Around one in ten nurseries has closed in the UAE due to economic impact of pandemic

Nursery owners in the UAE estimate around 2,500 staff have lost jobs in the sector

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 10 MARCH 2020. Chubby Cheeks Nurseryare producing educational videos and tutorials for one to four-year-old children currently at  home to learn skills such as cooking without fire, home safety to stranger danger videos sent by a nursery. Cynthia Ngoran teaching French.(Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Ramola Talwar. Section: National.

Heads of nurseries in the UAE have warned that thousands of teachers could lose their jobs if early childhood centres do not reopen soon.

Owners of early childhood centres estimated that around 2,500 staff have been made redundant in the country and the number may rise to 7,000 if nurseries do not open soon.

Nurseries were closed early in March to stem the spread of coronavirus, and have not been informed if they may reopen in September.

Centres came together to collectively contact ministries to raise awareness about the challenges the sector has faced during the pandemic. They have requested authorities to set up a working group to establish guidelines for reopening of nurseries.

Umair Tariq, the Middle East and Africa chief executive officer at Kido Education, a global group with operations in the UK, US, Asia, and a number of nurseries in the UAE, said: “A number of nurseries (at least 10 per cent) have been unable to sustain and have already closed, and if not allowed to reopen in September or with limited capacity, we see up to 50 per cent of nurseries closing across the UAE, and job losses in excess of 5,000-7,000 teachers."

"Unfortunately the nursery sector has been closed since March 1 and no guidance has been given for reopening in September, while schools and other educational institutions have received guidance and allowance for full capacity.

“If nurseries are not allowed to reopen on the same guidance as schools or are opened later, parent confidence in sector will be dented and will also result in massive closures.

"We are requesting the authorities to announce timelines for reopening at reasonable capacity allowing nurseries to be able to sustain, and provide protocols / guidance at the earliest as nurseries also need to prepare and are keen to do so to contribute to the UAE's economy.”

Nursery leaders have requested authorities to allow them to reopen in September and added that parents will need to leave their children at nurseries when heading back to work.

When nurseries closed to contain the coronavirus, teachers took to creating videos and setting worksheets to reach thousands of children at home.

Teachers filmed themselves reciting nursery rhymes and reading stories but thousands have lost their jobs now.

Shaun Robison, governor at Idea Early Learning Centre in Dubai, said: “The sector is at risk. Other countries have already reopened, and the expertise in the UAE is global.

"Around 1,000 teachers in Dubai and 2,500 in the UAE, have already lost their jobs. If things do not change within the next two or three weeks, you are looking at a number closer to 5,000-7,000. Everyone has been holding on for dear life with the assumption that we will reopen in September. But, people will not be able to keep on those ongoing costs."

Lama Chiva, the chief executive officer of Babilou Middle East, which operates more than 500 nurseries in France and Europe, and a dozen in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, said: "Recreational centres, swimming pools, gyms, child-care centres, and even Shisha cafes have all received guidance to re-open."

“Without some degree of business certainty – knowing when nurseries are allowed to reopen and under which conditions, more nurseries will be left with no choice but to close down in the coming weeks.

"Nurseries have been the first sector prioritised and opened in other countries or kept open for emergency childcare purposes in order to allow working parents to head back to participate in the economic recovery."

In France, nurseries were allowed to reopen in May and Babilou Group nurseries reached 74 per cent occupancy by the end of June.

In, Singapore, nurseries opened in June and the group's nurseries reached 80 per cent occupancy levels.

She said the experiences of reopening childcare facilities in Europe and US could be used and adopted in the UAE.

In May, The National reported that nursery teachers in the UAE were struggling to make ends meet because of closures due to the pandemic.

While some staff had been made redundant others had not been paid.

Diana Zeidan, the area director for Odyssey Nursery, part of The Kids First Group, said the group supported their staff and has been paying partial salaries since March.

“We had to do some redundancies and had to let go of some of the team and it has massively impacted as we have no guidelines yet to reopen. As a group we cannot continue to support our staff," said Ms Zeidan.

“Schools have taken third term fees but we have continued homeschooling without any income just to retain our parents.

“More than 400 staff were made redundant which is more than 90 per cent of the group."

She said parents were interested in registering their children at the nurseries as they were concerned for their learning and development after staying at home for months.