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Freeze on private school fees is a welcome gesture

It will give households some relief at a time when the pandemic has strained financial budgets.

Published: Mon 15 Mar 2021, 11:01 PM

The foundation of a society and its future rest on the quality of education its children receive at the school and university levels. Schools, arguably, are the engines of social change, equipping children with the power of knowledge and learning to be able to climb the scales of social mobility on their own. But what is often a stumbling block for parents and students alike is access to good education, preferably for free or at an affordable price. Dearth of public or government-funded schools often push parents towards the private ones. In Dubai, for instance, a majority of its over 250,000-strong student population attends private schools, despite high tuition fees. A number of reports have pointed out this, the latest one being the 2019 survey by Dubai-based Education Intelligence Group. It noted that almost 60 per cent of parents believe school fees are too high in Dubai. While the success of a majority of private schools in the UAE is unquestionable when we consider the outcomes such as exam results, prowess in extracurricular activities, sports, etc. Yet, what is often questioned is how much is too much when looking for an academic institution that allows overall development of a child and burnishes his or her chances for admission in good universities.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) have done well by not allowing private schools to increase tuition fees for the next academic year. It will give households some relief at a time when the pandemic has strained financial budgets and also affected the mental and physical wellbeing of people at large. Many households are struggling with lower incomes due to salary cuts or redundancies. Some schools had extended bursaries to selected parents, but a surety of no change in the fee structure can lend some certainty to household budgets and give parents a relief. The governments often have to walk a tight rope when it comes to regulating the private sector. It goes against the generally accepted wisdom that argues against any intervention in public school systems and management by the government. But it is needed.

The KHDA and ADEK have done well in maintaining the quality of education in private schools through inspections. By ranking the schools on the basis of services offered, the education authorities have allowed healthy competition in this space. This is pertinent to achieving the UAE’s vision for a well-educated and forward-looking society. Schools can be places of transformation only when the quality and level of education given are the same irrespective of the fees. Establishing public schools that can compete fiercely with the private ones is an ideal way to build a strong society. However, in the meanwhile, regulating the private ones would certainly offer some hope and relief.

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