Thousands of enterprising parents have found a novel way of cutting down on school costs through a growing UAE textbook exchange community.
Social media has allowed users to share educational material for their children, making for sizeable savings on costs that can run into thousands of dirhams a year.
One Facebook page has close to 8,000 members in the Emirates, while The National found another five WhatsApp groups which together boast about 1,000 members.
The large Facebook group is a thriving platform for people to exchange textbooks, sell them at a discounted rate, or in some cases even give them away to other parents.
Parents typically purchase textbooks from schools at the start of the academic year to cover various subjects taught in classes.
Jordanian mother of three Shireen Mussalami, 40, has not had to purchase any schoolbooks for her daughter, who is in grade 10 at Rosary School in Sharjah, for the past two years because of the availability of such groups.
She gives textbooks to younger pupils and takes books from seniors.
“It certainly helps cut down expenses, but not the same amount for all parents because book prices differ from one school to another,” she said.
Course books for some schools can range between Dh200 and Dh1,200 for pupils in kindergarten and lower grades.
Prices increase every year to almost Dh4,500 for senior pupils at some schools.
A valuable lesson in sustainability
Nora Younis, 45, from Egypt, who has been exchanging syllabus books with other parents for two years, says it's not just about the money saved.
“Of course I save money, especially as books for my 12th grade son cost Dh4,800, but it's not only about that,” she said.
“For me it's more about spreading a culture of respecting books and reusing them for the longest period of time possible,” said Ms Younis, whose children study at Sharjah American International School.
“We should not limit the idea behind this practice to ‘poor children take used books’ and must expand it to teach our children to really value a book, all books.”
She said it should be a common practice among all pupils to enhance a culture of sharing and preservation.
“I can buy the books for my daughter who is going to grade 4, but it's a better lesson when I do this — she will grow up valuing books and respecting them.”
Jumana Yousif, 35, from Jordan, was not very lucky finding parents who would exchange schoolbooks with her for her two children at Sharjah's Rosary School.
“But I love the idea and it reminds me how when I was a small child at school in Jordan, we didn’t buy the books, we took them like on loan from the school and returned them at the end of the year,” she said.
Those who didn’t return books in good condition were forced to pay a fine of about Dh5, she said.
“I wish this system would be implemented here, because it's sad how books are just thrown away and we have to pay so much to buy new books every year.”
School head backs book clubs
Ibrahim Barakeh, director of Al Shola Schools Group, which runs five schools in Sharjah and Ajman, is in favour of the book groups.
“When I first started the school group around 40 years ago, I made it mandatory that pupils return the books in good condition and gave each one who did a one dirham reward which was much at the time,” he said.
Mr Barakeh said despite the school group investing nearly Dh8m annually for syllabus books — which parents then purchase through the school — he loves seeing children returning their books in good condition.
“Even if I knew the books would not be reused — at least it teaches them the true value of the book.”