The Saudi Ministry of Education has decided that the best way to curb the rampant increases in school fees annually is to set a limit on the tuition paid by hapless parents caught in the tuition fees trap.
As in many countries in the Gulf, rising school fees have been of great concern to parents who often have to shell out up to a third of their annual salaries just to keep their kids in school. Such unwelcome rising costs place a disproportionate burden on many families, some of whom were compelled to send their children back to their homeland for schooling at far more reasonable prices.
With more than 38,000 schools in the kingdom and more than 6.2 million students, the business of running schools has been a highly profitable enterprise for some in Saudi Arabia. Besides government-run schools which are essentially free of charge, there are private schools and international schools, the latter usually associated with a diplomatic mission, such as the American school, the British school, the Indian school, etc.
International schools, generally known as the top tier of schools which start at 35,000 riyals (Dh34,280), have set a ceiling of 60,000 riyals annually per student, while kindergarten grade fees at similar schools, which start at 12,000 riyals, must top off at 45,000 riyals. There should be no more associated charges that parents are expected to pay.
Private schools fall into the category of the second tier and fees have been set a range from 15,000 to a maximum of 40,000 riyals annually.
The decree by the Ministry was well received by parents at the end of the school year, many of whom were fearing further increases for the new school year beginning in September. By setting limits, the Ministry has allayed the fears of many parents some of whom were thinking of sending their children back to their home countries.
Freeze on the tuition fees
Last year, the Dubai Executive Council reacted to similar concerns by anxious parents and announced that there would be no increase in school fees for the 2018-19 school year. Following the meeting of the Council, Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council tweeted, “We ordered an immediate freeze on the tuition fees of all private schools in Dubai for the coming academic year (2018-19), in order to reduce the financial burden on parents.”
And indeed, education has become a major financial burden. In the US, some college graduates spend a major portion of their lives paying off their student loans accrued for education. In the Gulf, school fees have reached disproportionate levels to the point where some are paying much of their hard-earned income just to keep their kids in school.
Besides the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses and ensuring your kids go to the best schools along with their peers, there is also the pressure of not doing enough or sacrificing enough for the sake of your children. They want the best facilities, small classrooms, clean toilets, well-maintained playgrounds, well-stocked libraries, etc.
All this is available but at a cost, often a financial figure that causes parents sleepless nights, especially if they have three or four school-age children.
It makes me reflect a time when most of the present-day marvels and inventions were discovered in the 19th and 20th centuries by individuals who did not have the benefit of a high-priced Montessori education or school facilities with well-stocked libraries and clean toilets. Think about it.
Closer to home, ask Sunny Varkey, son of Indian expat teachers who migrated to Dubai in 1959, and who today controls GEMS Education, the world’s largest operator of K-12 schools, with more than 250 schools worldwide. Varkey, a successful name in the field of education now, most likely didn’t attend schools with first class facilities or well-maintained playgrounds.
Lest someone get me wrong, I am not advocating that schools have no value in the development of a child. But the emphasis in recent times of pretty buildings and pretty uniforms seems to have gone overboard. And on every step of the way, parents are required to shell out more of their hard-earned money to keep their little ones with the best there is out there.
Is that really necessary, especially when it comes with such a huge cost?
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena