DUBAI //With only a few weeks to go before the start of the academic year, thousands of Indian pupils are still looking for places at schools in the capital that follow their national curriculum.
But 900 Indian families will be able to breathe a sigh of relief after Abu Dhabi Indian School (Adis) said that it would accommodate extra pupils by running a "second shift" of classes for lower grades in the afternoon.
Draws for the spots took place yesterday and continue today.
New education regulations - including guidelines for primary schools, a cap on class sizes and the closure of villa schools - caused a scramble for places in the Indian community this year.
As a short-term solution, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) has allowed Adis and the Model School to boost numbers.
The Model School will enrol about 500 more pupils across all grades, but education insiders warn there will still be a shortfall of spaces.
Sunil Thomas was among the 3,000 parents seeking admission for their children at Adis earlier this year. He didn't get in during the first draw in January, but went again yesterday to try his luck.
"I had already tried at more than six schools and had not had any luck, so when I heard about this draw I was elated," said the father, who would have had to send his family back to India for schooling if he had not won a place in Abu Dhabi.
Yesterday, his son got a place in the Adis second kindergarten shift, which will run from 12.30pm to 4.30pm.
"What a relief," Mr Thomas said. "For a parent, this is the most tense moment: whether their child will get in or not."
Mirza Mohammed Ali Baig said he had run out of options when his daughter didn't get a place in kindergarten in January.
"When I lost the first time, I pleaded with the school to take my child but they said it was not possible."
Mr Al Baig's daughter also won a place yesterday. "I am so happy because she does not have to be at home and lose a year now."
V K Mathu, an adviser to the Adis board, said all parents who had registered with the school in January were eligible for the draw. "We allowed all parents to participate, including new applicants."
Not all parents were aware of the second draw though. "This has not been advertised properly," said Manik Bhatia, who still needs a place for his two sons. "We would have tried again because maybe our luck would shine this time."
Dr V V Abdul Kader, principal of the Model School, said the new places were not enough to address the shortage. "Even with the new seats, I have more than 2,000 pupils on a waiting list," he said. "In KG1 we have 1,200 registrations but only 400 places."
He said the solution was to build more schools.
"We have a lot of young Indians coming to Abu Dhabi. They need schools for their children and so the pressure is felt more in the lower grades," he said. "But not everyone is interested in investing in mid- to low-range Indian schools because they are costly and returns are not good."
Dr Kader said his school had applied to Adec for land but it was rejected. "There were some inconsistencies and it did not match all their criteria. But we are trying again.
The Indian Ambassador, M K Lokesh, said they met with the education authorities to address the problem.
"We asked for a long-term solution, and they [Adec] have decided to give land to seven schools," he said.
In January, Adec said that at least four Indian schools would open in 2013 and add 10,000 places.
Mr Mathu said Adis was among those given permission to build another school by next year. "We expect to accommodate 4,000 pupils there. We will also shift our second shift pupils to that school."
* Additional reporting by Preeti Kannan