x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Education for all must be UAE's goal

As critical as quality education is for encouraging families to relocate to the UAE, the current for-profit school model makes providing for all students a difficult endeavour.

Education is a building block of any successful society. But as critical as quality education is for encouraging families to relocate to these shores, the current school model for expatriates makes providing for all students a difficult endeavour.

As The National reported on Monday, the Al Farooq Pakistani Islamic School in Dubai was shut down after its failure to pay Dh1.4 million in rent. Students in grade 10 were in the middle of final board exams when the police and education officials arrived to announce its closure. Although families had been warned closure was coming, they couldn't do much to prepare.

Parents are now left to worry that they won't be able to find spaces for their children this year. These concerns are not isolated. In Abu Dhabi, Indian schools are turning away hundreds of children because they are overwhelmed, with too few teachers and not enough classroom space. Some villa schools in the capital will also be shut down as Abu Dhabi Education Council introduces a new regulatory system for private education.

The ultimate concern driving this crisis is cost. For-profit schools that cater to students from families with low or modest incomes operate on shoestring budgets, charging just a few thousand dirham in fees per student. Tuition at private schools teaching the US or UK curriculum, by contrast, can charge as much as Dh100,000.

Education officials have worked hard to reform the educational system, but more must be done. Options include:

Ÿ Requiring for-profit schools to put aside a percentage of their revenue to fund community schools for lower-income pupils;

Ÿ Pushing for-profit outfits to reserve seats for students of lower-income families in the form of scholarships or tuition waivers;

ŸUrging labour-sending government to chip in. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines benefit greatly from remittances that flow from the UAE when their nationals relocate here. These governments should be encouraged to pick up some of the costs of educating their nationals;

Ÿ And turning to employers. Many salaried employees are provided allowances for schooling, but firms could pay more, taking on an even greater role in covering the true costs of an education in the UAE.

Every child has the right to go to school. Crafting solutions to ensure that they do should not be an insurmountable problem.