x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

New education hotline receives 500 calls a day

Pupils are making 500 calls a day to a new hotline that deals with questions and issues relating to their education and development

The Ministry of Education's new call centre in Dubai.
The Ministry of Education's new call centre in Dubai.

DUBAI // As many as 500 calls are placed daily to the Ministry of Education's call centre.

The hotline was opened to the public a few months ago, and six agents are on hand to field education queries and complaints from school pupils, teachers and administrators.

Call centre operator Mohammed Ezat listened patiently to the complaint of one anxious pupil before logging it, along with the caller's name, telephone number and e-mail address.

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"Those details are confidential," he said. "We need them because we don't always have an immediate answer and get back to them."

All queries - about job vacancies, examination queries, feedback on education initiatives, problems with school services and facilities, or complaints against teachers - are received and resolved by the centre in five to 10 days.

But not all of them can be taken seriously, said Mr Ezat.

"We get calls from students complaining their teacher is not allowing them to cheat during an exam," he said. "They are funny, but we have been told how to tackle such callers."

Ahmed Fawzi, enterprise solutions consultant at the ministry, screens the calls and monitors the response of the agents.

"The interaction with the caller is not a rehearsed script," said Mr Fawzi, who trains the agents with mock sessions. "No matter how insignificant or out of our scope the issue may be, we take down the information and explain what can be done," he said.

Issues that are legal or criminal in nature are referred to the legal department, or the caller is asked to file a police complaint.

Mr Fawzi says there is a lack of awareness about the call centre's functions. "You cannot call the centre and say you have a problem with a colleague who has a loud voice. We are concerned with education-related issues, not personal problems."

If a similar complaint about the same person is repeatedly filed, the centre refers the case to the concerned ministry department for further investigation.

For every complaint, the team responds with a full resolution or an action plan to resolve the case.

"There are exceptions to the response time, depending on the scale of the issue and the number of parties involved," said Mr Fawzi.

The centre also handles facility management and even IT queries for school administrators. "If the school wants new facilities, renovation or fixing leaks or cracks, they can get it easily done by calling us," said the consultant.

The ministry initiative opens channels of communication with the school community and will reduce dissatisfaction among parents and students, said Yousef al Shehhi, principal of Al Rams Secondary School in Ras al Khaimah.

"The students and parents have a habit of calling up the radio station if they have an issue with the school or the ministry, which is really not necessary," he said. "I think this call centre will help solve matters in a more amicable way."

Many times, the principal said, students raise concerns that cannot be resolved by the school: "A student recently had a problem with his grades but the school isn't responsible for marks; the education zone is. So if there's an easier way to work this out, it's appreciated."

Amal Ismail, an Emirati parent of a student at a public school, said many parents were unaware of the ministry's service. "It should be publicised better," she said.

Ms Ismail also believes that before one calls with complaints, the school should be approached first. "Sometimes children do not speak the truth, so before the matter is taken to the higher authorities, parents should try to sort it out at school."

The hotline number is 800 51115.

aahmed@thenational.ae