By Afshan Ahmed www.daijiworld.com
Every school in Abu Dhabi has been ordered to adhere to a unified calendar of holidays and term-time from the start of the new academic year in September.
Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) has told all private schools to comply with a Cabinet decree last month that unifies holidays for schools and universities.
The official school calendar will now comprise three terms: from about September 6 to December 15, from January 8 to March 22, and from April 9 to about June 28.
The most obvious impact will be on Asian-curriculum schools, which currently operate an academic year from April 3 to July 10, September 11 to December 22 and January 8 to late March 2012.
Other international schools are also worried. Bassam Abushakra, regional director of ESOL LLC, which operates the American International School in Abu Dhabi, said they had written to Adec about the difficulties they would face with the new calendar.
“It is not realistic for all schools to start and end at the same time because many require external testing, and the dates for such exams are set by external bodies, out of the control of the schools,” he said.
“Adec informed us that they were unable to make changes as the decision was made by the Federal Government.”
Mr Abushakra said previously approved calendars had also been sent out to parents. “Our parents and teachers have already planned their holidays based on a calendar that was recently approved by Adec, and it will be costly to change those plans now.”
Clive Pierrepont, the director of communications for Taaleem, which operates the Raha International School, said they have had an indication that the authority will be flexible.
“Requests to vary from the unification will be considered, if made by schools that need to plan their calendars to take into account such things as the demands and timings of international examinations,” he said.
Some private schools have decided to alter their academic year without protest and have sent out circulars to parents with new dates.
A circular sent out by The British School Al Khubairat notified parents about the changes for the new academic year.
Paul Coackley, the principal, told parents the school had sought to minimise changes. “In essence, the changes are that we are required to take a three-week break at the end of the first term and the break at the end of term two will begin a week earlier.”
Lisa Lundqvist, whose daughter is at a British school in the capital, said if the school year were reduced it would adversely affect pupils.
“Teachers will not be able to finish lessons and it will reflect in students’ performance in tests,” she said. “Also, this will affect the quality that British schools need to maintain.”
Schools in the UAE follow 13 different curriculums, from the official Ministry of Education one to Asian, French, British, German and Filipino. All have historically followed different academic calendars and the move to align them has long been in the works.
In 2009, a decision was made by the Ministries of Education and Higher Education and Scientific Research to unify the start and end dates for all schools.
Public and private schools and universities following the UAE Ministry of Education curriculum were told to start the 2009 academic year on August 30, and start the end-of-year summer breaks on June 13, 2010.
Such attempts to unify the academic calendars are made, officials have said, because they want families with children attending different schools to be able to enjoy their holidays together.
This year’s announcement differs from previous attempts in that it is backed by a UAE Cabinet decree and applies also to private schools following international curriculums.
Authorities in other emirates have not yet asked schools to align their calendars. A representative of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai said the federal decision would be implemented, but not necessarily for private schools this year.
The Ministry of Education has not yet told private schools about any changes.