x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

A clearinghouse for placements

A new system is needed to help parents enroll their children in schools.

The annual scramble for admission into UAE schoolshas begun, The National reported yesterday, with many parents again facing disappointment brought on by a shortage of school places. The frustration has been clear in some cases. "This is a manic situation," said Anthony Campion, a father of two boys seeking admission.

There is one solution that could alleviate some of the problem: a new, automated clearing house for school placements could enable parents to compare opportunities online.

Since the state school system is closed to most expatriate children, private schools are often the only option. Anxious parents queue for places for their children, sometimes overnight, and return home from holidays early to await results. Some children do not make the cut and are left without places, despite the many new schools that have opened recently. The situation is made worse by opaque admissions processes and unclear criteria, leaving parents in the lurch.

Many parents apply years in advance to several schools. Waiting lists of up to two years are common.

Students often apply to multiple schools, fearing they will be left without a place, which compounds the problem. "I have noticed that most parents take out a sort of insurance policy, where there is a first choice and then two others as security," Mr Campion said. This can be easily avoided.

A standardised clearing house to manage applications could be introduced, where parents could list school preferences. Remaining open spaces could be allocated to other candidates automatically, once a child gains entry into a school. Such a system could prevent a backlog of waiting lists and show parents where placements still exist - similar to the UK's UCAS system for university entry.

As it is, parents are unsure when or if their children have received admission to their preferred schools. Often students getto the end of the opaque system only to find that they secured a place in more than one school, which leaves another student without a slot.

Although Dubai's Knowledge and Human Development Authority has made great strides in standardising metrics for school performance that help parents make informed decisions, better management of the admissions process may help. After years of recurrent shortages, there is no reason why the process of applying to schools shouldn't be streamlined.