Cost of education defies gravity, parents say

Some families try to trim costs by shopping in discount stores, while other parents say they prioritise quality over prices, in the hope of saving money in the long-run.

DUBAI //When thousands of students return to school today, a lot of them will be sporting new uniforms and carrying recently purchased bags, files and stationery. Many private school students will return to the classroom today, while government schools across the country reopen on Wednesday. For parents like Radhiya al Hashemi the cost of getting children ready for the beginning of the school year is proving increasingly expensive. Dr al Hashemi, from Dubai, estimates she spends up to Dh2,500 on each of her two children, 11 and 9, in preparation for the first day back.

"We normally just buy necessities such as good quality bags, shoes, uniforms and stationery," she said. "We thought, with the economic crisis, prices would decrease, but they've gone up. We try to get things at sales, but sometimes the sale prices are just like the normal prices two or three years ago." Before Abdullah Mohammed, 9, from Dubai, starts back at the Dubai International School this week, a new school bag and stationery are must-haves. Johara Abdullah, his mother, has been through the annual back-to-school period before, having seen her three elder children finish school.

"Abdullah is my last child in school," she said. "It's normal for the back-to-school period to cost at least Dh500. But it has increased a lot." Some families try to trim costs by shopping in discount stores, while other parents say they prioritise quality over prices, in the hope of saving money in the long-run.  Sun Yang, 39, from South Korea, might spend up to Dh300 on a school bag, saying her children get at least two years' use out of them before they need to be replaced.

This year, Mrs Yang bought all the items her two school-going children needed for the new academic year during the June sales. "I didn't wait because you get better prices than during the back-to-school period," she said. Elena Garangana, store manager at Magrudy's Jumeirah, said the last two weeks have seen a constant stream of parents coming to buy back-to-school items. "Some customers used to buy expensive items, but now, not so much. They are more concerned about what they're spending."

Special offers are advertised on the side of display cases at a Union Co-Op supermarket, beside piles of exercise books and walls of backpacks emblazoned with pictures of cartoon characters. Majd Nasser browsed the aisles looking for school bags and lunch boxes for her sons, Zaid, 7, and Abdel Rahman, 5, who steered their own miniature trollies alongside their mother. Mrs Nasser, 30, from Jordan, said she was pleased to see the prices of some items had gone down. "We definitely look for lower prices," she said. "We have two boys in school, and the cost of education in general is so expensive, so we have to be aware."

For her part, Dr al Hashemi also tries to use this period to teach her son and daughter the value of money. "They want things like special brands, but I tell them it is not worth it," she said. "I want to bring them up to ask whether they really need something. These days you need to know the value of money."