The education group had written to parents to get its feedback via an online survey, a letter is has since asked parents to "ignore" as being sent "erroneously" to them. It has not denied, however, its consideration of the online only schools.
In its letter, GEMS Education wrote:
“At GEMS Education, we are constantly thriving to serve you better. In this regard, we are looking at the possibility of offering an Affordable Online School model for the upcoming academic year
“[The] affordable school model (to be accredited by the KHDA and relevant curriculum boards) is aimed at providing high quality education through asynchronous mode of delivery (recorded lessons, offline study materials) and synchronous (live online lessons from teachers).”
GEMS plans include the creation of affordable schools for both Indian and British curricula with tuition fees in the range of 8,000 AED and 10,000 AED respectively.
The creation of an online school gives the school group an option to present to parents unhappy with paying full school fees. GEMS' decision to resist a blanket discount on its brick and mortar school fees has not been popular, despite its commitment to protecting staff positions and maintaining teacher pay during the crisis.
Analysts WhichSchoolAdvisor.com spoke to described the move as a "smart" one, that will not only help the school group keep current parents but also to attract new ones.
Schools across the UAE have been losing students to iCademy, currently the only accredited online school in the UAE. iCademy offers a US based curriculum, accredited and approved by NEASC and NCAA. It has not been shy in looking to attract parents that are unhappy at paying full in-school fees for a distance learning solution.
iCademy fees, according to its web site, fall between the 18,000 AED to 25,000 AED mark depending on the school phase. The online school is currently running a promotion for annual fees that "start at 12,000 AED". GEMs online model would significantly undercut even the discounted pricing.
GEMS Education has already launched an online education platform in Egypt, using Phoenix Classroom. The platform offers a variety of online sessions on a daily basis for over 6000 students. Phoenix Classroom says it it able to "support K-12 schools of any curriculum, and is available in more than 100 languages including Arabic."
The investment in online education comes as the UAE’s Ministry of Education has said that some form of distance education is likely to continue into the next academic year.
The ministry outlined three scenarios. In the first, distance education continued as it is now. The second outlined a transitional phase after the virus has dissipated and the country is recovering gradually. In this case direct education will form between 30-50 per cent of classroom delivery.
In the third scenario, life returns to normal but even in this case distance learning would take place, with 70 percent direct education with 30 percent e-learning, "so that technological development and the transition to digital education can be maintained".