x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Schools should not punish pupils for unpaid fees

Disputes between parents and their children’s school can never justify pupils being detained in a classroom.

Any business that takes its clients hostage has to be seriously flawed. But, as The National has reported, 15 pupils at a private school in Sharjah were detained in a classroom because their parents were behind in paying the school fees. By forbidding them to leave until the debts were paid, the school became part of a growing trend of academic institutions punishing students whose parents were behind with their payments.

It’s unfortunate when parents do not pay school fees on time, although the reasons can differ markedly. Given the increasing level of financial stress that many UAE residents say they are facing, it is perhaps not surprising that some fall into arrears on their payments. For others, the reason could be disorganisation or even a calculated decision not to abide by the payment deadlines set by schools.

One in five parents in the UAE are estimated to be late in paying school fees, which obviously makes it difficult for schools to operate efficiently. But disputes between parents and their children’s school can never justify pupils being detained in a classroom. As Hassa Al Khaja, the head of private education at Sharjah Educational Zone, put it: “The law gives the school the right to suspend the students but not detain him or her.” A survey by Which School Advisor, a Dubai-based private organisation, found that of parents in the emirate who fall into arrears, 22 per cent were late in paying fees by a week or less, 34 per cent were two weeks behind, and 32 per cent one month. Eleven per cent of those parents in arrears admitted to paying one term late.

Even so, there are other options for recovering payments from parents shirking their obligations. First, schools need to work more closely with parents to resolve these issues, so as to ensure that the child does not suffer during these periods. Evidence suggests that fee disputes are minimal at schools that have clear and legally-binding parent-school agreements in place.

Second, a hold can be placed on the releasing pupils’ records until outstanding debts are cleared. Third, schools facing a persistent arrears problem can ensure that payments are made in advance. Many schools have hardship grants for genuinely worthy cases.

The reputation of a fee-paying school is inextricably linked with the success and satisfaction of its pupils.

Holding children hostage will do little for any educational establishment’s reputation.