Parents Spend $1bn USD on Back to School

Parents in the UAE spend one billion US dollars - or or 3.67 billion dirhams - to get their children suited, and booted for the new academic year. Unsurprisingly, a significant percentage of parents say they are feeling unprepared - financially, and emotionally.
Parents Spend $1bn USD on Back to School
By David Westley
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UPDATED: One billion US dollars - or 3.67 billion dirhams - is spent by parents in the UAE in the run up to the return to school, and that’s excluding school fees, according to research by School uniforms, computer equipment, books, and up-front payments for clubs and after school activities top the list of financial demands that parents face at the onset of the school year.

No wonder almost one quarter of parents (24.11%) say they are unprepared for the September start. Parents need to find, on top of school fees, an average of 4,623 AED per child in order to fully fund each child’s return to school according to the Back to School survey.

Of parents saying they are not ready for September 2nd, 42.31% put that down to finances alone, while a further 38.46% say they are emotionally unprepared, and 46.15% say they just haven’t got the logistics of the school start in order. About 6% of all parents say they are not prepared financially, emotionally, or logistically.

One thing parents are happy about is that their children are returning to school after the long summer holiday. Some 92% of parents look forward to gently nudging their children through the school gates, prepared or not. That is a significantly higher percentage than students themselves, over one fifth of whom (21.43%) are not entirely convinced about the merits of the new school year.

The biggest, financial, hit in the return to school each year, say parents, are uniforms and shoes, then extracurricular activities, then books, then computer equipment and finally stationary. That does not mean computer equipment costs less than uniforms, for example, it’s just a cost that impacts less parents in any one year. Almost all parents have to pay for uniforms annually, not so many, each year, on a new computer.

According to the survey, when parents do pay, 1618 AED is spent, on average, on school uniforms, sports equipment and shoes; 1289 AED on books; 1465 AED on computer equipment; 2,274 AED on clubs and after school activities (ECAs); and 800 AED on stationary.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the majority of parents do not feel that that schools do enough to keep costs in check - barely over one third of respondents (34.29%) think schools do all they can. Respondents told schools could help more by “reducing the cost of uniforms”, “publicise second hand uniform sales, and have donations for books”, offer “cheaper ECAs”, “partner with shops and extracurricular providers to provide vouchers and discounts”, “inculcate a culture of reuse” so there is less peer pressure on students and parents, and do more with the efficiencies of scale by “having standardised uniforms across schools with individual school badges that could be sewn on”.

Of course, parents were also quick to attack high fees, and while schools can rightly claim that these are hardly a surprise, there is arguably more leg room in the claim UAE schools could be more accommodating and understanding when it comes to all things financial. Just over one-third of respondents (37%) say their school is flexible with payments, for example.

Respondents asked for "monthly payments and international scholarships", "better discounts for siblings and high achiever students", "acceptance of credit cards", an end to deposit fees ("I felt really embarrassed last school year trying to make deadline, parents shouldn't have to beg for extensions"), "easy instalment plans zero percent interest", and "early bird discounts".

Respondents also did their best to offer advice to their fellow parents on how to better manage the return to school, although many told us they did not know how themselves. "Trust in God", one parent told us, just "Keep calm" another added".

More practical advice?

- "Save for school every month."
- "Be organized before school starts - plan lunch boxes, check bags, books etc."
- "Make a checklist of requirements and ensure to complete it a week before school starts."
- "Shop when promotions are going on to minimize on expenses.”
- "Reuse as much as possible."
- "Take things one at a time.”
- "Spend less on holidays!"
- "Teach your children to use books carefully so after their use others can also use them." 
- "Keep the schedule light the week before and get the kids earlier to bed."
- "Manage the child's expectations - I just saw in a forum that a child expected a new bag and trainers totalling over 1000 AED. My child is using the bag he has from last year and the same shoes as they were bought at the end of last term..."


Note: The overall back to school cost has been worked out by multiplying the number of students in the UAE, with the average cost respondents tell us they spend, on each child, for their return to school. 

There are a total of 580 private schools with more than 793,290 students across the country, according to the Ministry of Education (MoE).

Just over 100 respondents have so far completed the survey. We will continue to take responses so we can further refine the exact Back to School cost. If you have yet to take part, and have strong views, click here to have your say...

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