Parents speak of relief and joy as fees cleared at UAE government schools

Families overjoyed at 'generous act' after President Sheikh Mohamed's directive settles dues totalling Dh155 million

The directive to pay off the outstanding debt was issued by President Sheikh Mohamed last week. Jaime Puebla / The National
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The announcement that fees would be cleared for pupils living in the UAE and attending government schools was welcomed by families struggling to pay their school bills.

Parents said the decision was a great relief, as for some who had lost their jobs or dealt with other financial difficulties the tuition fees had proved unmanageable.

The directive to pay off the outstanding debt was issued by President Sheikh Mohamed on Thursday, clearing up to a total of Dh155 million ($42.2 million).

“This was a heavy burden on many parents even though the school fees are minimal, but there were some parents who recently lost their jobs and paying the fees was difficult for them,” said Elham Mohammed, 45, an Arabic teacher at a government school in Abu Dhabi.

School fees at government schools are Dh6,000 a year, and there is a criteria that needs to be met by non-Emiratis.

'Best in the country'

Ms Mohammed has three children and teaches at Fatima bint Mubarak School for Girls. Her children attend private school.

“Every year I try to get my own children into a government school, but their grades are not high enough,” said Ms Mohammed, from Egypt. “Government schools are among the best in the country. It is exactly what any parent would want for their kids.”

The UAE provides free education at its government schools to Emirati children, pupils who hold a UAE passport, children of GCC citizens and children of people who are holders of decrees issued by Sheikh Mohamed.

Pupils who do not meet the above criteria must pay fees, be among the top academic performers and cannot make up more than 20 per cent of intake at a government school.

Government school lessons are conducted in Arabic, with English taught as a second language.

Pleas from parents

Every year, a pool of parents request school fee exemptions, said Ms Mohammed.

Many of the expat pupils are from countries such as Egypt, Syria and Palestine, she said.

“They are also some of the highest-performing pupils in the country.”

'We'll give back in some way'

Egyptian father-of-three, Samy Elsayed, who lost his job during the coronavirus pandemic, was among the UAE residents to benefit from the fee waiver.

He was also preparing for a degree in health management when he received the bad news two years ago.

Although he found another job he had to suspend his studies. He was unable to pay school fees of his two daughters who attended Fatima bint Mubarak and Hamdan bin Mubarak government schools.

"This was a huge load on many parents that has been removed," Mr Elsayed said.

"It isn’t unusual for this country’s leadership to do such generous things for both nationals and non-nationals,” he said.

“Acts like this are a relief for so many people who found themselves in a situation like mine, and we only hope we can give back in some way.”

Both his daughters were toppers in their respective years.

Mr Elsayed's wife Hind Shahin says paying school fees is among major headaches for parents amid rising household expenses.

"Paying for a child's education keeps many parents up at night. This is a major thing we now don’t have to worry about any more,” said Ms Shahin.

“Relief comes in unexpected ways. It's a testament to the leadership's commitment to the well-being of both nationals and expats.”

Updated: April 23, 2024, 8:09 AM