x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

School rent row may leave 700 Dubai kids without classroom

The closure of one of Dubai's three Pakistani schools may leave hundreds of parents with no other education option.

Parents picking up their kids after  school  outside the Al Farooq Pakistani Islamic School in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Parents picking up their kids after school outside the Al Farooq Pakistani Islamic School in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // More than 700 children may have no classroom to return to next year because of a dispute over rent at a Pakistani school.

Al Farooq Pakistani Islamic School in Hor Al Anz, one of just three Pakistani schools in Dubai, leased an empty state school building from the Dubai Knowledge Fund in 2009. The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) said the lease was cancelled because rent has not been paid for two years.

"From April 2013 the school will not have premises to operate from, thereby risking the withdrawal of its education permit," said Mohammed Darwish, chief of the Regulations and Compliance Commission at KHDA.

The school has denied failing to pay rent. "We paid all our dues," said school spokesman Ubaid Ur Rahman Akram."One of our cheques bounced last year, but we cleared that.

"We have no option now and we worry for the children."

According to Mr Akram, the reason for the eviction notice is that the rent contract ends in 2013 and the authority does not want to renew it.

The school says it is eager to move, because the cost of the campus is causing financial pressure. The building was leased for Dh504,875 in 2008, but the owners had to pay Dh700,000 for the current academic year.

"So we want to move out as soon as possible because paying rent here leaves us at a loss," said Mr Akram.

The owners of Al Farooq plan to build their own campus in Al Qusais but said it would take at least two years to do so. Mr Akram said delays in getting approvals had caused a hold-up in the building of their new campus.

"We are pleading with the Knowledge Fund to give us two more years, or else where will these children go?"

KHDA officials said the school will be allowed to complete the current academic year at the premises, although the legal notice was issued with immediate effect. They said management had not shown itself to be proactive in finding solutions.

"Since the required steps have not been taken, KHDA is stepping in to protect the interests of the students," said Mr Darwish. "KHDA is keen that the parents are not faced with a situation where they have nowhere to go in April.

"We will facilitate the smooth transfer of these students to other schools of their choice."

With fees of not more than Dh3,000 a year, the school is a crucial option for low to middle-income families.

About 90 pupils at Al Farooq are being educated for free and the school has to still collect Dr 972,419 in outstanding fees from parents this year.

"Our aim is to ensure every child has a chance to education," said Mr Akram. "We do not want pupils loitering on the streets when they can be in classrooms. So we take them on even if parents struggle to pay."

Saima Ijaz, a mother of four who recently moved her children to the school said the announcement was "a big problem".

"I moved them this year because we moved to Al Qusais. It was really hard to find a school that fits in my budget."

The family pays Dh300 every month for each child and she said that in itself was hard enough to budget for.

"Schools here are not made for poor families," she said. "How will I find another school if this happens?"

The other schools in the vicinity are the Little Flower English School, an Indian curriculum school and Queen International School, which follows the UK education system. Little Flower charges about Dh3,000 a year while fees at Queen International can rise to Dh20,000.

Mohammed Yousef, who has three children at the school, said it was very hard to gain admission at affordable schools. "I tried other Pakistani schools before this one but there was no place available," said the father who works in customs clearing.

"Educating my children is getting harder every day."