The closure of Dubai American Scientific School (DASS) announced this week highlights a flaw in the way Dubai school fees are calculated.
The DASS was forced to close after charging parents double the fees allowed by the education authority, as well as failing to investigate more than 30 students with extended periods of unauthorised absence, a number of health and safety violations and appointing 20 teachers without a formal contract of employment or approval from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).
It had been rated by the KHDA as ‘unacceptable’ for each year since 2008-09 so it seems a positive step to have the school shutdown – half of its students had already been transferred to new schools in the past year, according to the KHDA, and those remaining surely deserve a better education that DASS was seemingly able to provide.
However, it is no wonder the school was unable to improve. Under KHDA regulations the worst schools – those rated ‘unacceptable’ – are not allowed to increase their fees beyond the Educational Cost Index (ECI) until they move up to at least the ‘good’ level (the second highest of four categories).
But without government funding, a lack of charities dedicated to education and on top of that, stalled fees, how is a school supposed to improve?
Yes, good teachers are a school’s biggest asset and far more important than having the latest technology or the biggest gymnasium. But attracting the best teachers cost money, and so too does training and up-skilling.
And in today’s world, having state-of-the-art technology does make a difference to a graduate’s outcomes in the real world. So does a well-rounded education with access to sport and recreation, a library full of books updated each year and a well resourced science classroom.
All of these things require money.
I am certainly not defending DASS’s performance – according to KHDA there were ongoing issues that the school and its owners failed to address.
And there does need to be an incentive for schools to improve, especially from an unacceptable level. But freezing fees in line with the ECI seems only to work against them, while those already offering a superb education (there were six rated as ‘outstanding’ this year) are allowed to increase their - usually already high - fees by twice the ECI.
(No school is allowed to increase their fees for the 2013-14 academic year after the Dubai Statistics Centre calculated that the cost of education had not gone up in the past year. The ECI was 3 percent for 2012-13).
Schools can apply for an exemption to raise funds for major works such as an expansion but it does not include improving teachers’ salaries or hiring new teachers, rental increases on existing buildings (which in the present Dubai climate are likely to go up while revenues remain stagnant) or purchasing technology.
I’m not advocating an open-door policy on school fees – past comment pieces by me prove that. But I am saying there needs to be an alternative incentive for schools to improve other than freezing their fees if they don’t. It just doesn’t make sense.