20,000 Pakistani children in the UAE go without an education

Pakistani Association Dubai fears that the existing 13 community schools in the country will have to turn away hundreds of pupils ahead of the next academic year.

Dr Muhammed Haris Shah says more funds are needed to build new classrooms, but also for teachers’ salaries. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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DUBAI // As many as 20,000 Pakistani children in the UAE are not getting an education, a community group claimed as it sent out a plea for the country’s expatriates to contribute to building more schools.

Pakistani Association Dubai (Pad) fears that the 13 community schools will have to turn away hundreds of pupils at the next academic year, which for Pakistani schools starts on April 1.

“It is primarily because we do not have enough community schools to cater to the needs of the community and most parents cannot afford to go to private schools if there is no space in community schools,” said Dr Faisel Ikram, a Pad official.

Pad is conducting a survey to verify the exact number of non school going children to create a strategy to overcome the problem.

The organisation feared the number could be more than 20,000. This number is based on data provided by a former Pakistani ambassador.

Anjum Naseer, the principal of a Pakistani Community School in Sharjah, said that the situation was getting worse each year and the [Pakistani] community has to take serious and urgent action to make sure that children do not go without an education.

“It’s a war footing situation. We cannot deny our children education, which is their basic right, just because we don’t have space. We have to make new schools on urgent basis to cater to their needs,” said Mr Naseer.

His school has capacity for about 2,000 children, which is a similar figure across all the Pakistani community schools in the country.

“On average, we have to reject at least 400 admission applications every year. This year again, we fear we have to do the same. We want to give admission to everyone but we can’t accommodate more than 30 students in each classroom, as per the law,” said Mr Naseer.

He added that community schools operate on a non-profit basis and charge low fees of about Dh300 to Dh400 per child as that is often the most the low-paid Pakistani parents can afford.

“Those who don’t get admissions in the community schools stop their children’s education because they cannot afford private schools where fees are very high,” Mr Naseer said.

Dr Muhammed Haris Shah, a board member at Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum Pakistani School in Dubai, said that the school has enough space to build new classrooms but funds are needed for additional teachers’ salaries and logistical issues.

“Unfortunately, no one comes forward to help schools. Education has never been a priority in the community. Running a non-profit community school doesn’t offer great business returns. Hence, no one is interested in investing and no one can help us unless we help ourselves,” said Mr Shah.

Mr Naseer is also unhappy with the community’s response and said that Pakistani expats in the UAE have failed to take the responsibility for their country’s children.

“I have been here for the last six years and [the school] didn’t get even Dh5 as charity or support from any Pakistani,” he said.

Blame was also laid at the Pakistani Embassy, which seldom comes forward to deal with the crisis, he said.

Samina Nasir, the education secretary at Pad, said that three of the community schools were in Sharjah, two in Dubai, one in Fujairah, one in Al Ain, two in Ajman, three in Abu Dhabi and one in RAK.

“We need at least another 10 more schools across the country to cater to the demand,” she said.

Pakistani families in the UAE have on average between four to five children per family, which means that often any money for education is spent on the boys, with girls losing out, Ms Nasir added.