We put your burning home learning questions to the UAE’s educational experts

You asked and the Principals of GEMS Jumeirah Primary School and GEMS Wellington International School responded

We put your burning home learning questions to the UAE’s educational experts

As students across the UAE get ready to embark on their school’s home learning programmes, we put parent’s burning questions to the educational experts.

We reached out to you to find out what you want to know about home learning, from how it will work to how involved you will have to be in the process.

And Rachel Higgins, Principal/CEO of GEMS Jumeirah Primary School responded to the questions you asked us to ask about your primary school children, while Maryssa O'Connor, who is Principal/CEO of GEMS Wellington International School, handled the questions relating specifically to your secondary school children.

PRIMARY

Siobhan, mum to a nine- and six-year-old
How involved will parents have to be with their children’s home learning?
Each school will have set out a programme which, judging by our school (JPS), will require parental or adult support for parts of the lessons. This will clearly reduce according to the age of the child. For example, a nine to 11-year-old should be able to access learning more independently that our three to eight-year-old children. We have planned for a balance between parental engagement and independent tasks, much like our normal homework expectations.

Judit, mum to a nine- and six-year-old
Does a parent need to be present the whole time?
I believe a parent or adult will need to be present to support the initial part sessions then they should be able to allow their children to work as they would in a classroom for extended periods of time depending on the age and the activity. The Learning From Home programme is designed to enable children to learn independently and remotely. Teachers should provide feedback to children and will be available throughout the day to answer any questions and to address misconceptions.

Mel, mum to 11-year-old twins
If the children are in the two weeks quarantine period after schools resume on April 5 due to having been out of the country, will they still have access to the home-learning programme?
As schools are planning to re-open on Sunday April 5, there would be no new learning on distance learning platforms as teachers would be back in school. If your children were quarantined for two weeks, your school can enable you access to the prior two weeks of learning from Sunday March 22 until Sunday April 5 if you were not able to complete it at the time. At JPS, we are keeping all sessions accessible for those who cannot access the learning at the times delivered.

Lucy, mum to eight-year-old twins
How long do the children have to spend each day completing their tasks?

This will depend on the school’s progamme and your ability to complete the tasks as a family. At JPS, we have laid out a plan, which feels similar to the normal day with a focus on the core areas. We have different expectations of FS1, FS2, Years one to three and Years four to six, as we would during a normal school day. Most of our children will be engaged for four to five sessions a day with a chance to review their learning with their teachers. If your child would prefer to spread out their learning over a longer period of time, that would be totally acceptable and teachers will provide feedback the following day.

Lala, mum of four children in Years four, two and FS1
*Will all children require being logged on at a specific time of day? We don’t have iPads or devices for more than one of them? Will there be a possibility of any paper based alternatives available for SEN registered children?**

Looking at the ages of your children, I would imagine you would be able to easily space out your learning to manage the on-screen versus off-screen time. Teachers will be creating a variety of learning experiences and the expectation is not for them to all need a device for the full session. In some lessons, there will be an on-screen introduction followed by work in books, on paper or suggested activities. This should make device sharing very possible. Each child needs time away from the screen, so you should be able to balance this effectively.

For SEND registered children, paper-based and practical alternatives should be provided. We would encourage this work to be uploaded to your SeeSaw/Google Classrooms (or similar) so that their teacher/ Learning Support Assistant can assess the child’s understanding of the task. If children have one-to-one support in a class setting, their designated support assistant will be fully involved in the learning process.

Delyth, mum of an 11- and nine-year-old
What happens for working parents who aren’t home to monitor their children’s learning? Will teachers be available in the evening to answer any questions and give feedback, or are they only available during school hours? Are they expected to complete everything? Or is it timed sessions? What happens if the children don’t get everything done?

As a working parent with children of similar ages, I can understand your initial concerns. This was one of the most important aspects we considered, whilst planning the programme, as the vast majority of our parents both work. At JPS, we have ensured that all learning will be delivered sequentially as it would in the school day and available thereafter. We have suggested that working parents access the learning later in the day to set up for the next day’s tasks. By doing so, the children can then complete them independently with little support. Equally, tasks will always be available if you wish to spread them out over time or complete them later in the week. It is key that families feel their children are not missing out due to work requirements.

Bettina, mum of five-year-old twins
How will the process work and what are schools expecting from the kids and the parents?

Each school will have sent a clear programme and policy out to parents before the early Spring Break. I am sure most schools will be sending a further update this week before the Distance Learning begins on Sunday March 22.

