x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Three-year reprieve for Filipino pupils in school crisis

Parents get assurances that their children will learn language and social studies in new building after their school is shut in Abu Dhabi.

Daniel Sistona, the principal of Pioneers International Private School in Abu Dhabi, watches over pupils at the end of lessons.
Daniel Sistona, the principal of Pioneers International Private School in Abu Dhabi, watches over pupils at the end of lessons.

ABU DHABI // Parents of Filipino pupils whose villa school is being shut down received assurances yesterday their children will be taught the same subjects at their new school. Two weeks ago, the municipality announced that Pioneers International Private School, which taught more than 500 pupils the Filipino curriculum, would be closed in June after it failed health and safety inspections.

It was one of six villa schools that were deemed unfit after the inspections by the municipality and the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), the body that oversees schools in the capital. Regulators cited a host of violations at the six schools, including unlicensed construction, failure to carry out regular maintenance work, overcrowding, electrical and fire hazards, structural instability and unsanitary conditions.

The Pioneers children will receive instruction in the Filipino language and social studies at a new school being built for all the displaced pupils, it was announced yesterday following a meeting between the Filipino ambassador and Adec on Thursday. The parents have been concerned that their children would not qualify for admission to a university when they return home. "We have come to a very beautiful solution," Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador, said after the meeting. "We are assured of a Filipino site for a school for the Filipino kids come September. We have the full support of the Adec officials; they don't want the kids and the parents separated."

She said the arrangement was good for three years. Land will eventually be granted to the embassy to build a proper Filipino school, she added. "Our challenge now is to make sure that within the three years a more permanent solution is found in terms of a permanent structure." Authorities have not yet announced who will run the new school. It will be located in either Bani Yas or downtown Abu Dhabi in an old government school, and will have fees as low as the villa schools.

It is unclear whether the new school will be accredited by the department of education in the Philippines, an issue that Daniel Sistona, the principal of Pioneers, said would be a consideration for parents. "The colleges and universities where the child might study will demand an authenticity of the diploma, so therefore [an unaccredited one] will be treated as nothing." One parent of a pupil at Pioneers said she would not feel comfortable sending her son to a school that was not accredited by the Philippines.

"It's very difficult if it's not recognised in the Philippines," said Sonya, who did not wish to give her surname. "You have to follow the subjects there." She said she did not have enough information yet about the new school to decide whether to send her son to it. "We want to know who will run the school, if it's the same owner or what, or Adec, or who the investor is," she said. "We need to know if the school is going to be good."

Another issue is the distance. "We are not going to Bani Yas," she said. Sonya said she approached the other two Filipino schools in the capital but they are both full. This may mean that she will go home with her son in June at the start of the school year in the Philippines. "We are running out of time. If it's not good, then we will go home." Beng Ruiz, whose two children are pupils at Pioneers, started making plans to send her children back to the Philippines after hearing that the school would close.

"I am really worried. I am asking for an early certificate of transfer because I am thinking of transferring my children to the Philippines," she said. She applauded the decision to teach the Filipino language and social studies at the new school, but also said she would hesitate to send her children to the new school if it was not accredited in the Philippines. klewis@thenational.ae