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Kids or cash: what is the real priority for UAE schools?


Ambareen Musa, the founder of Souqalmal, wonders whether UAE schools are dedicated to education or simply filling up the order book.

March 17, 2013 11:05 by

“What were you doing when you were pregnant? We are an extremely popular school, as you know. All parents want a spot at our school, so  you should have thought about it earlier.”

Seriously? Is this how as a parent looking for a place for her 18-month-old is spoken to?

For the record, when I was pregnant, I was busy working full time and learning how to be a new mum in a new country where I have no relatives as a support group.  I was not sitting around twiddling my thumbs thinking of what to do each second of the day.

So which part of the equation did I get wrong? I always thought that schools were there to set an example and provide children with an education to allow them to live in a society where they care for people around them, where they can adapt very easily and where they can build strong relationships. 
If that is the attitude the schools are projecting as their first contact to parents, what are they going to teach my daughter? How to be rude on the phone?

Now, as the founder of, which has now diversified in the comparison of UAE schools and nurseries, I wanted to bring up this topic of admissions within our next roundtable discussion to be held on March 26 between parents and schools.  The biggest hurdle of this event was to get schools to attend.

For many it was harder to get through to the principal’s PA than that of Harvard business School (trust me, I tried yesterday and got through first time).

“If we are interested we will let you know, if not, you will not hear from us”

“You must understand we get thousands of invitation every day and I need to filter and decide which ones the principal will look into”

Just shocking.

The experience has made me worry about my little girl being in an environment where the basic sense of politeness does not exist. Are these “institutions of learning” dedicated to the education of our future generations or are they businesses who fill up the order book and then stop caring?

In a world where corporations try to be increasingly customer-focused, it seems that some of the major schools in the UAE are doing the opposite.

It’s not all bad, though. Of course there are many schools that succeed in providing a very different experience. We will have the pleasure of hosting four different schools who projected the level of approachability, openness and engagement that one would wish for from an educational institution. They were a pleasure to interact with and they accepted to be part of the discussion on admissions process – already a sign of commitment and transparency towards parents.  Those are Jumeirah Primary School, the GEMS group, the Taaleem group and Horizon School Dubai.

This promises to be a very interesting debate… and hopefully provides a good platform to start addressing some of the broader issues and show the ‘right way’ forward.


Ambareen Musa is the founder and CEO of Having moved to the Middle East in 2008, Ambareen worked as a consultant for Bain & Company – Middle East and focused on the financial services sector, before joining MasterCard Middle East and Africa to set up their consulting arm, before leaving two years later to become the founder of in 2011.

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  1. fayssal on March 17, 2013 5:47 pm

    amazing article! so true. the arrogance of schools and the race from shallow parents to place their kids in them is sickening. very rightfully said, if this is the atittude we parents get, what kind of culture and education would our kids get, its good to raise children with some “shrudness”, but this is way beyond that. ultimately it becomes a race for image and status.

    some schools are seriously overbooked and should appraoch this much more “sensitively”, maybe hire an external well trained call center with scripts and talksheets to avoid this rudeness, maybe have on the website a “enrollment” status page with stats, expected waiting lists and times, etc etc…

    I as a parent would not accept this and this is why, I have placed both my daughters in one of the oldest “middle class” international school in Dubai. One that feels like a family, that has been in operations for more than 30 years and one that places parent teacher relationships on the top of its priority.

    I am not sure about hope, because just like Harvard answerd your call, Harvard might also be cheaper than some dubai school, but that is a totally different topic all together.

    God bless our children…

  2. M. Aldalou on March 18, 2013 8:27 am

    Hey Fayssal, Thanks so much for commenting. You’re completely right, it’s nothing more than a race for status here. Education shouldn’t be a luxury here – even though parents certainly pay it like it’s a luxury – but at the very least if your child’s education is going to be severely overpriced, make it more accessible.


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