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The Notion of Education for the Population Applies to UAE

Roberta Pennington, The National
April 10, 2014

Does privatizing education for the poor make sense? Probably not much, said education experts assembled for the final day of the Gulf Comparative Education Society symposium in Dubai on Thursday.

“It’s obviously provocative to suggest that private schools might be a public bad,” said Keith Lewin, professor of international education and development at the University of Sussex in the UK.

“I’m not hostile to the idea of private sectors doing things. Privatisation is actually very good when it comes to things like running restaurants, running hotels and many other things. But not when you enter into this world of public goods and when you enter into constructs that many of us share – of equity and opportunity and national benefit rather than personal gain.

Mr. Lewin presented evidence suggesting that in many developing nations around the world, private education perpetuated a divide between rich and poor.

“Poor people are predominantly enrolled in the public system, which is hardly surprising. Rich people, of course, are predominantly enrolled in the private system, he said.

“This is social stratification, this is segmentation, this is children growing up in different worlds. Is it good for social cohesion? Almost certainly not. These inequalities are vast. It’s the responsibility of states to try to reduce them.”

Mr. Lewin was using India as an example.

His arguments on education, however, although directed at democratic, tax-supported nations, also applied in some forms to the UAE, said Dr. Natasha Ridge, Executive Director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research based in Ras Al Khaimah.

“It’s applicable, this notion of education as a public good, whether or not residents are citizens or not citizens,” Dr. Ridge said. “If in the population, there’s only 20 percent represented, what about the other 80 percent? I mean there’s still, I would say, a tacit social contract.

“I don’t think that the state has an obligation here necessarily to provide public education for expatriates, but I think it does have an obligation to provide a range of affordable options and then to ensure – even for its own interest – that one provider doesn’t dominate the sector, that you have actual competition.”

The Sheikh Saud bin Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research is investigating the topic of private education in the UAE and its effect on the poor. The foundation’s report, due out this year, has found that parental satisfaction is much higher in non-profit schools than for-profit schools, she said.

“What our research is probably going to argue is that UAE should start looking at promoting more non-profit schools across the market and giving some incentives for non-profit operators, rather than having these for-profit operators dominate the market,” Dr. Ridge said.

“Non-profit schools don’t have the same profit mentality. They’re looking to build a school, they’re looking to invest in the people.”