Head urges role for schools and parents in review of education rules

Knowledge and Human Development Authority hears concerns about decades-old bylaws, toverdue fees and teaching credentials at a panel discussion.

Dubai, 18th January 2010.  (Left to right) Dr Abdullah Al Karam speaks as, Dr Samia Al Farra, Robin Campbell and Dr Fatma Abdulla looks on, during the Education Policy Forum, held at the Dubai School of Government.  (Jeffrey E Biteng / The National) *** Local Caption ***  JB02-Education.jpg
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DUBAI // A private school principal made an impassioned appeal yesterday for schools, principals and parents to be included in a review of the tangle of federal bylaws and regulations that govern the system. A panel discussion at the Dubai School of Government yesterday provided a rare public forum for private school operators to air their concerns about regulations to Dr Abdulla al Karam, the director general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the body that regulates Dubai's schools.

The private sector is in a period of growing pains, with schools in Dubai facing stricter regulation for the first time. One private school principal on the panel, Robin Campbell of the Sheffield School in Dubai, called for an overhaul of federal bylaws that govern private schools. "We have a significant amount of school fees outstanding from last term," Mr Campbell said, adding that bylaws do not provide a mechanism in place to collect overdue fees in a timely fashion.

"Please include principals and other stakeholders such as parents [in decisions], please give schools more power to deal with fee policies, student discipline and child protection," he said. Foremost among the problems, it would seem, are a number of "outdated" federal regulations governing private schools, and the frequency of newly introduced school inspections. Other suggestions included checks on teacher credentials, with one member of the audience noting that many school teachers in Dubai do not have a background in teaching.

Dr al Karam, in his opening remarks, pointed to his own desire to address such issues. But he reminded the audience, which included policy makers, school administrators, teachers and parents, that many of the most contentious issues, are in the hands of the federal ministry. "When we talk about teacher certification, when we talk about fees, when we talk about bylaws, the one thing that we have to keep in mind is this cannot be a state level, it cannot be on the Dubai level, this has to be on the federal level," he said.

Dr al Karam added that such policy decisions should remain in the hands of the federal ministry to ensure that there is a cohesive policy for the whole country in place. The frequency of inspections was also a key concern for school administrators: several representatives of local private schools suggested that the inspection process should happen every two or three years, rather than annually, as is now the case.

Dr Samia al Farra, another panellist and the chief education officer at Taaleem, the second largest private school operator in the country, suggested that the KHDA replace school inspections with an accreditation scheme, which would see less frequent visits. But she defended the idea of public regulation of private schools. klewis@thenational.ae