Omar Mirza is Director of Administration at Omar Bin Al Khattab Pakistan Islamia School in Ajman Image Credit: Supplied

Education expert Omar Mirza is Director of Administration at the non-profit Omar Bin Al Khattab Pakistan Islamia School in Nuaimiyah, Ajman. He offers a unique perspective on the education system in the UAE.

Tell us about your school.

We have more than 600 students, aged 4-18 years. Our school is unique in that we charge the bare minimum to keep the school operating, while still being able to provide as high a quality education as possible. Our students are generally from a socioeconomic class that is unable to afford the high costs of private education. Our goal is to make education accessible and to inspire these kids to rise above their circumstances. 

How do you fund the school?

We created a structure where our fees are paid monthly, ranging from Dh295 to Dh500 a month. A sizeable portion of our student body is able to study because charitable organisations have sponsored them and picked up their tuition tab. We also have a group of donors who sponsor a certain number of children every year across all age groups. While our fees are significantly lower than nearly every other school in the country, it is still often a challenge to collect timely fees as even these costs are often too much for parents. But since our main goal is to help these children, many of whom have fled war or terror in their home countries, we try to keep costs as low as possible. 

What challenges do parents face in the school system here?

One issue is that there is no central information bank for parents to go to in order to receive accurate guidance on the admissions process, and all the rules, regulations and mandates set forth by the country. Other issues include the long wait lists, sometimes for several years, at popular in-demand schools, and the exorbitant fees charged by many institutions. The schools that are cheaper, trying to help give spaces to students from families who cannot afford very high fees, are often the ones getting shut down for non-compliance with regulations, which really boils down to them not having enough money to pay for certain resources because of the low fees they charge. 

What would you advise parents?

New expats looking to place their kids should first do their due diligence, take school tours, and then finalise an official spot. Usually a good rule of thumb is to find a school and then find a residence in relation to the school’s location as traffic is often a nightmare. Parents should also have all the children’s documentations attested from the UAE embassy in their home countries prior to coming over.