x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Al Ain's last two villa schools to close this month

About 1,000 pupils at the Oasis Private School and New Hilal Private School will be offered admission at the government-approved Oasis International School.

Teachers at Oasis School in Al Ain prepare to go home for the day.
Teachers at Oasis School in Al Ain prepare to go home for the day.

DUBAI // The last two villa schools in Al Ain will be shut down by the end of the month.

And the more than 1,000 Asian pupils from Oasis Private School and New Hilal Private School will be offered places at the Oasis International School next month.

Hamad Al Dhaheri, the executive director of private schools and quality assurance at the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), said this was a step forward for the community in Al Ain.

“In less than two years, all villa schools in Al Ain have been closed,” Mr Al Dhaheri said.

He said Adec was working closely with school heads to ensure a smooth transition of children and staff to a new establishment in a disused government school building in Al Mezyad, Al Ain.

But principals at both closing schools say they have concerns about the curriculum, fees and distance of the new school.

Oasis and New Hilal taught Indian and Pakistani curriculums respectively, while the new school offers only the Indian Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) qualifications.

A teacher at New Hilal, which had about 300 pupils, said the new school was not expected to teach the Pakistani programme.

“If parents want to send their children to school, they will have to agree to send their children to an Indian curriculum school,” the teacher said.

For others, the new fee structure is the main concern. Abdul Manas, the principal of Oasis, met parents yesterday to discuss the changes.

“I don’t expect all parents to agree to this alternative,” Mr Manas said.

Fees are expected to be about 20 per cent higher and the new campus is almost 20 kilometres away from Oasis.

“The school is far off and many may not want their children to travel the distance,” said Mr Manas.

“But we had already informed the parents when we got the letter from Adec last year, so this should not come as a surprise.”

He admitted his school was in a crowded community and had caused a lot of traffic problems that were highlighted by authorities in the past.

A federal decision was made in 1999 to close villa schools. Inspections by the municipality and education officials found the schools lacked appropriate safety measures and facilities for learning.

In 2010, Adec announced it would shut down all villa schools by the 2013-2014 academic year.

Last year, more than six villa schools were ordered shut, with 21 closed in 2010. There are 41 still operating in the capital.

Pierre Scottorn, the section manager of private school improvement at Adec, said every possible provision would be made for incoming pupils at the new school.

Mr Scottorn assured parents that Adec would close schools only after making plans to accommodate displaced pupils.

“The new school is aware of the potential student population and will provide for them,” he said. “And the current tuition fees will not increase by more than 20 per cent.”

The principal of another villa school that follows an Asian curriculum said schools should not be shut down in haste.

“We already have a shortage of certain curricula schools,” the principal said.

“Closing down existing ones that manage to offer a decent education despite the limitations, and when not too many providers want to offer mid-range options … it’s just adding to the worries of parents.”

aahmed@thenational.ae