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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 4 March 2021

Gems says it will reduce fees for 20,000 pupils as parents tell of rejected appeals

Parents with children at Gems schools told The National their requests for financial assistance have been rejected

The UAE’s largest education provider said it will reduce fees for the summer term for more than 20,000 of its school pupils.

Parents will be granted discounts between 20 to 50 per cent and some special cases will be given more than half off on the final term of the academic year, which will be delivered through distance learning after schools closed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Gems Education had been criticised by some parents for not agreeing to discount fees, while other schools across the emirates slashed tuition fees by up to 50 per cent.

The group came under fire when it said it would “means test” parents and only grant discounts to people who had their incomes reduced, placed on unpaid leave or lost their job.

An online campaign, supported by more than 15,000 parents, has been formed in response in an attempt to sway Gems into providing a blanket discount on fees.

But on Thursday, Gems said its approach would actually benefit more parents.

"In all cases, the relief will be in excess of the typical blanket discounts offered by other UAE schools – typically 20 per cent and, in some cases of extreme hardship, discounts of 50 per cent or more," a statement from the education provider said.

I submitted my termination letter to the school showing that that I lost my job and had not been able to find another one, but they responded and told me my request had been rejected

A Suleiman

Dino Varkey, chief executive of Gem Education, said thousands of parents had applied for the operator’s “relief package”.

“We are directing assistance to parents who have lost a part of their income or their jobs entirely, as well as parents who are self-employed and have suffered business disruption. We firmly believe that this targeted approach is more equitable and effective in helping those who have been most impacted, enabling us to make a more meaningful difference.”

He said tuition fees had to be paid to ensure pupils could access the schools’ e-learning services and progress to the next school year.

The group, which managed more than 250 schools worldwide and teaches some 174,000 pupils, has also committed to paying full salaries to all its teachers.

Mr A Suleiman, an Egyptian engineer who has two children at Gems schools, is the only breadwinner of his household but his plea for tuition relief was rejected.

"I lost my job and I have to pay Dh25,000 in tuition fees for my children. I don’t know why they have rejected me," he said.

"I need a discount. Otherwise, I would be forced to keep one child at home and send the other one to school.

"I submitted my termination letter to the school showing that that I lost my job and had not been able to find another one, but they responded and told me my request had been rejected.

"They told me I did not fit the time frame though my last working day was in February.

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He said the school may discontinue his children's access to online learning if he is unable to pay fees.

Joel Sami, a Lebanese parent in Dubai, who has a child at a Gems school, lost her job at a bank and is due to pay Dh8,400 for the third term.

The mother-of-two said the school did not explain why her appeal was refused.

"Our family income has been hit by more than 50 per cent. Now I can't even do anything and I need a discount

Her five-year-old daughter attends Gems Founders Sl Mizhar.

"Though I lost my job, Gems rejected my plea for help. They said I could give it in three instalments," she said.

"They asked for my tenancy contract and my bank statement and I submitted these documents."

Mr P Rao, an Indian parent who works in Information technology and has taken a 50 per cent reduction in salary, said he was still waiting to hear back from the school about his application.

"I am aware that some people have been awarded discounts but Gems are picking and choosing.

"We want to finish this year at the school, but for next year we will probably have to look at that option of moving to another school."

Updated: April 17, 2020 11:39 AM

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