Abu Dhabi, UAE: The Abu Dhabi Education Council’s (ADEC) decision to shut the Al Worood Academy Private School by August 2015 has left around 2,200 students in the lurch.
Parents said they face an uphill task to find new schools for their children as there is already a seat crunch in the capital. Education regulator ADEC announced the closure of Al Worood Academy folowing the death of four-year-old Indian girl Nizaha Aalaa on October 7. Aalaa reportedly fell asleep on her way to school and was left in stifling heat inside the the school bus.
The public prosecution of Abu Dhabi has charged the school with criminal negligence for failing to alert the child’s parents of her absence and not cross-checking the bus roster with the class attendance list.
The school, bus driver, attendant, supervisor and the transportation company are standing trial for their collective negligence that caused the death of the child.
The Criminal Court of First Instance began hearing in the case on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, ADEC issued a statement saying the school will be closed on August 31, 2015, and its operating licence revoked for grave negligence in ensuring the safety and security of the children. ADEC took the action based on Article 83 of the private school regulations.
“The school will be under the financial and administrative supervision of ADEC till then,” reads the closure statement signed by Dr Amal Al Qubaisi of ADEC.
The school has also been asked to assist parents in finding new schools for students in the next academic year.
Parents who spoke with XPRESS on Tuesday expressed shock at the impending closure of the school.
“It will be sad and unfair to close the school,” said an Arab parent who identified himself as Aiman.
“It was an unfortunate incident regarding that girl. But why is ADEC punishing all the students and parents by shutting the school?” asked the parent of KG1 student.
Some were still unaware of ADEC’s decision and others said they only read about it in local newspapers. “Someone told me that the school will be closed next year. I am just praying that it is not true,” said an Emirati mother who did not give her name.
“My son is in Grade 11 and the last thing I want for him is to change the school next year. It will completely unsettle him and will impact his studies,” she said.
Some other parents said they are happy for their wards to continue in the school.
“This is an old and reputed school. Moreover, it very affordable school. I don’t want to end up paying more tuition fees next year and upset my family budget,” said a Jordanian parent. The school caters mostly to Emirati students and Arab expatriates and its annual tuition fees ranges from Dh14,000 to Dh30,000.
Many parents are worried they will not be able to find a new school next year given the acute shortage of school seats.
Abu Dhabi is struggling to create 70,000 new school seats by 2020.
“You know it is a rat-race to get an admission. Why are we being put through this for no fault of ours? I think those parents who are unhappy can pull their kids out,” said another parent.
According to statistics released by ADEC, enrolment in private schools in Abu Dhabi will witness a seven per cent annual growth. The sector will be catering to about 283,000 pupils by 2020.
There is a shortage of 25,000 seats and by the next academic year, authorities expect the demand-supply gap to widen by another 25,000 seats.
The rise in population coupled by the Abu Dhabi government’s decision to move housing for all its government employees to the capital last year are the reasons given for the growing demand for school seats.
The seat crunch worsened last year due to the closure of 15 villa schools. Next academic year, another 20 will close, adding to the demand-supply imbalance.
Chronology of a tragedy
Aalaa was picked up by the school bus at 6.45 am from Khalidiya area. The bus reached the school at 7.45am. She fell asleep and did not get down at the school.
The school failed to notify parents of the child’s absence that day.
The bus driver parked the bus and left it locked without checking if there were any students inside. At 11.45am, he found the victim lying down near the school bus’ exit door.
The bus attendant checked the bus after all students got off the bus. But
she did not go all the way to the back, but checked only till the middle row.
The school attendant in charge of cross-checking the bus’ attendance sheet with that of the students present in the class did not do so.
The school principal was aware the buses hired by the school were not licensed to be used as school buses. He also knew seven of the buses did
not abide by Department of Transport (DoT) regulations.
Transportation company manager also knew seven of the 27 buses, including
the one which the victim travelled, were not DoT regulated.
Ten of the drivers were not under the company’s sponsorship.
The school bus driver did not have a licence to drive the school bus.
YOUR SPEAK: What steps should be taken to avoid such tragedies?
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