x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Crisis in Abu Dhabi's Indian schools as 100s of children turned away

With only a week until the academic year begins, parents are urging the education authority to sanction an increase in class sizes to cope with the crisis.

With only a week until the academic year begins, parents are urging Abu Dhabi Education Council to sanction an increase in class sizes to cope with the crisis. Sammy Dallal / The National
With only a week until the academic year begins, parents are urging Abu Dhabi Education Council to sanction an increase in class sizes to cope with the crisis. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // Indian schools in the capital are receiving more than three times as many applications as they have places, and are turning away hundreds of children.

With only a week until the academic year begins, parents are urging the education authority to sanction an increase in class sizes to cope with the crisis.

There are fewer than 30 Indian schools in the capital, most of them full. The regulator, Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), has banned schools in villas from taking in new pupils because of safety concerns. Adec restricts others to 25 pupils a class in the lower grades and 30 in middle and high-school sections.

Investors said last year more schools would be opened to ease the strain, but only Bright Riders School, set up by the Indian businessman BR Shetty, will open this month. Registration for kindergarten and Grade 1 closed in advance because of overwhelming demand.

"There are all these claims made by investors and authorities about building schools and it still comes down to this," said the father of a five-year-old boy who is still looking for a school.

He was among more than 4,500 parents who attended a draw for one of 75 places in the KG section at Abu Dhabi Indian School, one of the biggest. He described the scene as a chaotic "unreal, mad rush".

"What do middle income parents, unable to afford the fees at other international curriculums, do? It leaves us with very depressing options," the father said.

Sending his son back home is not an option. "He is young and I want my family here. If I do not get a school, it looks like he will have to skip a year."

Sunrise English Private School, Our Own English High School and St Joseph's did not open registration for KG. Other schools posted long waiting lists, with priority given to siblings of pupils at the school.

The Indian Islahi Islamic School received about 300 applications for 75 places in junior schools.

"We have received applications from families that is three times our capacity," said Mr Muhsin K, the principal of the school with 1,500 pupils. "The most demand is in kindergarten and Grade 11 this year."

Mr Muhsin said the situation was only getting worse. "I meet worried parents every day, but we cannot do anything. We are at full capacity."

Anil Vallassery, a father of twins, who were meant to begin Grade 11 this year, said he will have to move back to India if nothing works out by the end of the week.

"They only go up to Grade 10 at Our Own English High School, where they are now," said Mr Vallassery.

He has applied to four schools, including Indian Islahi Islamic, knowing he won't be successful. "I know I won't get in there. I cannot send them to India alone. I will have to go back with them."

Mr Muhsin said many families end up being separated because of the problem. "I believe it is not wise to send young children back home by themselves. They need their parents.

"Parents with girls find themselves in even more stress."

One father of a 12-year-old boy was so desperate he approached Adec's private school education department to make a personal plea. "I was told if you do not get a space in an Indian school, why don't you try in a UK curriculum school," he said. "I can't because they are outrageously priced and not affordable to middle income families."

He said the authority should consider allowing schools to take in more children in each class.

"Just as a temporary solution," he said. "On humanitarian grounds, so that children do not lose a year.

"There are some schools coming up, which might solve the problem in a few year. But there has to be a current plan, so that people don't have to leave."

Model School in Abu Dhabi received more than 2,000 applications for the 600 places they advertised. There are 4,700 pupils at the school already, and enrolling any more would incur a hefty fine.

"We would like to take in more children and if the authority allows, we will," said Ilyas Nasari, the headmaster.

"It's just to help out the community. We hope more schools come up to share the burden."

Another school principal said he does not see the issue going away soon because operators do not consider Indian schools profitable. "Indian schools charge less and cater to the community. So it seems more feasible to start an American or UK curriculum school that can cost more and attract non-Indian expatriates too."

aahmed@thenational.ae