By Ramesh Mathew
Many parents in the Asian expatriate communities, including Indians, want the authorities to involve them in the process of deciding on proposals for fee hikes by schools.
The parents have also called for a “realistic” approach to the issue, taking into consideration factors such as the quality of education provided as well as other financial constraints.
This comes in the wake of some schools being allowed to raise their fees by 1.5% to 4%. While the quantum of hike is nominal, the parents argue that they, too, should be permitted to become part of the deliberations on such issues to allow them to voice their concerns.
Some residents said such issues could be “effectively and flawlessly” sorted out if the educational regulators held meetings with the parents’ representatives before schools were allowed to effect any fee hike.
“If such meetings take place, we would be able to convince the Supreme Education Council (SEC) about the need to restrict tuition fees at some of the country’s expatriate schools to the existing levels,” said a group of parents in a mail to this newspaper.
Further, they said enquiries in some other GCC states revealed that the local systems there provided channels for parents to directly interact with educational officials, stressing the need for something similar here in Qatar.
The parents recalled that in the beginning of 2013-14, a press release from the SEC Private Schools Office director had said “the school (tuition) fee should balanced with the quality of educational services and the student’s performance. From this year, requests from private schools seeking fee hike will be studied based on a set of new criteria, on top of which will be the student’s academic performance and the quality of educational services provided by the school”.
Despite this, they added, the authorities recently permitted some schools to hike their tuition fee, albeit by a small amount. This is a cause for concern as they are already overburdened owing to the exorbitant fee structure of some schools in the community, the parents pointed out.
However, it also needs to noted that a majority - 70% - of the applications for fee hike from schools had been rejected by the SEC and only a few were allowed to do so.
The parents also maintained that some of the schools were charging tuition fees not commensurate with the quality of service and facilities they were providing. “The SEC, being the local educational regulator, will get a real picture of the schools only when the parents are given an interface with its officials at intervals,” they said.
Further, the parents felt the need to have a 24-hour hotline at the SEC so that they could directly air their grievances to the educational regulators. When contacted, a parent said such a system is in place at least in one neighbouring GCC country, where it is reportedly functioning effectively.
Meanwhile, the parents also questioned the practice of some schools to collect the tuition fee for each quarter in advance. They said, “Many parents find it difficult to remit tuition and other fees of four months in advance. Why can’t they instead allow parents to remit tuition fee on a monthly basis?”
When contacted, one of the schools cited “convenience” as the main reason for collecting four months’ tuition fee in a single instalment, an argument that many parents find unconvincing.
While slamming an Indian school in particular, the parents said the institution was focusing only on “creamy layer” parents working in establishments that reimbursed the tuition fees of their children. “This is because every time the fee is hiked, the employers of such parents remit such exorbitant tuition fees without raising any hue and cry.”
The school operators, the parents added, failed to realise that not many parents were entitled to benefits such as fee reimbursements from their employers.
“We know a number of parents who are surviving on multiple credit cards just to meet the school fee deadlines,” said the parents, citing examples of people who were forced to send their children home over the last few months.
In the letter, the parents were also critical of some schools penalising people for late fee payment. “They have fixed a deadline on their own for remitting the tuition fee and defaulters are penalised if the fee is not paid on or before the cut-off date. Does the law of this country allow schools to levy penalties for late payment on tuition fee which, after all, they are taking in
Parents have expressed deep concern over the prevailing uncertainty over admissions in some expatriate schools. In a mail to Gulf Times, they have pointed out how some people are being forced to take drastic decisions in view of the uncertainty. “It is alarming that many of the newly arrived expats are now unable to find admissions for their children. Frustrated as they are, some of them have already sent their families home and tendered their papers,” it was pointed out in the letter. “It has come to our notice that there are incidents of expatriates declining jobs on realising that school admissions for their kids are impossible these days,” they added. The parents hailed some of the recent SEC directives on student-teacher ratio, but also raised concern over the ensuing uncertainty over fresh admissions. The parents requested the authorities to give enough time for the schools to enhance their infrastructure so that the uncertainty over new admissions is sorted out. They have also made an plea to the SEC to let the schools admit 35 students in each class at least until the admission issue is settled. Further, the writers of the letter have urged the local authorities to explore the possibility of encouraging the embassies of those countries with a large number of expatriates in Qatar to open their own schools.