It's true that schools are more than just bricks and mortar. It's less relevant, however, when there are not enough schools and placements for every student who needs one. As we report today, Abu Dhabi is not there yet. For children in the capital from the large Indian expatriate community, there are simply not enough school placements to meet demand. As the start to the school year fast approaches in the Indian system, waiting lists are as long as 3,500 children for certain schools. Part of this pressure comes from the closing down of villa schools in Abu Dhabi. But reining in these unregulated institutions is a step in the right direction, not the source of the problem.
The lack of incentives to build schools with affordable fee structures must be addressed. Private investment on its own can't be replied upon: the risks of failure are too great and the time horizons of investors too limited to wait for a school to become profitable. The provision of education cannot be left only to market forces. Since progress towards the nation's larger economic and development goals is hindered by a shortage of school placements, there is reason for the Government to intervene. Whether they are from India or Ireland, most of the expatriates who come to work in the UAE do so to make a better life for their families. They are less likely to come to the UAE if their children don't have the opportunity to pursue a proper education.
The private sector can also play a role in addressing the dearth of affordable school placements. For the Indian community, where the shortage is most severe, Indian-owned businesses that have benefited from the UAE's tax-free environment should understand their obligation but also a self-interest. If they want to enjoy future prosperity and attract the best workers, there must be more schools. The Government could match private contributions for school construction and help streamline the certification process in order to get them built quickly.
Companies such as Aldar Properties have built their own schools, realising that it is to their advantage to have enough school placements for their employees. Both the Indian community and the Government have a self-interest in subsidising school construction. The backlog on waiting lists shows that action is needed today.