x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Thousands of children are forced to miss daytime school

Parents who cannot afford fees turn to less expensive night classes.

Basma Yaslam, 10, from Yemen , left, and Noor Gawdat, 9, from Palestine, attend night classes at the National Charity School in Dubai.
Basma Yaslam, 10, from Yemen , left, and Noor Gawdat, 9, from Palestine, attend night classes at the National Charity School in Dubai.

DUBAI // One in seven children in Dubai is not receiving regular daytime schooling and instead attends classes in the afternoon or the evening, according to education authorities. The figure, a total of 27,000 children missing from regular classes, was released to The National by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), which oversees schools in Dubai.

A further 1,300 children are on waiting lists to get into abridged classes at charity schools, at which fees can be as little as Dh4,000 (US$1,100) a year compared with several times that amount for private schools. Several Indian and Pakistani schools offer afternoon shifts, along with charity schools. Charity schools, a network of bare-bones academies that cater to the children of low-income Arab expatriates, offer afternoon and evening classes for those who cannot afford daytime private education. The catch is that charity classes offer fewer classroom hours, and teachers at some schools are working double shifts to cope.

"The numbers have increased because of the economic state of the parents," said Mohammed Robin Edris, the general director of National Charity Schools (NCS). "Many of them have decreased salaries, and many lost their jobs." He said there had been a flood of new applicants to the three branches of the Arabic-language charity schools in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman. One woman who moved her daughter to NCS this year after her wages were cut said: "I am the only one working and I can not afford to pay Hanan's fees and the rent." A year ago she was paying Dh16,000 for a private day school. Now she is paying around Dh4,000 to send her daughter to NCS in the evening.

At least 800 new children enrolled in the charity schools this autumn - some of them taking the places of what Dr Edris called an unusually high number of families leaving the country. "All of them have left either because they lost their jobs or because the money isn't enough to support a family," he said. The school opened a branch in Ajman this year to provide space for more students, but there are still 1,059 children on the NCS waiting list. Demand remains highest in the northern emirates.

"We need another school in Sharjah," Dr Edris said. "I have about 40 buses carrying students from Dubai to Sharjah and Ajman." The National Charity School was established in 1983 by the Emirati businessman and philanthropist Juma al Majid around the time that public schools stopped admitting the children of Arab expatriates working in the private sector. Expatriates were allowed back into state schools in 2006, but only in limited numbers: no more than one in five pupils can be non-Emirati, and to be eligible students must pass entrance exams.

Those who do qualify also pay tuition fees to the Government. Over the past decade, enrolment at the NCS has nearly doubled, and the schools are now at full capacity at 10,259 students. "There are smart students, some of them get the highest grades on the secondary national exam, but life forces them to live this way," Dr Edris said. "It is not healthy. You think the teacher's brain is working for 12 hours. No, it's not."

Dr Edris pointed to other problems with evening sessions: the school day is shorter, ending at 8.30pm, and it has a negative effect on family life. "We have to give them only four hours," he said. "We can't keep them until midnight. Our teachers, they have to go home, sleep, spend some time with their families. It is very painful." Dr Edris said 75 per cent of the teaching staff in the boys' school worked a double shift. The rest come from Dubai's public and private schools, working at night to supplement low wages.

"This is the only way to cope with the situation," he said. klewis@thenational.ae