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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 8 March 2021

Parents to fight closure of all-girls wing at Raffles School

Parents are joining forces t after being told the all-girls section of Raffles International School will close because of low pupil numbers.
The all-girls section of the Raffles International School will close due to low pupil numbers.
The all-girls section of the Raffles International School will close due to low pupil numbers.

DUBAI // Parents are joining forces to fight for their daughters' education after being told the all-girls section of Raffles International School will close because of low pupil numbers. The Dubai developer Emaar, which owns the school, and Innoventure Educational Investments, a private company based in Dubai that manages it, announced last month that the all-girls section at the South campus would cease operation in 2011, blaming "organisational, social and academic challenges".

The section, which runs from grades five to nine, has just 36 pupils on the roll. Emaar said it needs at least 450 students to make it viable. Overall, Raffles' South Campus, which includes the all-girls section and the co-educational primary school, has a total capacity of 1,600 pupils but only has about 450 students. However, many parents enrolled their daughters in the elementary section at Raffles, which is co-educational, so they could move to the single-sex middle school.

One of these parents, an Emirati mother who asked to remain anonymous, said: "It really is not fair to the kids." Avishesha Bhojani, the CEO of Emaar Education, said low enrolment at the girls-only school makes its continued operation impossible. The school, he said, has 19 teachers and two additional staff members, nearly a 2:1 student-to-teacher ratio. As of this week, only 17 girls are enrolled for next year. The all-girls middle school opened in September 2008.

Mr Bhojani said the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Dubai's schools regulator, had granted permission in February 2009 for the closure. KHDA officials could not be reached for comment. A recent survey of parents at the South Campus, he added, found that more than half would prefer a co-educational secondary school. According to Mr Bhojani, Emaar and Innoventures, which also runs the Dubai International Academy, had already agreed to keep the school open for one more year "so we do not inconvenience girls or their parents, and give them over 16 months to find alternate schools of their choice".

Parents, however, remain unhappy with the decision. About half of the 400 students in the primary school are girls. "The sad part is we would just pull them out and put them somewhere else but really there are not a lot of choices," said one Emirati mother whose children attend the primary school. "Our kids are very happy and the quality of the teachers is good and then all of a sudden they throw this bomb on us."

Parents seeking an alternative all-girls international school have few choices: there are fewer than half a dozen girls-only schools in Dubai that offer the American, British or IB curriculums. "Do I take them to a boarding school in England because there are no girls' schools here?" said another Emirati mother. The parents appealed yesterday to the KHDA, and say they will also petition the office of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

The four Emirati mothers could send their children to an all-girls public school for free, but they were adamantly opposed to the idea. "I don't think any of us came from public schools," said one, adding that standards at public schools are not as high. "It's not an option," another said. "The English is not as strong in public schools and all subjects are taught in Arabic." Parents are concerned that switching schools will affect their children's progress in school and be difficult emotionally as children are split up from their friends.

Others say they will struggle with the commute to another school. "For me, I'm a working mum, my husband is working as well, the only option we have is the school of Research Science, which is very far away," said a British mother. Parents also claimed Emaar has not done enough to market the school. "They keep saying the girls school isn't doing well, but how can it do well if they never market it?" one mother asked.

"They think a girls' school does not sell," said the British mother. "In the long term they are saying 'it's our business, we will run it as a business. If you don't like it you go elsewhere'." Mr Bhojani said Raffles has been investing in the all-girls section. "We've been trying for two years. For the school [secondary], we need upwards of 450 to make a go of it. There isn't enough critical mass in Umm Suqeim for an all-girls secondary school."

Another mother complained that private schools in Dubai too often put profits above children. "A school has a set of social responsibilities in a society. If you start, give it time," she said. "Our children are the victims." Last night, parents who said they were speaking on behalf of parents of 180 children in the South Campus released a statement saying: "There is a fundamental difference between the educational development and growth of our children and the development of a business.

"We will not accept our daughters' future being dealt with in the same way that one would deal with a supposedly unprofitable investment. Emaar ... has a moral and social responsibility to stand by its commitment." klewis@thenational.ae

Published: May 4, 2010 04:00 AM

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