Relief for Indian parents, but already school is oversubscribed

Not only was it Abu Dhabi student Hashim Jabbar's first day of school, it was his chosen Private International English School's first day of school.

ABU DHABI // Not only was it Hashim Jabbar's first day of school, it was his school's first day of school. Fortunately, for the six-year-old and for the newly opened Private International English School in Musaffah, yesterday went smoothly. As Hashim's parents arrived to pick him up at the end of the day, he stumbled over his words in his excitement to tell them what a wonderful day it had been.

"He did not stop chattering for a single second, talking about his new teacher, his classroom, the paintings on the wall, his new friends," said his father, Abdul Jabbar. "I was so proud and thankful to be there to witness his first day of school, rather than have my children and their mother far away and alone in India." Until August, that had been the plan. The shortage of Indian curriculum schools in the capital meant that, like thousands of other children, neither Hashim nor his eight-year-old sister were enrolled in school at the start of the Indian academic year in April.

"Both my children were on the waiting lists of three schools in Abu Dhabi, but they did not get spots in any," Mr Jabbar said. His wife taught the children at home, and the couple discussed a return to India. "The children's education is a priority, so if it meant that I would stay alone to work in Abu Dhabi and my wife and children have to return to live in Mumbai, then we had to do it." But the announcement that the new school would open, as part of India's renowned Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (BVB) educational network, changed everything for the family.

"I was there on the first day of admissions, and I took my children so they could write the entrance exam, and I registered them immediately," he said. The school caters for children in kindergarten and the first four years of primary school. So far, according to its principal, Rajalaxmy Pillay, it has registered 353 pupils. "My God, our first day was absolutely wonderful," she said. "Every single class was full and still I have parents showing up asking about admission."

Among those waiting for a place is Saleem Ahmad. His four-year-old daughter, Inaya-Fatima, will remain in India with her mother until the end of the month because flights to the capital are full. "I sent my daughter back to India because I could not find admissions in a good school in Abu Dhabi," he said, "but when I heard that a BVB school was opening here, I had hope." Unfortunately for Mr Ahmad, the final available places have already been filled.

"The only solution I can give parents now is to admit their children for the April semester, and inform them that I will start admitting students and getting them to write their entrance exams on January 14," Mrs Pillay said. "However, I will discuss with the school's chairman if anything can be done. We want to have small classrooms with teachers giving each student the right amount of attention; we don't want to crowd our classrooms."

Meanwhile, Mr Ahmad said he would return to the school "everyday until they reach a decision about my daughter".