Schools can't decide on term timings, says ministry

Ministry of Education refutes KHDA on flexible timings for schools

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DUBAI // The emirate's private schools may not decide their own term timings, the Ministry of Education says, despite an announcement to the contrary by the local education authority.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Dubai's private school regulator, said on Sunday that those not following the national curriculum would be given flexibility in setting their academic calendars.

But a senior education ministry official said yesterday that the KHDA could not override a decision taken by the cabinet to unify the calendars of all schools and universities in the country.

"The dates were thought about and sent to the cabinet for approval, so the order has come from the top," said Ali Mihad Al Suwaidi, the assistant undersecretary of the ministry. "It was a countrywide decision and there will be no exceptions for any emirate."

The national timetable requires all schools, including private schools, to start the academic year on September 9.

The first holidays are to be from December 16 to January 3. Holidays after the second term are to be from March 31 to April 14, and summer holidays are to begin on July 7, 2013.

Mohammed Darwish, chief of the KHDA's regulations and compliance commission, had said on Sunday that it would allow leeway to schools in Dubai because they follow 13 curricula.

"A one-size-fits-all motto for an educational landscape as unique as Dubai's is not an ideal situation," he had said.

Mr Darwish had said private schools that begin their year in September could stick to calendars approved at the beginning of the year, which are all in line with the minimum number of school days and minimum school hours stipulated in the regulations.

However, Mr Al Suwaidi said the ministry had not received any complaints from private schools regarding the unified dates. "We have not heard of any clash with any curricula school, be it British, American or IB [international baccalaureate]. All schools must follow this unified system."

The KHDA said it will issue a response later in the week.

The conflicting messages have raised concern among educators and parents, many of whom have planned holidays according to dates communicated in earlier circulars.

One school head said the government needed to clarify who the regulator is.

"It's strange how the two authorities have such a difference in opinion on such matters," he said. "We had created our calendar a long time back and had taken all our necessary activities and operations into consideration."

He said teachers and staff had planned their holidays accordingly.

A mother of two children at a British school in Dubai said the matter had already caused a lot of confusion.

"If such decisions are made earlier and communicated before families make their plans, it wouldn't be an issue," she said. "The issue is the constant change of rules."

Abu Dhabi private schools have been following a unified calendar since last year.

Paul Coackley, principal of the British School Al Khubairat in the capital, said the new calendar had not presented any problems because the school was given enough notice to plan for it.