Expatriates returning home from their vacations are gearing up for their children's new term or the start of a new year, depending on the school.

With prices on the increase across the board, sending a child to school is quite expensive for most. If the salary package includes the child's school tuition fees, the costs are not an issue.

The majority of the middle class, however, tries to find ways to curb the cost of education even in the not-so-expensive schools.

A father of four shopping in one of the Dubai malls offering back to school promotions said just one textbook for his boy in the ninth grade costs about Dh150. He roughly spends about Dh500 on stationery for his boys.

The notebooks sold in his children's school are of good quality, but they cost nearly double.

The uniforms for his boys cost Dh70 apiece. "We buy three sets of uniforms for each of the boys," he said.

The boys were carrying shopping baskets and dumping geometry boxes, erasers and pencils in them.

Ahmad, the father, who did not wish to be identified further, said his company does not pay for his children's schooling. He also did not wish the school to be named.

Devadasan/Gulf News
Students go back to school as the new academic term gets under way. This picture is for illustrative purposes only.

The principal of one Indian curriculum school said since parents do not have any control over the rising cost of living, they try to find ways to meet the schooling expenses of their children.

Some parents make arrangements to bring in the schoolbooks from India as it would cost them much less, said G. S. Madhav Rao, principal of Our Own English High School, Dubai.

"We do not force the parents to buy the text books from the school," he said.

The principal said there are also a number of second-hand bookstores here that sell school textbooks.

Some parents also give the textbooks of their child, once he moves on to the next class, to their friend's children, he said.

The school will start the second term with 6,500 children on its rolls. The principal said Dubai schools still have the capacity to absorb the growing number of students.

But as rents increase, families are moving north, to Sharjah and even further to Ajman. He believed that there are not enough places for them in the Sharjah schools.

Shop where you please

The principal of another large school with 1,900 children said it does not "stress out" the parents by insisting they purchase the uniforms and books from the school. "They are free to shop anywhere," he said.

"Tell me what hasn't gone up," asked Darryl Bloud of Dubai Modern High School.

He said the school is looking for two or three more suppliers of uniforms. One of its major suppliers has retail stores in Bur Dubai. It supplies uniforms for about 30,000 students.

One supplier said a set of shirt and trousers costs between Dh40 and Dh50 for an Indian curriculum school.

"The schools take keen interest in the practicality of the uniform and its wear-and-tear."

One mother of two complained that her children's school changed the uniform midway through the school year.

"The uniforms are unpractical for this weather," she said. "Why do you need a tie, belt and a pinafore in this heat?"

She said the skirts also were pleated, making them difficult to iron. The sports shirts were priced at between Dh30 to Dh35, she said. "You can get it for about Dh15," she said.

She claimed the clothes shrank after a spin in the laundry. "My girl's shirt turned into a tank top."

"The price of uniforms has not changed since the past three years," said Tahera Rashid of Dar Al Tasmim Uniforms.

She said the schools earlier tried to get the uniforms stitched themselves and it did not work out, explaining how companies like Al Tasmin has moved into the business.

But she notes that prices have gone up for rent of the factory premises and the cost of labour.

Two mothers, Heather Orange and Dawn Gregory, shopping early for school stuff for their girls studying at the Jumeirah English Speaking School, said that shoes were the most expensive part of the uniform.

"You have to take care of their feet," they said.

Jill Spinks, a Canadian mother who recently moved her girls from the Dubai American Academy to the Dubai International Academy to provide them a more international programme, said that the price of uniforms was "reasonable".

She said she paid Dh75 for a jumper and Dh55 for a shirt. She buys her shoes from Canada, paying Dh180 a pair.

"They have to wear shoes every day for five days of the week, for 10 months. The quality has to be good," she said.

Zaid Ali, operations director of Zaks, which sources fabric from Montreal and the UK, said the rise in oil prices has affected all businesses. "The cost has to be pushed to the end-user," he said.

But he noted that the price of uniforms has remained "stagnant" for the past years.

"We work on the economies of scale to cut costs," he said. Ali said a uniform kit would cost between Dh250 to Dh400. "It is still good value for money and costs a fraction of what it would cost in London," he said.

Zaks stitches uniforms for the "premium league" schools in Dubai and supplies to about 10, 000 students a year. He said competition was stiff in this industry.

He said he saw 17 bidders for one school contract. He said the fabric of the uniform is functional and absorbs sweat, and the ties are clip-ons, to make it safe for children at play.

The superintendent of the Dubai American Academy said the Ministry of Education And Social Affairs does not dictate the style or the colour of the uniforms. It just requires that school students wear an uniform, he said.

"We have the flexibility," he said, but notes that uniforms have to be modest.

Superintended Dan E. Young said that premium schools of the Gems Group do not charge for textbooks.

"It is included in the fees," he said, noting that even if the cost of the textbooks increase in the United States, it would not affect the parents as the fees is already paid.