Summer camp dance performance at Asha Sharat Cultural Centre, Dubai.
Yay, Vacation is here
Schools have closed in the UAE for a two-month summer break that began today. Three months of e-learning aided by Microsoft Teams and Zoom and Google Meet are being temporarily halted.
The Knowledge and Human Development Authority, which is Dubai’s private education authority, has thanked every parent, student and teacher in Dubai and noted that every one of them faced their own challenges but had risen to them. The KHDA has wished everyone a great summer.
In a heartening tweet on July 2, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, who had virtually attended the first day of remote school on March 22, wrote: “Dear pupils, an exceptional academic year which was a test for all of us has ended and you passed it. Thank you for your studiousness. Thanks to your fathers and mothers, your dedicated teachers and the Ministry of Education team. I wish you a happy vacation. I wish you well-being, health, success and persistence until we meet you in the next school year.”
The Sharjah Private Education Authority (SPEA) has sent parents a feedback form for their opinion on the preferred learning model in the new school year starting September. The choices are full-fledged school, distance learning and a blended delivery model where children go to school campuses in shifts and on staggered days. It gives us the freedom to mention how comfortable we are with sending our wards back to school or about the school’s commitment to observe the preventive measures recommended by the authorities. SPEA assures us that our responses will be kept confidential.
Some of us had got so comfortable with the late nights and late mornings during the remote learning that we have forgotten what it was like to wake up at 4 am or 5 am to get ready for school. Now some youngsters have to be prodded and shouted at to rise and shine just as the teacher begins the roll call. I have a classic case at home who wakes up bleary-eyed five minutes before school begins for the day and finishes brushing just as the teacher calls out his name. Thankfully, his school doesn’t insist that they don the school uniform unlike some others where children sit in front of laptops suited and booted – rather “tied and belted”.
Online classes in the time of COVID-19 and social distancing came with its own challenges. The first was getting used to a new platform of learning, getting fidgety teens to pay attention, closing their Instagram chat window and that movie on YouTube. While both teachers and students occasionally faced genuine connectivity issues – the WiFi being pretty slow in the days of work from home – some smart ones used it as an excuse to bunk classes. Mischievous ones removed from the meeting those classmates who tried to act too nerdy and smart by answering all the questions that shot from the teacher’s mouth before anyone else could – helped in no small measure by Google search. The PE session saw bunkers come up with bizarre reasons like “My room was mopped now; I will slip and fall if I exercise now!”
A teacher at a Sharjah school commented that it was difficult to track if all students in class were paying attention during a Teams class, where they are asked to keep cameras and mikes off unless they are in the line of fire of a question. Unlike Teams which lags if there were too many attendees with cameras and mikes switched on, a Zoom class can view all attendees. Since Zoom initially had security issues and the basic version had a 40-minute time limit for each meeting, schools and teachers preferred Teams. Building rapport online with a new set of students in the new school year (that began in April in Indian curriculum schools) was challenging too, she said.
Now comes the bigger challenge – what to do with high-energy kids for two months in the absence of school? The school has kindly done its part by foisting plenty of holiday assignments on them. To get them to finish the homework – at least some of them – is the parents’ challenge.
Meanwhile, organisers of summer camps have migrated online and are trying their best to woo parents through incessant phone calls and emails. The Nancys and Ninas from Yskool and their ilk egg us to send our kids to their virtual schools for learning arts, game design, music and dance. Alliance Francaise’s movies, storytelling sessions and art & craft workshops, Manipal University’s academic workshops and Art of Living’s meditation sessions are all meant to uplift the mood of youngsters confined to their homes, rooms and phones in the coming weeks.
For, this is going to be a vacation like no other. This year there will be no vacation trips to the homeland or to exotic locales in Europe or the United States. Georgia, Armenia and Indonesia were particularly popular with Indian residents thanks to visa-free entry; most fun-loving and well-heeled Indians would have visited at least one of these destinations and many others that offered short flying hours and excellent holiday packages. The others would have visited family back home where grandparents, parents and cousins eagerly awaited their family in the Gulf. The goodies they lovingly bought and packed for each dear one and the excitement that filled the house when the “Gulf box” was opened and distributed is not to be. Although times have changed and most things are available in India, the fascination for foreign goods still lingers.
And for the Malayali expat returning home, it is the nostalgia of walking to the village junction in a traditional mundu and meeting old friends, or walking on the mudpaths around lush-green paddy fields and listening to the “croaking of garrulous frogs”, or sitting by the window as the monsoon rains make our beautiful land more beautiful and surreal than ever. The floods in the past two years have been a cause of worry and disrupted flights, but nothing can dampen the yearning to fly back to the nest year after year.
Kerala, we will return to you next holiday season if not this one!