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Coronavirus: School, bus fees a huge concern for UAE parents

Gulf News 2020-03-24 15:19:33

DUBAI: The closure of schools for spring break and the subsequent initiation of distance learning to stop the spread of coronavirus in the UAE has raised huge concerns over the payment of tuition and transport fees as parents grapple with what is being termed as an “unprecedented” situation.

A number of parents who spoke to Gulf News said schools have set stringent deadlines to pay the fees for the ongoing academic year, even as some have started collecting fees and re-registration fees for the next term, despite the current circumstances.

End-February, the Ministry of Education announced that all schools in the UAE will be closed for four weeks starting March 8. While the first two weeks comprised the spring break, the next two have been earmarked for distance learning. Although it said the schools would resume functioning on April 5, many parents feel the reigning uncertainty over COVID-19 could well extend the distance learning initiative beyond the initial two weeks.

In the absence of an announcement from the authorities on the issue yet, they said it is “unfair” to expect them to be paying the regular fees, more so the school transport fees, for the coming months at this point of time.

Removed from online class

The father of a boy studying at an Indian school in Dubai claimed his son was denied the distance learning platform on Monday because the fee cheque he had deposited took a day longer to be realised.

“My son is studying in Grade 10. I deposited the March 2020 month fee cheque in the school office on March 22. They refused to give me a receipt for the cheque claiming it would be issued only on realising the cheque in their bank account. On March 23, the school removed my son from their online class platform. When my son checked with his teacher over phone, the teacher informed him that he was removed for non-payment of fees for March,” he alleged.

“The school charged full (tuition) fee and bus fee for the month, even though the bus facility was not provided. I co-operated with the decision and issued a cheque to them for the full amount and they even charged me a late payment fee from me,” he claimed, adding that it was only after repeated requests that the school re-admitted him the next day.

Parents’ concerns are many

One mother said it was bad enough that schools are setting deadlines to collect fees. But worse, she said, “While the entire nation has called for immediate precautionary measures to be undertaken to curb COVID-19, my child’s school (Indian curriculum) has created a situation compelling parents to visit the school merely for payment of fees.”

Showing pictures of a long line of parents queuing up outside the registrar’s office to pay the fees on time, she said the school’s requirement was in sharp contrast with the social distancing directives issued by the authorities.

Elsewhere, the father of a Grade 1 boy in a UK curriculum school in Al Nahda said he received a circular from the school asking him to pay re-registration fee for the 2020-21 term if he wished to retain a seat for his son in the school next year.

The letter noted that due to the “large number of admission requests for the next academic year and to help us know whether your child will continue to study in our school.”

“As it is, the third cheque of Dh2,200 was due for this year. On top of that, they wanted the re-registration fee before March 15. Why this pressure now?” asked the Dubai resident.

The mother of three boys, also studying in a UK-curriculum school, said, “We are in the middle of a crisis we’ve never faced in our lives. We have had no choice but to comply with a drastic salary cut owing to the current situation. Schools should also be more understanding. And why must we pay the bus fees when the services are not utilised?”

What schools, service providers say

From the point of view of the schools and the bus service providers, it’s a question of running their operations, whether it is physical or online classes.

Teachers are still employed, resource packs are being sent to students and live lessons are being delivered online by 95 per cent of the teachers. We are also offering counselling services to our students and parents.

- Kamal Kalwani, Vice-chairperson of the Ambassador Schools

Kamal Kalwani, Vice-chairperson of the Ambassador Schools, which has over 4,000 students, said, “We are all waiting for the KHDA’s directives. As things stand, schools are to reopen on April 5 and we are ready for that. As for the fees – which is due for the third term in international schools and the new academic year in Indian schools – we have a definite obligation to our parents to render our services. Teachers are still employed, resource packs are being sent to students and live lessons are being delivered online by 95 per cent of the teachers. We are also offering counselling services to our students and parents.”

Poonam Bhojani, CEO of the Innoventures Group of Education, earlier told Gulf News, “We are committed to paying our dedicated and highly skilled staff. We have around 1,200 teachers, teaching assistants, administrative staff and helpers across our schools. Nothing changes our costs – be it the staff salaries, building rents or utility bills. Also, we are dispensing online education and have had to re-engineer our teaching methods.”

Alan Williamson, CEO of Taaleem, said, “All of our outstanding teaching and support staff are dedicated to delivering an exceptional educational experience for our students as well as being fully engaged with parents to both alleviate any concerns and help overcome any challenges. Our amazing parents across the Taaleem family of schools have been incredibly supportive and appreciative of the quality of our ‘Home Learning’ programme. We are working collaboratively with them to ensure that no student is unfairly disadvantaged educationally during these unprecedented times.”

As for transport providers, Nausherwan Hussain of Arab Falcon Bus Rental, which provides bus transport to over 2,300 children across 11 schools in Dubai, said, “We are awaiting the directions of the authorities as our buses are disinfected and staff are ready to ply them from April 5. We collect fees either annually or twice a year and our second instalment is due now. We need to keep the operation going, pay our 165 staff salaries and also ensure that our buses are disinfected and meet with the best hygiene standards.”

Syed Kamran Ahmed, General Manager of Fancy Transport, which also caters the bus services of a number of schools, said, “We have 200-plus staff and we have meet their expenses. We have to pay for rents, parking fees and insurance. It’s an emergency situation and just as everyone is staying at and working from home because they have been asked to, our staff too are doing the same. Everyone should be paid.”

KHDA’s directives

KHDA has clearly said schools can collect annual tuition fees in three instalments, due at the beginning of each term.

The first term’s payment should not exceed 40 per cent of the annual tuition fees; the second payment not more than 30 per cent of annual tuition fees; and the third term not more than 30 per cent;

According to KHDA, schools are also in their right to collect re-registration deposit of not more than five per cent of the tuition fee or Dh500, whichever is higher, and can be deductible from the total tuition fees for the academic year.

As for fee refund, the education regulator has clarified that schools and nurseries should pay their staff in full and not refund any fees for the period that children don’t attend school.

While the physical premises of schools, universities and training institutes must be closed to students until April 5, KHDA says the decision does not apply to adults. During this time, teachers, faculty and staff will be delivering distance learning.

“We ask that all schools, universities and training institutes work on flexible models to support their staff in delivering this learning, either from their premises or remotely in accordance with their employment contracts,” it said.