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Unbroken education is an essential service

Bikram Vohra
Filed on August 18, 2020

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Even the most critical of parents will concede that the teaching staff have done and are ready to do further yeoman service

The UAE is a nation dedicated to the advancement, the diversity and the proliferation of education at all levels. It has set a very high standard to reinforce the covenant at every step that investment in education is an investment in the future.

As with all investments, there is a cost. This sector, vital as it, is as much a service oriented one as aviation, healthcare, banking, and hospitality. Every such entity has been hurt by the pandemic and the bruising continues.

Education is no different and much as one would like to ensure that there are no casualties and losses, this is not always possible in the current state of affairs. But we have to try.

And because there is a great intimacy between parent, child, teacher, and school administration emotions run high and the personal element becomes paramount. Consequently, people who otherwise are patient with, and appreciate, the tribulations of other sectors do not afford the private education sector the same courtesy.

Take aviation. It is globally grounded. Hospitality has been brought to its knees and is struggling to stay afloat. The economies of the world have been shattered into shrapnel. And here we are, in education, planning with great care and massive fiscal commitment to the safety and health of the children that come September we will unlock the portals of 209 private schools offering 16 curriculums to nearly 300,000 students.

It is a very humbling exercise and one the managements per se see as a profound responsibility. To achieve this goal and then, more vitally, to keep it going in the aftermath requires a dedication and an intent that is exceptional because there is one message to all parents and students that must go from this time and place. It is that courtesy very in-depth efforts of the government in tandem with the educational sector that they will do everything in their power to ensure the success, the survival and the unbroken continuity of the teaching process for the children.

There is no one in the industry who does not appreciate the hard times the world is facing. Yes, there is deprivation, jobs are being lost, liquidity is tight and parents and administrations have to fight this fight together not exhaust themselves arguing amongst themselves. There is common cause and common purpose.

In is no revelation that schools are largely a fixed cost business, with salaries, upkeep, security, maintenance, facilities, sanitation and cleanliness, and the rent typically accounting for 80-85 per cent of operating costs for any private school. These fixed costs continue to be incurred throughout the new academic year. Including vacation. In these unusual times the base costs probably rise. 

The system has to be careful that private schools like the entities in other sectors, do not sink into oblivion or come to a grinding halt leaving thousands of children stranded. It is the parents who must join the battle of maintaining these schools for the sake of their children and collectively provide the fiscal buoyancy because even in these lean times there is no other avenue but to bite this bullet.

Even the most critical of parents will concede that the teaching staff have done and are ready to do further yeoman service. It is fair to say faculties have spun night into day through remote e-learning and surrendered much of their vacations for the greater good. Retaining experienced teachers is vital and cannot be understated.

If parents withhold fees and convince themselves they are justified then just like all the other sectors, there will be a paring of facilities, a compromise in quality of services and in the end denial to the child.

There is no arguing the fact that parents per se hold the key to getting us all through this pandemic with minimum damage.

There is no gainsaying the fact that non-payment of fees, the provision of discounts, uncertainties regarding new enrolments and variable operational costs is putting tremendous pressure on educational providers. The vast majority of parents thankfully understand that fall in revenue will result in teacher salary cuts, redundancies, resizing, closure or merger of schools and a freeze on facilities.

By that very token schools also have to be pro-active and flexible in accommodating not only the children with issues but also reacting positively to the grievances of the parents. They are all collective custodians of their tomorrows and educationists are acutely aware of this aspect.

In response to legitimate demands from parents who have suffered job losses some school operators provided a flat 20 per cent discount (during Covid-19 for the third term) while other schools provided discounts based on a means tested approach to provide support to parents most in need.

There are also some 20,000 teachers in the private K-12 cluster and that is a large employment factor. Not one of them should be made redundant because if that begins to happen the domino effect would be unthinkable.

While the vast majority of the parents have understood the exigencies and paid fee a few are yet to tee off. It is unfair on those who have paid, a fact that seldom sees the light. They are equally having a hard time but have placed priority on education and are cutting corners elsewhere. To witness a lobbying by those who are looking for a free pass creates a second outrage and for the school a Catch 22 situation. For every parent who wants a concession there are nine who ask why not us?

The UAE is seen today as one of the most successful countries in driving the private sector operations in the world and giving education the front row in its priorities. This is a fact and because of it we can say today that the education course will be unbroken.

Along with the guidance from government, co-operation from parents, and a certain tangible empathy from schools to deserving cases, schools can open on the highest note of optimism. After all, everyone shares a common purpose. The future of each child is all that counts. Just let's get on the same page and accept that unbroken education is an essential service. -bikram@khaleejtimes.com 

 


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