organizations have always had to innovate to stay relevant, but this pandemic has also forced governments globally to innovate to protect their populations while allowing economic development to continue.
Following the Ministry of Education’s reopening announcement over the summer, Dubai’s education regulator, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), issued a 116-point protocol document for schools to follow. Each school submitted its plans for reopening within the framework stipulated. At the same time, the regulator did its very best to ensure that schools were given the flexibility on their offering during these unique times. It was quite a remarkable logistical exercise and one that should not go unnoticed: the KHDA reviewed close to 200 school reopening plans, provided feedback and re-reviewed them again, before giving final approval. Remarkably, this was all completed in a matter of weeks!
School leaders and promoters were not far behind. In the time leading up to reopening day, health and safety measures were implemented throughout school buildings in the UAE. The school industry’s supply chain stepped up to meet the challenge be it in providing UV technology for the air conditioning systems, installing infrared cameras for temperature measurements and even placing social distancing signage across school campuses. A colossal project that usually would take months was completed in weeks across a nation that prides itself on putting its population before anything else.
As many nations continue to grapple with the question of whether schools should reopen or not, the UAE has provided the answer. Schools reopened successfully in this young nation because its government focused not only on keeping students safe but also on keeping teachers safe. Yes, teachers safe. For as much as we know now that K-12 learning happens best when it’s in-person, we also know that none of it would be possible if it were not for our teachers. Thanks to government regulation and leadership consciousness, schools across the nation have stepped up to keep their teachers safe. Very early in the crisis, we took a stand that how we reacted to the pandemic would define our school for its entire existence. This was and is a time for us to stick to the values that we have for so long promoted amongst our students. That is what we have done – put our teachers and students before anything else.
As a school leader, I know that I can speak for many when I express gratitude to our regulator. As research begins to make its way to our newsfeed on the safety of reopening schools and the economic damage of not doing so, it almost feels like our regulator had a crystal ball back in the summer – one that could see a bleak future if schools did not reopen and a promising one if schools did. Students in the UAE are learning at a level like few others across the world right now. There could be no better gift than this from a government to its population. On behalf of every student, teacher, and school leader who is back at school, thank you!
Author: Navin Valrani is the CEO of Arcadia Education and a member of the Board of Overseers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.