Schools warned over inflating book prices

The Ministry of Education warns private schools not to charge more than the cover price for textbooks after parents complain of being overcharged.

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The Ministry of Education warned private schools yesterday not to charge more than the cover price for textbooks after parents complained of being overcharged. The complaints, which were directed at private schools teaching the national curriculum, follow grumblings of discontent about private school costs in general.

Kholood al Qassimi, the director of the curriculum department, said in a statement yesterday that although the ministry had previously ordered that the sales price be displayed clearly on textbook covers, it had recently received a "large number of complaints" from parents about book prices at private schools. Some schools had tried to hide the price printed on the back of the book to prevent parents from detecting the mark-up, she said.

The cost of a textbook, according to the ministry, should not exceed Dh9.50. The scale of the problem is not clear. The ministry would not say how many schools had been found to be overcharging or even how many had been accused of doing so, nor would it identify the offenders. It is also unclear whether schools that have been caught raising textbook prices will be penalised; the ministry has not announced a penalty for those caught doing so in the future.

There are 16 private schools in Dubai running the national curriculum. The Abu Dhabi Education Council could not provide a figure yesterday on the number of private schools in the emirate offering the ministry curriculum. Several of Dubai's head teachers have said that without increasing fees they will be hard-pressed to meet demands for improved standards introduced by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the government agency that oversees schools in the emirate.

State schools are not open to everyone and in Dubai 85 per cent of children attend private ones, most of which are profit-making entities. State-imposed tuition fee caps and other measures aim to prevent schools from exploiting parents. Several heads contacted yesterday insisted that they were charging only the cover prices, while Hala Dabbour, 16, a pupil at the Rosary School, an Abu Dhabi private academy that offers the national curriculum, said the price of books at her school was not inflated.

"In our school it's fine. We have the price on the back of the book, it's on the book itself," she said. "The books from the Rosary, they come from the Government, and they are very cheap, they are six, 10 dirhams maximum ... It's not that expensive." Rasha, a mother of six, said she was not aware of any problem at Al Nanhal School in Abu Dhabi, where three of her children are pupils. "I don't really pay attention to what we pay for the books exactly," she said, but added that the prices were reasonable.

The ministry issued an official list of prices yesterday, covering 97 textbooks and teaching guides for grades one to 12. They range from Dh3.50 to Dh9.50. A social studies book for grade one costs Dh4.50 while a grade 12 economics book costs Dh9.50. Teachers' guides cost between Dh30 and Dh65.