x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

School operators call for intervention from Ministry

Hundreds of private school officials turn up for meeting with officials from government to vent their frustration over rules.

DUBAI // After years of frustration, private school operators got a chance to sound off at the Ministry of Education today. Hundreds of private schools officials turned up to offer their opinions to senior figures at the ministry and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the regulatory body for schools in Dubai. The ministry called the meeting in an effort to defuse tension between school regulators and private school operators. Ali al Suwaidi, director general at the Ministry of Education, promised more meetings, and suggested that the ministry would consider forming a special committee to represent the views of private school operators.

The introduction of school inspections last year by the KHDA, which has imposed stricter regulations on the private sector, brought complaints from private school operators, who say they are frustrated by what they see as a lack of communication with the Government.  Many private school owners were particularly upset by new rules governing fee increases, which are now tied to inspections.  Last month a group of private school companies announced plans for a council through Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with the hope of communicating with education authorities. 

Representatives from the Ministry of Education, the KHDA, and a handful of private schools spoke at the meeting. The private schools called for greater dialogue with the Government and welcomed the meeting as an important first step in that direction. Ibrahim Baraka, the principal of the Al Shoala Private School in Sharjah, called for the formation of a "higher council" to facilitate collaboration between school operators and education officials on policy matters. He also suggested that the Ministry of Education impose uniform policies that would apply across all seven emirates.   During his address, Mr Baraka said the relationship between private schools and the ministry was based on doubt and scepticism. 

"There should be confidence and trust between the ministry and the private schools," he said. "There should be a two-way dialogue." Richard Forbes, director of marketing and communications at Global Education Management Systems, the largest private school operator in the UAE, praised the minister for opening a dialogue between operators and policy makers. Mr Forbes called for greater clarity, consistency and care from regulators. "It has to be understood that in a system dependent on private providers, the business outlook is immensely important," he said.

"If I am a businessman and I want to continue to invest as a provider, and if I want to raise my investment, in a business environment, I need to go to banks for loans. If the system I am working in is volatile - if the rules change regularly - it is high risk, so we have to pay the bankers more; fees then need to be higher." Over the day, myriad complaints were heard from school principals on issues ranging from inspections to fee caps and rules governing the hiring of teachers. "We are like sailors without a compass", said Saif al Atr, the owner of Baraem al Eman Private School in Fujairah. newsdesk@thenational.ae