x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Schools' hidden extras mount up in the UAE

From graduation parties and robe rentals to field trips fees, parents say they are stretched thin but unable to complain for fear of the consequences to their children's education.

Students at the Rafaq School in Rafaq. Parents say they are increasiningly hit by extra costs on top of tuition.
Students at the Rafaq School in Rafaq. Parents say they are increasiningly hit by extra costs on top of tuition.

SHARJAH // Watching her daughter graduate from Grade 12 should have been a happy occasion for Aida Kamal - but it turned sour when the school demanded Dh100 for robe rental.

The mother of three was outraged when the administration of Al Shola School said her daughter must pay Dh100 as a robe rental fee and Dh150 more as a guarantee.

"I told my daughter to inform them that we were going to get our own robe from outside but they said it was not allowed," said Mrs Kamal.

When she asked if she could make the robe herself, she was told she could only buy the fabric and give it to the school, which would make the robe for a charge of Dh250.

"We would end up paying the fabric's cost on top of the school's Dh250 charge for making the robe, which I can easily make at home," said the frustrated mother.

Parents complain that the cost of education in the UAE is already high, with the hidden cost of added extras at private schools upsetting many. From graduation parties and robe rentals to field-trip fees, parents say they are stretched thin but unable to complain for fear of the consequences to their children's education.

Umm Mahmoud, whose two children are at the National Charity schools, said she had to create a separate budget for the frequent demands of additional costs - such as Dh5 for an open day, Dh10 for science day and another Dh20 for a field trip.

"They are bound to cover for these activities as per the country's laws, but if we don't pay them, we fear they would harm our children's future," said the overworked single mother.

One man reported a school in Sharjah for asking his two sons for fees he said were unlawful. He said the school found out he had complained, terminated his sons' registrations and told him to find them another school.

Another mother, who did not want to be named, said her son's school asked students to pay Dh500 each for a graduation party, which brought in more than Dh100,000.

She said she later discovered the rental of the graduation hall had cost the school only Dh10,000.

"This is fraud, but we can't talk because if we did, the school will make a living hell of the child's life in school," said the mother.

Saeed Misbah Al Kaabi, the director of Sharjah Educational Zone at the Ministry of Education, called on parents not to pay the schools' additional charges and not to give in to their threats that a student who does not pay would be banned from attending the graduation ceremony or that grades would be lowered.

He said private schools were not allowed to charge fees other than the official fees, and that doing so was a "serious violation".

This year, Mr Al Kaabi gave an official warning to Sharjah's private schools stating that additional fees were not permissible.

A maximum of Dh500 is allowed as a registration fee for students who are enrolling for the new academic year, he said, but that amount must later be deducted from the total fees.

"Private schools should not charge parents for field trips, graduation ceremonies and other extra-curricular activities, as these are considered free services schools offer to their students," he added.

But Mr Al Kaabi said that unless parents come forward and submit official complaints, the educational zone would not be able to take action.

According to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), which governs private schools in Dubai, all costs related to curriculum delivery should be part of the annual tuition fees.

Most of the time, however, extra costs - such as graduation fees and field trips - are not part of the annual tuition fees.

"Such costs, if justifiable, should be made optional for parents - unless schools get KHDA's prior approval and such fees are made mandatory and are regulated thereafter," said a spokesman for the authority. "Exam fees should be charged only if the fees are charged by the relevant examination board and result in a school-leaving certification."

salamir@thenational.ae