In one of our recent surveys, 9 out of 10 UAE parents claimed school fees placed a significant financial strain on household expenses. And yet, while no one would argue school fees are a significant annual cost, there's also the continual costs throughout the year guaranteed to make every parent 'see red.'
In November 2013, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com undertook a Fees and Financing survey to ask UAE parents just how much pressure they felt in sending their children to extra-curricular classes. 65 percent of parents claimed these activities caused financial stress, while a further 15% of respondents said the pressure for their children to take part in extra-curricular activities was “intense." Mum of one Karen says, "When every little girl in the class is going to ballet, its really hard to say 'no'. And, it's never just the price of the class, its the outfits, the shoes and the exams too..."
While 70 percent of parents claimed they spend under Dhs 1,000 per month, 4 percent say they spent over Dhs 60,000 per year. As local mum Zoe points out,"although the school organises various free extra-curricular activities, things like choir, maths-wizards and cross-stitch, they're all a bit lacklustre when compared with the paid activities on offer. But, at around Dhs 1,000 per term, for things like karate and Irish dancing, it really adds up when you have three kids!"
The annual 'big shop' and eternal replacing of lost items, can make school uniform shopping feel like an endless (and costly) chore. As if that weren't enough, its all compounded by the likelihood that the supplier is 'out of stock', when you visit and the school has decided to 're-vamp' the entire kit. "I spent around Dhs 900 back in September for Millie's school 'kit' and already I seem to be replacing things. School hats, swimming caps, water-bottles and even school hairbands have all gone missing - it drives me mad!," Cursty, a Dubai-based resident, told us.
Interestingly, although the cost of annual school photos is another cause for complaint, for many, it is also the poor quality and lack of options which they find equally as upsetting. "You can't just buy a couple of the photo you like. You have to buy a bumper pack with what looks like about 100 of the same picture in it. Last year, the cheapest was a few hundred Dirhams, and that was for a load of copies of the same picture! If I wanted more than one image, it was a ridiculous price. Why can't they just give us a CD?", asked Claire, a Dubai resident.
When you have two or more kids in school, donations in some form or another can appear to be a weekly occurrence. Whether that's cake baking, charity collections, fairs, sales stalls, enterprise week or end of term parties- they all add up. Corine, an Abu Dhabi resident admitted her last year had been a "nightmare".
"I have no idea how much money the school made from our family, we seemed to give books to the library and bake cakes every second week. By far the worst though, was enterprise week, by the end, both my husband and I were stripped of every penny we had on us!"
School trips are big business in the UAE, with some schools offering numerous exotic and far flung destinations for students to ski, volunteer and team build. That said, in the Whichschooladvisor.com Fees and Financing survey over three-quarters of parents questioned claimed they did not send their children on school trips at all.
"My friends have had an awful trouble with school trips for their older kids, Leizel, in Dubai told us. "There is such a one-up-manship here, and some of them cost thousands of Dirhams! There's a real snobbery in place at some schools and the kids get grief from each other if they only go on one of the cheaper options."
In House Extras
It is not just the cost of trips outside the school that parents need to worry about, but those 'experiences' inside the gates too. "So far this year, we've had a pantomime (Dhs 55 per child), a Book Fair (minimum Dhs 150 per child), a visit from various petting farm animals (Dhs 20 per child) and even a circus performer... will it ever end?", Amel, a Dubai resident, would like to know.
Dressed To Impress
Whether its National Day, International Day, Book Day or Halloween, parents are expected to continually pull jaw-dropping outfits from their proverbial hat, and those who aren't a dab-hand with the sewing machine, discover it can be costly. Said Jennifer in Dubai: "To be honest, I really thought we'd gone a little overboard last year on the girls' National Day outfits, that was until we got to school and I saw confections which must have taken tailors several weeks to prepare! "
Whether you decide to drive or take the bus service, school transport is going to cost you both time and money. Most bus services are outsourced to transport providers who offer neighbourhood 'pick-ups, which vary greatly in cost. It's important to find out just where you will be on the route as Dubai mum, Inez points out. "Not only do I pay a small fortune for the bus for my 8 year old daughter, but it's a nightmare. She's picked up at 5.55am from Arabian Ranches, then returns home at 4pm, that's a longer day than my husband has!"
It Doesn't Stop There...
"Although I don't have to buy text or writing books my kids' still need school bags, pens, pencils, erasers and rulers," Louise, a Dubai based resident told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. "And with three kids I probably buy a calculator every two months.
...Then of course there is the 'Lovely Device' now too: So three laptops, flash pens, mobile phones, top up credit, and software licenses!"