ABU DHABI // Just four months ago, the education of hundreds of children was thrown into doubt when officials said six of the capital's villa schools would be closed.
But with a series of announcements over new school openings, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) is making good on its promise to provide replacement places. In September, two schools will open with places for pupils from low-income families. The students' previous schools were closed earlier this summer. It follows the announcement this week of a new Indian school in Musaffah, which will open next month with 1,000 places.
The schools announced yesterday, one in the centre of the capital and the other in Bani Yas, will cater for almost 2,500 children. They will occupy buildings that were previously used by government schools and will be operated by Universal Future Education (UFE). The Abu Dhabi island school will cater primarily for Filipinos, and will occupy the building on Muroor Road that used to be August the 6th school.
It will teach an American-based curriculum for its 1,300 students with supplementary Philippine language, social studies and cultural studies, and will cater for all age groups. "We have been open for registration for exactly one week, and already, we have over 600 students registered," said Kasey Conrad, the project manager at UFE and one of the school's management team. "So far, most of the students are the 450 pupils who had previously attended the Pioneers International Private School - the only villa school closed this past June that had taught the Filipino curriculum.
"Although school grades in the Philippines go up to grade 10, we are adding a class for grade 11 and grade 12. If we have enough demand of 15 to 20 students, we will open those grades this year. If not, we will have them ready next year for sure." Meanwhile, Adec will continue its work on refurbishing the building to make sure "we are ready and in good shape come September", said Mrs Conrad. "It has been so heartwarming to see how the Filipino community have taken to this school," she said. "They have shown up to help us get the school ready, volunteering their time, organising the cleaning and the registration themselves."
Their readiness to help, said Maria Fernandes, a nurse, is a testament to their excitement. She should know, she was the president of the Parent Teacher Council at the old Pioneers school. "As parents, we are so excited for our children, so happy. The campus is so wide and big for a change, and everybody feels so relieved, like this is a dream come true." Mrs Fernandes's daughter, Stephanie, will start eighth grade at the school next month.
"Stephanie was worried that her friends would not be at the new school, but Facebook took care of that," said Mrs Fernandes. "The news of the new school spread like fire, and everyone showed up to register as a group." The Bani Yas school will cater to the students of the five other villa schools closed in June: Azhar Palestine School, Al Sahaba Private School and KG, Al Mashreq Private School and Cultural Private School. The Saad bin Obaidah school will teach the Ministry of Education's Arabic curriculum to just more than 1,000 students.
Amna al Shamsi, its principal, said the new school's name will be decided by Sunday. "We will open for students in [kindergarten] to grade nine, for boys and girls, but in separate classrooms," she said. "Every year after that, we will add a grade, until we have all 12 grades and around 1,200 students." The old school was being used as an evening school for adults. "It will be handed over to us next week, with a new paint job and all the maintenance completed," said Mrs al Shamsi.
"To be honest, parents of younger children in [kindergarten] and grade one say that the school is too far, and some parents are unable to pay the slight difference in the increased fees," Mrs al Shamsi said. However, the promise of secure transportation and the increased size, has most parents excited. "We have a lot of work to be done still, but we really cannot wait until September arrives and it's the first day of school," she said.