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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Give your child time and the right education rather than hard cash

Finding the right school to fit your child's needs is key, says Nima Abu Wardeh

Illustration by Gary Clement
Illustration by Gary Clement

What would an 18-year-old do with Dh665,186? I’m sure a fair few options would have you shaking your head. We just know that a huge chunk - if not all - would probably be frivolously frittered away. Gone. Poof. Just like that.

Now imagine it’s your money, and that the teen is your child - how do you feel about it now? Still the same level of disconnect?

That is a lot of money to hand over to anyone, let alone someone who is yet to work out the value of things, what they want from life and how they will live that life.

The sum quoted is the amount accumulated should you start with zero, and save Dh50,000 every year for a decade, with interest at an assumed 5 per cent that compounds daily. It’s my simplified calculation of what else you could be doing with your money, besides paying for the education of your children. With the cost of school fees in the UAE coming in as the second most expensive in the world, according to an HSBC study out last year, and schooling lasting more than 10 years, I am being conservative. Of course you need to multiply this by the number of children you have to get a better indicator of how much you’re spending.

I used to say, if you are lucky enough to have a choice, save money in lieu of education spend, and gift it to your child to start out their life with options. However, I am no longer of this opinion.

And it’s not for the reasons cited by most.

Two families I know moved home from the UAE. They now have the option of sending their children to school for free - as expats have to pay for education in the Emirates - but they have chosen to continue paying. Their reasoning is a more traditional one - they want to provide their children with the ‘best’ possible chance at achieving academic excellence.

We spoke of the cost, not only of the fees, but also housing and living in the more ‘desirable’ neighbourhoods they had shortlisted. “At least you get to keep the house” I’d said, in response to them sharing their budgets - the idea being that, should they spend zero on school, they could have the place of their dreams, and stand a chance of recouping that money if they sell later on as opposed to the money disappearing on schooling, that would not be recovered in a direct, tangible sense.

These families epitomise the thinking of most people I come across. It’s about winning, being better, having careers that bring in the bucks.

It is far removed from why I say you should spend on your child.

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Read more from Nima Abu Wardeh:

It takes true grit and perseverance to achieve real financial success

We must prevent our children from being hypnotised by advertising

How to make sure you get the most from life

The gender retirement gap is frightening for women

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The more I learn, reflect, observe, the more I realise that what sets us on our path in life - our behaviours, triggers, choices - is what we are exposed to and how we live as young children. So, here is how I would apportion and prioritise spend on my child’s education, if I had the chance to start over again:

* Save and take time off work from the birth until they are at least 2 years old. Have a great fund to dip into. And then ideally work part-time until they go to school.

* Start school as late as possible, and definitely not before 7. The University of Stanford found that holding children back a year, and/ or starting later – at the age of 7 – boosts their concentration and grades.

* Find a school that focuses on play and exploration. You might think it worthless spending on this, but in fact research finds that being allowed to play longer, rather than being taught formally, improves mental health.

* Stick with a school that doesn’t force a choice between the arts and sciences, is not league-table driven, and has a great sense of social contract and interaction. The aim here is to instil the joy of learning, exploring, discovery and governing one’s self.

Of course I want my child to fulfill his potential, to achieve what he is capable of. Of course I wish for my child to be a productive member of society, financially able and a person who strives for betterment, else I’ll have deemed my parenting lacking.

But the priority is to find the right environment to nurture and help them on their journey to finding out who and what they are.

If a free school can enable my child to achieve that, then great, I have won the lottery. Sadly I am yet to find a school that offers this. So, this means it is up to us parents to seek out these environments/ schools and - unfortunately - pay through the nose.

Ultimately, if we want what is best for our children, it's about the investment we make in their younger years - that is where the spend and focus needs to be.

Unfortunately, this also means we have to fork out a fortune to give them our time and the best education we can but that is better than giving an 18-year-old over half a million dirhams. After all, what would they spend it on? Probably, anything they fancy

So, rather than giving them the money, spend it on who they will become.

Nima Abu Wardeh is a broadcast journalist, columnist and blogger. Share her journey on finding-nima.com