ABU DHABI // Thousands of families face returning home to India because there are no places for their children this year at Indian schools in Abu Dhabi.
About six of the capital's 17 Indian schools began taking applications this week for places for the 2012-2013 academic year, which begins in April. Most applications will be turned down.
Palanievel Ramasamy, whose daughter is 4, queued from 4am yesterday for a registration form at Abu Dhabi Indian School. "It's getting harder every year," he said. "There are limited options in the city and other schools have already rejected my application.
"Some schools outside the city have seats but my daughter is too young for a 40-minute journey to school. If this does not work out here I will send my family back to India. What choice do I have?"
The principal of a villa school in the capital called it a "disaster year for parents", especially those with younger children.
“Every day we get registration applications but we are not accepting any because we are not allowed to take in more children.”
Education chiefs plan at least four new Indian schools with 10,000 places by 2013, but the new capacity will come too late for many parents.
Brian Fox, the division manager for licensing and accreditation at Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), said: “There will also be some more capacity with the expansion of several schools in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.”
So far only two schools have been granted permission to increase pupil numbers. One in Al Ain will have 300 more places and one in Abu Dhabi can offer 850, but few will be available in time for this year.
Both schools asked to expand in the middle and higher grades.
The problem of a shortage of places has been building for some time, but has come to a head as Adec enforces policies aimed at safeguarding the health and safety of pupils.
All villa schools must be closed by 2013, and in the meantime non-purpose-built schools may not increase pupil numbers. In primary schools, classes are limited to 25 pupils, young children may not be taught on the top floor of a building, and playgrounds and other resources must be provided.
Principals say the problem is at its peak after some schools shut their kindergarten (KG) sections, and several others will not be opening admissions because of enrolment regulations set by the authority.
“We cannot fulfil Adec’s demands to run a KG department so we decided to stop,” said Sister Carmen, the principal of St Joseph’s School.
“They asked us to modify the classrooms and put in additional resources including a playground and we cannot do that.”
Another principal said: “The issue is that right now there are no alternatives, so these measure are more damaging than beneficial.”
Manoj Thomas, who has applied to two schools for his children, aged 7 and 10, said the regulations should be relaxed until more schools were built.
“There is so much confusion at the moment with which schools can and cannot enrol pupils.”
The restrictions on villa schools are adding to the pressure on purpose-built campuses. By yesterday, Abu Dhabi Indian School, one of the biggest in the city with 5,800 pupils at full capacity, had received 3,000 applications for places in the new school year. More than 900 were for the KG section, which can accommodate less than a 10th of that.
Parents will have to rely on their luck – a draw on Saturday will determine who gets a spot.
At other schools it is first come, first served, and when the waiting list is full, no more registrations are accepted.
Manisha Manjrekar, a mother applying for a Grade 2 place for her daughter, said it had turned into a competition. “I am competing with so many parents. The seats are limited – only 40 or 50 – and look at the number of people who have turned up to apply.”