Hannah, mum of a four-year-old
I have a home where electronics are very limited for a reason, but now I have to actively encourage my four-year-old to use them as part of his homework, only to then take them away again in a few weeks. For pre-K/FS1, is e-learning proposed by the school preferred over play / drawing / number and letter practice?

For children in the Foundation Stage, the content of the Learning From Home programme should be in keeping with the experiences that the children are used to having within the school setting. The purpose of using a device at this stage should be to provide the children with an overview of learning for the day and explicit teaching of the new learning for each subject. These videos should be short and delivered by the child’s class teacher. Follow-up activities, which link to the new learning, would then be far more based on the children’s usual experiences of active learning, hands-on experiences and paper-based, where appropriate. At JPS, our children will only be using devices in the early years for interactions with their teacher and for a story time session later in the day.

Clare, mum of a three-year-old
Is there a resource I can use to print things off for my nanny to do with my pre-KG child? And do you know where I can get a tuff tray?

Your school should be providing access to learning that can be shared with your nanny and set up the day ahead with your support. In addition, many online companies have put together packs for home learning; usually activities are free to download and print off for your nanny to use at home. A great support for activities at home is to research Loose Parts Play, a way of using basic equipment in a variety of ways to support experiential learning at home.
Tuff Trays can be purchased here

Victoria, mum of a three-year-old
Do you think realistically that the schools will be open after the four weeks closure?

Schools are due to reopen for children on Sunday April 5 2020. At the time of writing this we have had no indication of the distance learning continuing beyond this date.

SECONDARY

Alex Sheehan, mum to a 14 and 11 year old
How will the disruption to learning be mitigated for those taking external exams, are the exam boards obliged to take this into account in their marking? Will any special dispensations be given? If so, is this discretionary?

Schools will be unable to decide upon this as the direction will come directly from the exam boards, they have their own policies and are likely to publicise these on their websites. The International Baccalaureate for example have a web page dedicated to this at www.ibo.org/news/news-about-the-ib/covid-19-coronavirus-updates/ where they give a range of advice and guidance. However, we will continue to prepare Year 11 and 13 students for exam via our remote learning strategies and revision materials. We want our students to be as prepared for these exams as they would be if lessons had not been disrupted and our teachers are preparing online resources and lessons to ensure they have all materials and techniques for exam success.  Exam boards are fully aware of the implications of school closure and are monitoring the global situation, with one example being amendments to deadline for non-examination components.

Jessica, mum to a 15 and 12 year old
I struggle to get my children to do homework, let alone a whole day of lessons. Any advice on how I can motivate them?

Our resources are designed to be quite flexible and other than live streamed lessons, our students can access them at any time. Students of this age can work well for shorter periods of time with regular breaks, perhaps building in some appropriate rewards to suit you as a family. Try to chunk learning the same way you would chunk work for yourself and intersperse this with a wide range of activities that keep young people’s minds active too, such as board games, reading, sporting activities (should regulations permit) and creative activities or mindfulness. Learning will happen through these as well as through the school set work and your children are likely to be engaged as a result too.  Learning within the family home can be the first barrier to tackle so try to set up an organised workspace for your child, away from distractions.

Laura, mum to a 15 and 17 year old
What are the best online resources for children taking exams? 

Schools like WIS will be directing your children to the best online resources suited to their needs and courses.  There are many free apps and websites available that are connected to the specific examination your child will be preparing for, rather than get lost in a never-ending online search, contact the school and teachers directly. The students themselves will already be using these resources for their studies too.  In addition to the apps that will be frequently used by your child in their everyday learning, ‘Notebloc’ is a free App that allows you to take photos of written notes and transfer them into images.  Additionally, ‘Adapt’ is a free app that helps GCSE student scaffold a revision timetable. Students choose the exam boards and courses and the app will generate a revision timetable with specific revision tasks and topics. It will also add the actual GCSE examinations to your calendar on your phone – parents could download this too.


Simon, dad to a 13 and 16 year old
How much support will teenagers need from their parents during the school closures and home-learning?

