Students engaged in distance learning and working from home
Students engaged in distance learning and working from home Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan

Dubai: Many parents are demanding their schools offer a school-wide discount on Term 3 fees instead of “means-tested” or “needs-based” relief restricted to parents who can prove financial hardship stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

The parents contend they should not be expected to pay full Term 3 fees as schools are closed and learning has moved online, with no access to sports grounds, labs, studios and extracurricular activities. Those with younger children add that they have to become part-time teachers to help out with distance learning at home.

Several schools have offered a blanket discount to all parents while some others said they will be flexible on a case-by-case basis for parents who show evidence they have lost their job, taken a pay cut, or placed on unpaid leave.

Parents plead

Parents have been emailing and calling their schools, besides launching online petitions and taking to social media, to convince them for a flat discount for Term 3 for all.

An Indian parent, who only provided his initials, P.M., had said he lost his job recently. He has one child in FS2 at Regent International School and another in Year 9 at Sunmarke School, which are located in Dubai and are part of Fortes Education.

Both schools on Tuesday announced they will now offer a discount for all parents.

“We have been offering parents a Fortes Relief Package comprising a discount. We have heard our parents and have heeded their call. We have now increased the Fortes Relief Package of financial support to include a discount to Term 3 Tuition Fees for all parents of Fortes Education’s schools, Sunmarke School and Regent International School,” said Dr Neil Hopkin, principal of Sunmarke School.

“Therefore, for both Sunmarke and Regent, parents of children in Foundation Stage 1 and 2 will receive a 25 per cent discount of the Term 3 Tuition Fees, while the parents of children in Year 1 to 13 will receive a 20 per cent discount,” added Dr Hopkin.

“Along with my team, I have been engaged in many conversations over the last week with parents experiencing financial difficulties.  It’s taken time to understand the unique complexity of each parent’s individual situation, and also to digest and plan contingencies considering the enormity of the emergency and financial stress caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic. We deeply value our parent community and want to reassure parents that we have and continue to hear them, although our response time may not have been to their expectation,” said Gaynor Dale, principal of Regent International School.   

“For parents who have already paid their tuition fees, the discount will be deducted from Term 1 of the next academic year. For parents who have not paid their Term 3 fees, half the discount will be deducted with the Term 3 fees and half with the Term 1 fees of the next academic year. This applies to both Sunmarke and Regent,” added Dale.

A European expat who has two children at Regent, had said schools across the board should offer a discount on Term 3 fees for all parents.

The parent, who did not wish to be named, had said before the latest announcement by the two schools: “Schools have been closed, it’s no one’s fault, and I understand the situation we all are in together. But, as part of schools fees, there are services that have already been paid for, such as sports, extracurricular activities, etc. These services are not being returned in Term 3.”

‘Why pay in full?’

He added: “Whether schools are saving or not saving financially is debatable. My question is, why pay in full when you’re not getting something back in full?

“The reality is nobody planned to be in this situation and there has to be a humane, fair and equitable solution for everyone. As to what would be a reasonable discount? Any value greater than zero and a more cooperative disposition would be good.”

Growing chorus

Similar petitions have also been launched for other education providers, including schools of GEMS Education, the UAE’s biggest school group, as well as Nord Anglia International School Dubai (NAS Dubai).

‘Ready to modify’

NAS Dubai Principal Matthew Farthing said: “We are listening closely to our parents’ concerns and, as always at NAS Dubai, we are ready to modify according to need and will adapt as we learn more. We remain dedicated to maintaining our strong sense of community and the highest quality of learning in our virtual school experience.”

A GEMS Education spokesperson said: “We are committed to offering tuition fee relief to those families that have been adversely impacted by COVID-19. We have announced a deferment of fees, payment plans or discounts for families who have lost their jobs, had salary cuts or been placed on unpaid leave as a direct result of the COVID-19 Virus.

“We are also waiving all registration fees, assessments and administration fees until further notice. This means-tested approach will allow us to allocate our relief efforts to those most in need during these unprecedented times, while retaining all of our teachers and managing our cost base.”

On Monday, UAE’s second largest school group Taaleem joined a growing list of schools offering discounts. Taaleem announced a ‘Support Package’ for parents, including Term 3 discounts of up to 25 per cent at all its schools “in response to the urgent needs of parents suffering severe hardships and to provide immediate relief”.

British curriculum school Dubai Heights Academy has reduced its fees by 10 per cent for the third academic term of this year. Parents are also being offered the opportunity to spread their payments over three months - April, May and June. The school is asking any parent experiencing payment difficulties to contact them directly as well.

“We realise that this is a very challenging time for many parents and we are doing our utmost to ease the burden of tuition fees. At the same time, the school is also committed to delivering a high quality education and ensuring community safety and these will remain our top priority,” said Alison Lamb, Principal, Dubai Heights Academy.