Pakistani schools fail test

Two out of the three Pakistani-curriculum schools in Dubai do not meet the minimum standards.

Dubai, UAE - February 15, 2010 - Students leaving school at Pakistan Academic Academy. (Nicole Hill / The National)
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DUBAI // Two out of the three Pakistani-curriculum schools in Dubai do not meet the minimum standards, the emirate's schools regulator disclosed yesterday. In the same report, the regulator said not one of 20 Indian schools it inspected was awarded its highest rating. It was the first time that the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) had inspected Indian- and Pakistani-curriculum schools, which, with almost 60,000 pupils, have about a third of the emirate's pupils. They were not included in the first round of inspections in 2009.

Lessons in Pakistani schools were "poorly planned and time is not used productively", the report said. Teachers "lack appropriate skills, qualifications and experience" and had "minimal training opportunities, poor contractual arrangements and weak management support". About seven of 10 lessons observed in Pakistani schools were judged to be unsatisfactory and serious health and safety problems were found.

A fourth Pakistani school, which is due to close this year, was not inspected. Only about one in seven Indian-curriculum schools was judged unsatisfactory. By comparison, among the schools inspected last year - which included private and public schools - one in eight was deemed to be unsatisfactory. No Indian school was ranked "outstanding", the top score awarded by inspectors. Seven achieved the second-highest mark, "good". Ten were deemed to be only "acceptable". The single Pakistani school that was not judged "unsatisfactory" was also found to be "acceptable".

Schools given an unsatisfactory rating will receive regular follow-up visits by KHDA inspectors every three months to determine if the authority's recommendations are being carried out. While school administrators generally welcomed the inspections, some said the bar was set too high for schools that were often community-based and charged low fees. "This round of inspections continues our mission to provide evidence-based data about all of our schools in Dubai so that we know where we stand," said Dr Abdulla al Karam, the director general of the authority.

Only four schools were judged to be "outstanding", all high-priced private institutions offering the British curriculum, with fees for grade 12 upwards of Dh50,000 (US$13,000). The most expensive Indian school, Dubai Modern High School, which achieved a rating of "good", charges Dh27,000. The standard of Arabic instruction, which has become a priority for the KHDA, was one of the reasons schools lost points that ultimately led to the lack of an outstanding rating.

"This year we raised the bar for all the schools in Dubai and it includes the Indian schools," said Jameela al Muhairi, the head of Dubai School Inspections Bureau. According to the report, pupils generally demonstrated a strong desire to learn, and were "highly motivated and conscientious", often excelling in English and mathematics. Results were mixed for the UAE's largest private school operator, GEMS Education, which educates nearly half the Indian and Pakistani children in Dubai. Of its six Indian schools, three were ranked "good" while the other three were "acceptable".

Richard Forbes, the director of marketing and communications for the group, said the rankings did "not entirely" portray GEMS Indian schools accurately. "The inspection system is new and we expect KHDA to iron out inconsistencies over time," he said. Rasul Syed Mirza Ghalib, the principal of the Central School, said he was happy with the way inspections were conducted. "For Indian and Pakistani schools, there were inspectors from the respective land," he said. "They know what is happening there and what is happening here. They are the right people to inspect."

However, several principals said the KHDA had set standards difficult to achieve for schools that catered to low-income families. Rafiq Rahim, the principal of Al Majd Indian School, which scored "unsatisfactory", said: "All the schools cannot be tried with a single criteria. "We are charging school fees normally from maybe 250 to 350 [dirhams per month]. Within this range of fee structure what facilities that can be provided are provided."

Tabinda al Ghizala, the principal of the Pakistani Education Academy, which ranked "unsatisfactory" said she hoped the KHDA would help schools with limited resources to make improvements. She said her school generated very little income from school fees, which ranged from Dh3,366 to Dh4,797. Mr Forbes broadly agreed. "Schools with lower fee structures cannot attract the investment they require and the KHDA needs to address this," he said.

"We do not believe subsidies are necessary, but we suggest KHDA consider introducing improvement grants for schools with acceptable performance and high parental demand." Lamiya Aslam, a mother of three pupils at Al Majd Indian School, which received an unsatisfactory rating, said she was not upset by the score because the school was affordable. "The playground is a bit small but you also have to see the fee structure," she said. "You can't have everything."

Mrs Aslam pays about Dh500 per month in fees for each of her three children. "The inspections are good but they have to keep everything in mind," she said. Mrs Aslam said she was satisfied by the teachers and their methods. It was unfair for Indian schools to be held to the same standard as more expensive ones, she added. "We are happy with the school," said Jamal Luddin, a father of two at Al Majd.

Ashu Bansar, who has two children at Dubai Modern High School, said the KHDA should limit fee increases and encourage schools to spend more on improving their quality of teaching instead of unnecessary facilities. Last year, the KHDA linked fee increases in private schools to their performance in inspections. The authority is again in talks with the Ministry of Education to decide the fees policy for the coming academic year.