DUBAI // The parking lot outside of Al Farooq Pakistani Islamic School was quieter than usual at 7.30 this morning.
Most had already heard of the school’s forced closure on Sunday, but at least a dozen children turned up unaware.
Among them was Hassan Aslam, 13, who got off a public bus, backpack brimming with books, to start the new academic year.
Hassan’s eyes grew wide with confusion when he spotted the big lock on the gate.
“No, I did not know the school was closed today,” said the Grade 5 pupil, who takes the bus from Deira to the school in Hor Al Anz every day. “This is the first day of school. Why is it closed?”
As he lingered, unsure what to do, several parents drove up to drop off their children.
A security guard told them the school was closed indefinitely.
Grade 10 pupils, taking revision lessons ahead of final exams, were the only ones on campus on Sunday when officials from the Knowledge Fund and police evacuated and boarded up the campus.
Since 2009, Al Farooq has leased its school grounds from the Knowledge Fund. But administrators received an eviction notice in September after reportedly failing to pay Dh1.4 million in rent. They insist that is not the case.
After news of the eviction notice, Dubai’s private schools regulator the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, or KHDA, suspended the school’s operating licence.
More than 700 pupils were enrolled at the school when it lost its licence. Another 400 joined after the authority barred the school from taking admissions.
For several months, the KHDA has urged parents to find alternative schools. They said they had helped to relocate about 450 pupils to the other two Pakistani curriculum schools in Dubai.
But a group of parents who arrived this morning said the closure had not been well publicised. Abdul Wadood, an imam with two children at the school, said he had not heard about the school’s problems.
“We were not told about it,” he said. “Everything seemed fine. This is strange.”
He said the closure has put him in a dilemma as he had already tried other schools.
“There is no space in the other Pakistani schools and some of the really good ones, which follow other curriculums, are very expensive.”
Principals at the other two Pakistani schools confirmed they were operating at full capacity and said they had not been approached by parents from Al Farooq.
Dr Abdul Rashid, principal of the His Highness Shaikh Rashid Al Maktoum Pakistani School in Dubai, said it would be very difficult to enrol pupils now.
“We had close to 130 places but they are all taken,” said Dr Rashid. “We were not approached by parents of Al Farooq. But even if they do, I don’t know how we can accommodate them.”
He said the only way was if the authority allowed them to increase class sizes to 40 pupils or if the school began evening sessions.
Mohammed Darwish, chief of the regulations and compliance commission at KHDA, said: “The KHDA is not approving any more evening shifts schools. Similarly, increasing class size is not an option for reasons related to quality of teaching and learning.”
Mr Darwish said if schools wished to add extra classes they should follow the existing regulations and application process.
Ubaid Ur Rahman Akram, a spokesman for Al Farooq, said administrators had not given up hope that it would reopen.
Mr Akram said a notice had been sent to parents that the school would be closed for a week, and that management would call when the school reopened.
He said they had sent another letter to the KHDA and approached the Dubai Ruler’s Court for support.
As for young Hassan, he was still waiting outside the gates when The National left today – talking to another pupil, Abdul Waheed, about when the next bus to Deira might be.
Tomorrow he will be at home, waiting for the adults to decide the next move.