There are a mind-boggling array of different factors that parents need to take into account when they’re choosing a school for their children – fees, curricula, location, class sizes, languages, extra-curricular activities, waiting lists… the list goes on and on. So it’s no surprise that during our last education special 12 months ago, 89 per cent of the parents we polled told us that they’d found the process of getting a place for their child difficult.
But for parents looking to enroll their kids in the latter half of 2013, perhaps help is at hand. Online financial comparison platform Souqalmal.com is launching a section dedicated to Dubai’s schools this month. Parents can search based on location, rating and even whether an entrance exam is required, with the option of refining the search engine to look for exactly what is important to them. Time Out Kids meets with the site’s founder, Ambareen Musa, to find out more
Why was it important to set up the education section of Souqalmal.com?
Education is a perfect fit for Souqalmal, and in many ways similar to financial products: something everybody needs, whether new to the country or not. It is an important life decision but has a very broad offering with a lot of variables to take into account. As there are many expatriates in the UAE, the education system and options are often different from what people are used to in their home countries, and with the number of schools, we believe there is a lack of transparency of information in the market.
We all hear how the waiting period of schools and fees in the UAE are quite a challenge when choosing a school. There are over 200 schools and nurseries in the UAE and Souqalmal.com is providing the platform where parents can search and compare the institutions side by side by taking what is important to their family into consideration.
From your research, how easy or difficult do parents find the process of looking for a school?
The key message from parents is that finding and getting a spot in the school of their choice is painful – and the process is highly stressful with waiting lists opening up three to four years in advance of the entry date.
If we look at the key points, based on a survey that we did with 800 parents, almost 70 per cent highlighted waiting lists as a big issue when choosing a school in the UAE. We even got a comment from one of the survey respondents that she was told by one of the schools whose waiting list was closed that she should have looked into it when she was pregnant and not at such a late stage (even though her child was only one-and-a-half).
The other key issues were a lack of knowledge of how the system works and, interestingly enough, uncertainty around the value for money – what is the quality of the education received versus the fees paid.
Are there any particular factors that you’ve noticed that draw parents towards a particular school?
When asked what were the top priorities in choosing a school, 53 per cent noted that fees were a big consideration, followed by facilities (46 per cent), location (41 per cent) and teachers to kids ratio (33 per cent). As we can see, there is not just one consideration in choosing a school but a combination of variables put together. This is why we think the website will come in handy, as you can search and compare the combination of different important considerations for you.
Will you include information about the schools’ admissions policies?
We have information such as entrance exams and the timelines for the waiting list. This means the length of time before your child is due to start that you need to start applying for the school. We also note where some schools are giving priority to siblings or specific passport holders.
Are there any particular year groups which are very obviously oversubscribed?
We have noted that the early years of KG1 and KG2 are obviously high in demand. Once the children are in a certain school they move up and therefore it is quite hard for new residents to have a place in their preferred school (unless you are one of the lucky ones to have a corporate debenture). Generally, the early years of the schools with a top rating seem to be closed a few years before the beginning of the academic year.
Can you search your site according to the waiting list?
Yes of course. Souqalmal.com allows parents to view schools and their relevant waiting list period. So if a child is starting school in September 2014, for example, you can find out an indication of when you should be looking at applying for the schools in advance. This feature would allow parents to plan in advance and not end up in a situation where they did not manage to put an application for their chosen school due to oversubscriptions.
Any other advice?
Plan early and don’t leave it until the last minute. Search the schools based on your criteria and do your homework on the best path to take for your child. We have seen that many parents need the advice and recommendation of others so we are inviting all parents to rate the school their children attend today to share their experiences.