Dubai parents worry over changes to school starting age

Parents are worried that their children could lose out on a year’s education after new rules extended the cut-off ages for children to be enrolled in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten 1, also known as the foundation stages.
Sanam Siddique says the new ruling has left many parents unsure of what exactly has changed. Jaime Puebla / The National
Sanam Siddique says the new ruling has left many parents unsure of what exactly has changed. Jaime Puebla / The National

DUBAI // Parents are worried that their children could lose out on a year’s education after new rules extended the cut-off ages for children to be enrolled in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten 1, also known as the foundation stages.

Several schools, particularly those following the UK curriculum, are in talks with Dubai’s education regulator, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), to be exempted.

Earlier this month, KHDA announced the cut-off date for schools starting their academic year this September had changed to December 31, while cut-off dates for schools starting in April next year had been pushed back to July.

This means that children who are three years old by December 31 can be registered in FS1, or pre-kindergarten, and a child who is four years old by the end of December can start FS2 or KG1 the same academic year instead of waiting until next year. Effectively, some children will start school at least three months earlier than before.

“A lot of parents are concerned that the new ruling doesn’t give a clear idea of what’s changed,” said Sanam Siddique, mother of a one-year-old and founder of the Facebook group Dubai Schools Guide for Parents.

“KHDA’s announcement gives only partially complete information. Parents are extremely worried that their offer of admission will be retracted or their children will be suddenly moved to a different grade level than they expected. There are examples of an FS1 child skipping FS2 and being put in year 1.”

She said previously children born between September 15 and December 30 had to wait another year to start school. “Whereas now with the new age cut-off, these children will go to school a year earlier than expected. This means those parents who have not registered for the 2014-2015 academic year are worried if they will get admission.”

Another parent, who planned to enrol her child in FS1 in the 2016 academic year, said she was worried that she might already have missed registration, which usually opens as early as two years before the school’s start date.

“My son was born in November 2012,” said Renad El Ashy, a member of the nearly 4,000-strong Facebook parents group.

“He is supposed to join FS1 in 2016-2017. But, as per the new rule, he could enrol in 2015. The registrations are already complete for the 2015 academic year and he won’t be able to get admission.”

She said some schools told her they were not affected by the new rule.

“I was mostly worried I’d missed the deadline. Some mothers register at schools when they are pregnant. Waiting lists are very long. But some schools said they had not changed their cut-off dates.”

Dubai British School is among them.

“We are seeking further clarification from KHDA,” said Dawn Rennie, admissions officer at the school, where the age cut-off date is August 31.

“We started accepting applications for September 2014 in January 2013. We have already closed registrations.

“If the cut-off is December, it will pose a problem for students going back to the UK or overseas for further education in the British curriculum.”

Ms Rennie, whose school wrote to KHDA 10 days ago, said enrolling children before they were prepared to start school could be detrimental.

“Children shouldn’t be put in a grade that is challenging for them. Schools should be allowed to make educational decisions in the best interests of children and to ensure that they don’t fall off the line,” she said.

Jumeirah English Speaking School said it was also in talks with the KHDA.

However, the authority said all schools would have to abide by the new rule.

“It is for all schools in Dubai without exception,” said Kalthoom Al Balooshi, director of institutional development at KHDA.

“Any schools violating the rules will be notified and asked to make changes accordingly.”

Mrs Al Balooshi said students would not have to skip grades: “The rules only affect new admissions. Existing students will not be forced to move grades.”

She added: “According to the new admission policy announced by the Government, students should start school (kindergarten) at the age of four. KHDA understands that certain curricula, for example UK, will start providing education from the age of three.

“Those schools will still be able to offer these classes, provided they can prove the education is of a high quality and that pre-primary is a recognised part of their curriculum.”

pkannan@thenational.ae

Published: May 29, 2014 04:00 AM

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