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As the summer holidays wind down and children and parents begin a feverish rush to prepare for the new school year in Saudi Arabia, some of the outstanding issues continue to surface.

The debate continues over the quality of government-funded schools, the top-heavy bureaucracy, lack of proper facilities in schools and quite often their location.

International and privately-run schools have attempted to fill the gap at a steep price.

Parents have been busy seeking to enrol their young ones in schools that do away with all such flaws, in search of an appropriate learning haven for their children.

However, a recent incident dispels the notion that bureaucracy in private schools is any different.

Inconsistencies so prevalent in the bureaucratic minds of those who manage public schools can also be evident in privately-owned institutions.

The interest of the pupil is often not the primary concern.

A mother was stunned when her four-year-old son was not accepted in nursery at one of the “so-called” premier schools in Jeddah for the upcoming academic session.

The reason given by school officials for rejection was not that he had failed the entrance exam or that he did not possess the necessary qualities that the school sought from its potential students.

 The dictatorial attitudes exhibited by certain school authorities at ‘premier’ schools must be brought to light. It is bad enough that parents have to put up with sharp increase in school fees every year and then bear such anomalies.

Instead, the reason given was that his sister had not chosen to continue in the same school after her kindergarten years and was transferred by her parents to another school.

Now, if I were the headmaster/owner of the school, I would have liked to investigate the reason behind the parents’ decision to switch school. Was the pupil transferred because the other school provided a better curriculum, better after-school activities, or did it offer a superior teaching staff?

Unacceptable and unfair

There could be an infinite number of reasons, but denying a child an opportunity to enrol in a school of choice because of grudges or bad feelings is highly unacceptable and unfair.

This is not the first time the school in question has committed such improprieties while dealing with the issue of sibling enrolment. If such irregularities are not addressed soon, other schools may also catch the disease and this could snowball into a major problem.

The dictatorial attitudes exhibited by certain school authorities at ‘premier’ schools must be brought to light. It is bad enough that parents have to put up with sharp increase in school fees every year and then bear such anomalies.

Not much has changed over the years as private schools have been given a free rein to accept or deny admission to children for reasons unknown. More than two decades ago, my daughter was denied admission because we were told by the school authorities that it was part of its policy not to allow a sibling admission at the same institution.

Following such an incomprehensible excuse, I spared no efforts in banging the doors of the relevant government authorities entrusted to ensure uniformity and fair practices in regulating schools.

But all I was confronted with were blank stares or an indifferent attitude.

And since I was not prepared to crawl and beg for favours, I plucked out my elder daughter from the school concerned and enrolled both the siblings in a private school of lesser repute at the time.

Acceptable mechanism

For the mother of the child who was rejected because her elder sister had been moved to another school for her primary years, I could recommend that she take up her grievance with the Ministry of Education or the Court of Grievances, but I suspect that the child will be of university age by the time a decision is forthcoming! And there is still no guarantee that the ruling will be in the child’s favour.

All of which leads to the question: Are children’s interests really at heart at some of these private schools in Saudi Arabia?

The laws concerning the operation and admission mechanism for all schools must be regulated by the governments in the region and a standard must be set to avoid personal biases.

And talking about schools, I would like to see an independent body of auditors set up to look into the net profit at private schools.

Only then we will be sure that schools here are institutes of learning and not price-gouging commercial enterprises.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena.