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Parents welcome new affordable private school model

Affordable fees will ease the burden on parents amid rising costs, especially for those not receiving an education allowance from employers

Abu Dhabi: The Abu Dhabi government decision approving a new model of private school — with annual fees capped at Dh30,000 — was applauded by parents in the capital, with many saying that the schools would provide an affordable alternative.

When opened, the reasonably priced schools will be a source of relief for parents who do not receive an education allowance from their employers, they told Gulf News.

The Abu Dhabi Executive Council on Tuesday announced that it had approved a proposal from the emirate’s educational regulator, the Department for Education and Knowledge, to establish a new model of private school, with annual fees ranging from Dh20,000 to Dh30,000. The schools will be the result of a public-private partnership, and a pilot institution to test the model will be launched at the start of the 2018-2019 academic year in September.

Details like what curricula the schools will offer have not yet been announced, although the WAM statement added that they will offer accredited curricula and standards. In addition, the institutions are expected to contribute to “raising education capacity [while providing] reasonable expenses for Emirati and expatriate parents”.

“My employer provides an education allowance for up to three children, so I have not had to worry so far about paying the Dh60,000 in annual school tuition. But I am aware that school fees are a big burden on families who do not receive such an allowance. This decision will be very beneficial for them,” Khalid Al Hammadi, a 40-year-old Emirati project manager, told Gulf News.

Another parent who did not want to be named said he pays about Dh36,000 per year to put his three daughters through school.

“The Indian curriculum school they are enrolled in is one of the most affordable ones in Abu Dhabi, yet the fees put a dent in my pocket. As they move up to the higher grades, school fees tend to increase and if I see that the fees exceed Dh30,000 per child, I might consider moving them to these new schools. Of course, the schools should also provide the Indian curriculum, otherwise the decision to move my children to a new school at a higher grade level would not be wise,” he said.

Parents added that the average cost of educating multiple children in Abu Dhabi is high, especially if they wish to enrol them in schools offering the British, American or IB curriculum. Fees at these institutions can start at Dh20,000 for the lower grades, but often go beyond Dh40,000 for higher grade levels. So the new model of school is expected to be especially beneficial if the schools opened under it offer these curricula.

“We receive an educational allowance, and that is what helps in paying school fees for our two children,” said Shaily Alex, a 35-year-old homemaker from India. Her children are enrolled at a British curriculum school, and annual fees per child exceed Dh20,000.

The rising cost of living in the UAE has recently seen a number of cost-mitigating announcements from government authorities. Last week, Dubai’s private education regulator, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, said that schools would not be allowed to increase their fees in the 2018-2019 academic year.

School operators hailed the Abu Dhabi decision as well, but said they needed to know more about what kind of government support would be provided to those willing to invest in the new model.

“It is a wonderful initiative for parents, but these schools have to be sustainable in the long run. To that end, operating costs must also be minimised by the authorities so that the schools can be kept affordable in an economy where costs are on the rise,” said Zubair Ahmed, head of brand and marketing at Goldline Group. The group currently operates a school in Dubai, and is looking at expanding soon into Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.

Dr Farooq Wasil, global head of affordable schools at GEMS Education, said the new schools must provide quality education, even as fees are kept affordable.

“So the kind of government support offered to investors will be key towards keeping the schools feasible,” he explained. GEMS, which is headquartered in Dubai and operates more than a dozen schools in the UAE, currently runs affordable schools in Uganda, as well as in nine Indian states.

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