Although still awaiting a directive from the authorities, UAE private schools have stated that they are ready to reopen in September and are planning various operational systems to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
At a virtual press briefing hosted by Education Business Group, which represents over 100 private school operators in Dubai, members underlined the adverse impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their operations. They also reiterated their commitment to providing quality education to all children in a safe and healthy environment. They said it was important to welcome students back to schools in September for their all-round well-being and development. The operators also urged the government to offer them financial support to sustain the high standards of education.
The members said declining revenues could affect the ability of private school operators to meet their responsibilities, including staff payments, which if impacted adversely, can lead to learning loss. The private education sector has revenues over AED 8.5 billion in Dubai and has also played a key role in positioning the city as a global hub of the knowledge economy, attracting talent, and adding to the emirate’s reputation as a business and lifestyle destination. The Private K-12 education sector in Dubai employs 20,000 teachers who provide quality education to over 2,90,000 students. The consistent excellence of the private K-12 (FS1 – Y13) education sector has made Dubai, and the UAE, one of the most attractive destinations for global talent, and has been the foundations of a robust and diversified economy.
Kalthoom Ali Salem, Committee Member, Education Business Group, who moderated the session, said: “The foremost commitment of the Group is to support students, parents and the community by providing quality education. We responded swiftly to the closing of schools following the COVID-19 lockdown by introducing remote learning provision. The Group members also supported families impacted by the crisis through fee discounts and other measures. But non-payment of fees by students, the provision of discounts, and uncertainties regarding new enrolments and variable operational costs are putting tremendous pressure on schools that can affect operational continuity.”
As a result, the schools are seeking government support in the following areas to help overcome their operational challenges during the pandemic:
- Creation of an education sector liquidity fund to provide non-collateral interest-free loans
- Grants to cover the expected loss of fee revenue collection
- Rental breaks from March to August 2020
- Option to place unutilised staff on unpaid leave until the reopening of schools
The schools said they are looking at different shift systems and blended learning plans and that they would take strict measures to protect the health and safety and mental and physical wellbeing of the school community, especially students.“All of us operators, we are on the same page irrespective of the curriculum we offer, irrespective of the demographics at our schools and the locations across the emirates. I think unequivocally, every one of us is committed to health and safety, irrespective of the fees that we charge and the demographics,” said Amit Kothari, executive director, Interstar Advisory Services.
Allan Williamson, CEO, Taaleem, said: “It is imperative that schools open not only from an academic perspective but also from a social perceptive. The education sector has proved its ability to make rapid decisions; we saw that when we transformed in a week to an eLearning environment; we are ready again to transform for the new norm. No matter how fantastic our efforts were in remote learning, our students are missing their science labs, sports fields, art studios… and if the UAE has to meet the goals of its national agenda, we need to open the schools to ensure that students do not miss out on their all-round development.”
Ajay Mankani, Cofounder Fortes Holding and Fortes Education, adds: “The education sector is one of the key drivers of sustained economic growth in the UAE and a fundamental pillar of the social infrastructure. We, directly and indirectly, support SMEs, including transport companies, facility managers, sports sector etc. The sector has also played a key role in positioning the UAE as a destination for attracting global talents. We believe that by opening schools in September, the country can set a benchmark that other emerging markets can emulate to deliver high-quality private education.”