Parents, teachers and students all face the uncertainty of what will happen next, and what will occur in September of this year: The new academic school year.

Whilst we all want clarity, we cannot blame governments, agencies or officials, as there is a simple answer to trying to answer the unknown: we don’t know!  This is uncharted waters and we need to accept this.

So, let’s try to second guess what is next and try and plan for that move to ensure our students and children get the best education they can. This is not an easy task as a Principal!

  Naturally we want our kids back to school full time, and as a father and a Principal I make this comment, but, assuming we might not be back to school as we all desire, I share with you the following observations and thoughts.

Let’s start with the obvious, that many parents will have considered but maybe haven’t thought through it in its entirety: School fees.

I have been told by parents that they will seek a cheaper school for their children, if we are to return to school with distance learning. I hear, “We love the school, but we are not paying for online anymore, when we can get it cheaper elsewhere.  When you return to normal, we will send our kids back to you.”  Now, I hear this not just from my own parents, but from parents wanting to cross from us from other schools here in Al Ain.  However, let’s look at this in detail from my point of view as a Principal and a parent.

Principals need to plan, staff and resource their schools according to the registered numbers of students well before the new term starts. By May, this is normally finalised. There is a false belief that parents can register with a cheaper school for distance learning, and will get the same quality, before switching back to their previous school, when the school is open in full.  There simply will not be the required number of staff available and already, schools are closing registrations to parents who move schools for this period.  It’s simple maths and your child will not be able to transfer back for the rest of the year, and will they really get the same quality?  You could seriously be damaging your child’s education for a few dirhams, albeit important right now for the family household.

Schooling will change in September, for sure, and it is important that we all accept this.  Hygiene rules may see policies such as no school bags, or even no school uniform, where staff can monitor pupils changing clothes to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.  This would also apply to staff.

Students may not be able to take books home and such rules will prohibit teachers from taking them home to mark.   Schools may look at a requirement of older students bringing in a laptop or Chromebook to school to allow for online marking and homework to exist safely, and what do we do about younger students sharing pencils and pens, where social distancing is something that only exists when they are tucked up in bed?

Parents may be required to stay outside of the school grounds, and schools will look to see how children of the younger years can be dismissed safely without the usual line up of parents present: it’s a potential headache for us all, but we need to accept that we need to work together: Schools with parents, and parents’ with schools.

No matter what school your child goes to, I would urge parents to stay loyal to your school. Your child knows their teacher, and more importantly, your child’s teacher knows your child; how they learn; how they think and how they feel.  They care about them.

More so, you will ensure your school’s future and your child’s education.  The grass is not always greener on the other side and could cause problems now or in the future.

This is not a simple case of cheaper shopping where you can buy a non-branded fruit over a Del Monte brand.  This is not the same as having your car serviced by a local garage over a dealer.  I’m sure like myself, you have tried the supermarket’s own Cornflakes over your favourite brand, as they are cheaper.  Did they taste the same?  No, and you only feel disgust, vowing never to repeat this mistake again.  But this is about your child’s education.  Please don’t play with it.  They are more sensitive than they have ever been, requiring stability of known staff and friends right now.  They need stability, just as much as our pockets do: I understand.

I know some of you will say that it’s, “Easy,” for me to say this, and I know that some of you will need to balance the family books too in all this, but please consider the most important investment you will make in your children’s education.  

Likewise, as a parent, you know your children and you will have to make those very difficult decisions, and when schools do open their doors again, some of you will welcome this with open arms, with some of you nervous and anxious about their health and safety. When that happens, turn off the What’s App school group; turn off your Face Book parent page; turn off all your social media feeds that will inevitably criticise your decision: you will not get it right according to the other ‘experts’.  However, know that many teachers, and Principals, are parents too.  We get it!  Please don’t fall into the trap of berating others and judging other parents who make the decision opposite to yours. Please also don’t ‘beat up’ your school too, for doing what they have done.  Principals will follow their heads and hearts as well as government guidelines and do whatever it takes to secure the education of our children.

The current climate does not allow for normal education, and likewise, the current climate does not allow for distance learning to exist forever.  There will be a new normal, even if temporarily, but we all must embrace and more importantly, accept the changes that will and have to occur to get us back to where we all want to be.  Just don’t short-change your children’s education for a matter of a few quid!  It might not be what you want, but it might just be the best overall for your child in the long run and ensure the very survival of the school which you and your children value. 

Andrew Thomas B.Ed (Hons) M.Phil NPHQ

Principal 

Al Ain English Speaking School.

Andrew gained his Master of Philosophy degree through the study of technology in education and has delivered many conference speeches on technology in education, including BETT Middle East, and at the British Educational Research Association.

Al Ain English School has recently been inspected and graded with the top grade of “Developed” by ADEK.