Hard choices for parents, students

The decision by the Municipality of Abu Dhabi City last week to close down six schools functioning from villas for posing health and safety risks should have come as a welcome move.

By Olivia Olarte (KT Archives: 27 April 2010)

Published: Tue 17 Aug 2010, 8:59 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 11:12 AM

However, the timing of the decision, so close to the end of the school term, has been the bone of contention for parents of the 2,291 displaced students. They say it will be difficult to find seats for their children in new schools.

The Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) has revoked the licences of the six schools and gave them time only till June to operate.

“I am worried where I will transfer my kids,” says Leila Quaimbao, who has one child each in Grade 7 and 9 at the Pioneers International Private School, the only school that offers the Philippine curriculum out of the six facing closure.

There are only three Philippine schools in the emirate and all are running at full capacity. Some parents feel they may have to send their kids back home if there is no alternative arrangement to accommodate them.

The other five schools — Azhar Palestine School, Al Sahaba Private School and Kindergarten, Al Mashreq Private School, Cultural Private School, AlSahel (The Coast) Private School— follow the UAE Ministry ofEducation (MoE) curriculum.

Abu Dhabi is currently facing a private school shortage, especially those offering the Indian and Philippine curriculum. Of the 484 schools in the emirate, 179 are privately run and 77 operate from residential premises.

According to Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, ADEC Director-General, there is an increasing demand for private schools as the student population grows by nine per cent every year, seven per cent of which is from the expatriate community.

Quick to respond to the situation, the council has provisioned two vacant government schools in Baniyas and Muroor to accommodate the students from the affected schools on a priority-registration basis. One is to offer the MoE curriculum, while the other will offer an English-medium curriculum.

The move is seen as positive, but affected parents say the distant location of the new schools is a problem. Students from the five schools can shift easily to the new MoE-curriculum school. Filipino students, however, may find it hard to cope with the situation.

Yousuf Al Seryani, education advisor to Dr Al Khaili, said this is a “positive step” for Filipino students. “The English medium school being provided will offer a higher quality education with similar baseline subjects.”

Schools hit by the closure notice say it is unfair. They say they tried everything to rectify the faults pointed out by the municipality and the Abu Dhabi Civil Defence. Since they operate in villas, their compliance is limited.

Some of the violations cited by the municipality included overcrowding, failure to follow acceptable maintenance procedures, unsatisfactory fire and emergency response capacity, electrical hazards, structural instability, unlicensed construction, unsanitary conditions and lack of parking, pickup and drop-off space.

“They want us to widen our corridor, staircase and expand our clinic... this situation is out of our control. This is how this villa is designed,” complains Dr Daniel Sistona, principal of the Pioneers School.

Lamiaa Al Madrafi, principal of Al Sahel Private School, says all six schools met with the officials of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ADCCI), which administers the schools, and sought reversal of the decision.

Mohammed Rashid Al Hamili, ADCCI Director-General, confirmed the petition of the schools and says they have appealed to the municipality to grant the schools a grace period to correct the administrative and engineering irregularities. However, Ali Al Hashimi, Inspection Project manager for villa schools at the municipality, has said, “There is no way that a villa could serve as a school. These are (designed) to accommodate families. These are not built to accommodate hundreds of students or serve commercial activity.”

This is the first time that the municipality has taken action in shutting down schools due to “severe health and safety violations”. During previous inspections, the municipality and the civil defence had pointed out the violations and asked the schools to comply within a certain period of time.

There will be further inspections of the 71 remaining villa schools and Al Hashimi has affirmed that he expects to see similar violations.

Although the crackdown on schools operating on residential premises are in the pipeline, the ADEC has been slow in enforcing it considering the impact on the students, staff and parents, given the current capacity dilemma.

Dr Al Khaili say the ADEC is currently working on a master plan, which takes into account the social transformation of Abu Dhabi that will address the capacity problem permanently.

The plans include allocating land for schools at low rents and encouraging investors to build a high-quality, purpose-built school facilities that offer good educational standards forlow-income groups. Are these proposals workable for school operators,parents and students? Only timewill tell. —olivia@khaleejtimes.com

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