Schools Appeal for September Start Date

A group representing over 100 schools has requested the government announce schools will open in September, to give at least one certainty to parents. The group also appealed for financial support...
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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An "education business group" that represents over 100 schools in the UAE has made a plea to the government to reopen schools in September.

Members of the group, that include GEMS, EKI, Taaleem and Innoventures, said in a media forum held on Thursday, that health and safety protocols were being shared, and implemented, to welcome students back to school to ensure their all-round well-being and development. "Schools will be ready," Allan Williamson, CEO of Taaleem said.

The UAE government has yet to announce its decision on when and how schools will reopen in September,  but has previously said all options are open, including the continuation of distance learning.

In addition to reopening schools the Education Business Group, appealed to the government for more support to overcome "operational challenges". It has requested an 'education sector liquidity fund' to provide non-collateral interest-free loans or grants to cover the expected loss of fee revenue collection, as well as rental breaks from March to August 2020, and the option to place staff not being utilised on unpaid leave until the reopening of schools.

In the forum the group also called for flexibility in terms of operational models if a part virtual, part physical blend of schooling is introduced. Schools, the group argued, come in different shapes and sizes, and need the flexibility to adapt their operational models based on that...

Ajay Mankani, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Fortes, said schools had faced the "perfect storm, not least financially, and currently had no visibility on enrolments. We do not know about parents job stability and we are unable to forecast cashflows... What we would like to be able to do is to give our parents one certainty - schools will reopen.

“Non-payment of fees by students, the provision of discounts, and uncertainties regarding new enrolments and variable operational costs is putting tremendous pressure on schools that can affect operational continuity, said Kalthoom Ali Salem, Committee Member of the group, who moderated the session.

In a media release 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.

In the media forum, the group said not only were schools ready, but for their well-rounded development students needed to return to school.

"It is imperative that schools open not only from an academic perspective but also from a social perceptive," said Allan Williamson, CEO, Taaleem, adding that "no matter how fantastic our efforts were in remote learning, our students are missing their science labs, sports fields, arts studios, etc."

"Everybody is talking about the risks of returning to school. I think we need to begin taking about the risks of not returning," David Cook, the principal of Repton Dubai, said. "Covid-19 is not actually infecting children as it is adults. They are far less likely to catch the virus. They are however missing out in terms of their development. Children are social, and collaborative, and they are being isolated. We also need to begin talking about the harm to parents, and to the economy..."

"The education sector is one of the key drivers of sustained economic growth in the UAE, and a fundamental pillar of the social infrastructure, continued the Cofounder of Fortes Holding. "We directly and indirectly support SMEs, including transport companies, facility managers, sports sector etc.

"Private schools play a key role in positioning the UAE as a destination for attracting global talents. By opening schools in September, the country can set a benchmark that other emerging markets can emulate to deliver high quality private education.”

Sir Christopher Stone, Global Chief Education Officer, GEMS Education, noted that schools were ready to take on the responsibility of the return to school “It is our primary responsibility that our children are safe and happy", but added that parents can always vote with their feet, and continue with home school should they be concerned that health and safety requirements are not being met.

The private K-12 education sector in Dubai employs 20,000 teachers, and provides  an education to over 290,000 students. Schools earn 8.5 AED billion in fee revenues each year.

Attendees at the media forum included Alan Williamson, CEO, Taaleem; David Cook, Headmaster, Repton School; Sir Christopher Stone, Global Chief Education Officer, GEMS Education; Poonam Bhojani, CEO, Innoventures Education; Ajay Mankani, Co-founder Fortes Education; Amol Vaidya, Director of Operations, Global Indian School; Amit Kothari, Executive Director, Interstar Advisory Services and Tony Elzoghbi, Board Member, Kent College.

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