Parents can support their teenagers by giving them lots of encouragement to keep up to date with their studies and showing an interest in what they have completed each day. Check in at the end of the day and ask your children to share with you what they have achieved, what they are pleased with and anything they may have found challenging. You can support them by reaching out to their teachers for any additional guidance and support. Students are remarkably focused and able to explore concepts that have been long since committed to our ‘Recycle Bin’. Just ask your 16-year-old to explain what they’re completing in physics and you’ll soon see! The following research from Kobe University in Japan from 2016 lists 6 parenting styles. As an opinion, ‘Supportive’ is far more likely to get the best out of your childs’ distance learning especially for 13 and 16 year olds.  Parents will need to offer positive encouragement as well as asking their child how they are finding the experience.  WIS has a designated helpline and email address purposely set-up to support parents and students with any technical difficulties during the remote learning period.

Molly, mum to an 11, 13 and 17 year old
What exactly is expected of secondary students when it comes to home-learning? Are they expected to do a full day of lessons? How will the lessons work?

WIS teachers are setting work to match the normal timetable, this provides enough work to fill a normal school day. Some lessons are very flexible in their content with the work uploaded for students to complete independently, others are live streams and group discussion sessions.  Teachers are available throughout the day for questions via email and the Apps in use. The older students are likely to be directed towards more independent study and encouraged to submit their work frequently for feedback. Younger students may have more project-based learning that they can complete over a number of lessons and return for marking and feedback. WIS teachers are very specific in the instructions for each subject and group. Of course, there may not be as many distractions for students working independently at home, so they could complete the work more quickly than expected! Stay in touch with the teachers who will be able to support.

Catherine, mum to a 12, 16 and 18 year old
What are the expectations from teachers in terms of tangible outcomes for secondary kids home-learning programme?

Teachers are keen to complete the curriculum as much as possible so they do want to see work submitted from all students in all year groups. Students who are preparing for examinations in Year 11 and 13 should try to complete all work that is set and their revision. They will be able to submit this and receive regular feedback from their teachers to ensure they get personalised direction of what to focus on alongside the work that is set for the whole class.  Teachers will set forms of assessment for most of the lessons being taught during the week.  This could vary from a progress check, to a specific exam question or a test paper.  This will be marked and the feedback provided to the students as would normally be expected outside of the remote learning period.

Roshni, mum to a nine and 15 year old
I’m not a teacher! How will I cope with home learning?

We do not expect parents to become teachers as the responsibility for learning is still with the students.  However, encouraging your children to do as much as they can and ask their teachers for help is the best way to support. Of course, talking about the work and different subjects can really support your children to try their best and not get disheartened.  Helping them to organise their workspace and structure the day is also really important.  Ensuring they get regular sleep, breaks, eat healthily and take some exercise are also really important.  Teachers continue to be accessible through email should you have any questions and will be on hand throughout lessons and during the day to answer any questions from your children.

Leila, mum to a 10, 13, 16 and 17 year old
Will my secondary children be studying all of the subjects they would normally be studying if they were in school?

Absolutely! We are providing lessons for all subjects and encouraging children and students to complete practical, creative and independent work across the curriculum.  We are also delivering assemblies and guidance throughout the remote learning period so there is lots for students to participate in. We will be setting challenges for learning beyond the classroom too, just as we would in school.  We will be setting work that aligns with their regular timetable and will be advising that this be followed as closely as possible.  Lesson delivery may be more innovative for some of our more practical subjects, such as Physical Education, where exercises and videos are filmed for students to follow.

Andy, dad to a 14 and 18 year old
Will my children’s teachers be in contact regularly? Will the school hours remain the same as they would if there were in school and will my children be able to communicate with them during the full school day if they need help?

At WIS, we are requesting that students and parents check in at the start of the day, to ‘register’ their presence.  Then we will be closely monitoring the work uploaded by children and students throughout the day.  This will help us understand if the children are receiving the right amount and type of work. Teachers will be following a similar timetable as they would in school and will be available to respond to questions and also take part in group discussions.  Just like a normal school term, parents can reach out for support at any time and the teacher will respond as quickly as possible.  We have created a comprehensive guide for parents, which has been emailed to everyone and should also be a support in this period of learning.  There is also technical support available through our designated remote learning email address.

Luke, dad to a 16 year old
My child has exams coming up, we are all stressing about this and my child is feeling anxious. Will exams go ahead as normal?

At this stage all guidance will be taken from the respective Authorities and in the UAE, the Ministry of Education would have the final decision on this.  We will await further instruction on other curriculum exams from the respective authorities. We are in regular contact with examination boards and will maintain updates as and when they are received.

Children are incredibly resilient and this is the first time that they will experience a full set of examinations such as this. Schools have practised lots of different protocols with students so that they are fully aware of what to expect in a normal exam series and will keep everyone updated if there are changes.

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