Dubai Eye Interview (24 May 2018)

Dubai Eye Interview (24 May 2018)

An interview with Dubai Eye on parents removing children from school during term times in the UAE, due to the inflated airfares during school holidays. Parents need to make up their own minds on what is best for them and their children when they consider taking their children out of school during term-time.

A transcript of my interview is below (starting at 3:25 and ending 12:05).

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Tom: … In England, parents who take their children out of school without permission will be fined and can be prosecuted, even if their child has high attendance. I want to get a UK perspective now. We are blessed to be joined by former Government advisor in the realms of education. He is a philanthropist, a writer and a teacher based in the United Kingdom. Revered education expert Dr Stephen Curran joins us live on the line. Stephen, thanks so much indeed for your time this morning. 

SC: Good morning Tom …

Tom: … First question to me, and I appreciate that education systems differ in sense in that the majority of children here in the UAE, in Dubai and further afield, are in the private system, the fee-paying system. The majority in the UK will be in the state system, but with the fine system, as it has come in in recent times in the UK, has the fining of parents taking children out of school during term time, has that worked?  

SC: Well, I think in some cases maybe it has deterred some parents. Although there was a case back in 2016 where a parent challenged this in court and actually won because he was imposed with a £60 fine, which was then doubled to £120. I think he had taken his child to Florida, to Disneyland. The difficulty with all of this really is, we have a system where, obviously, you’re supposed to write to the Head Teacher to get permission, and really, it is at the discretion of the head. Now, if the Head then deems that you are missing regularly, they can impose this fine, or they can go down that line. It’s a bit like stick and carrot, isn’t it, really. You have to try to encourage parents not to take their children out because I do agree that children should be there for the whole time. But there are these pressures as you’ve already talked about. The problem with airfares and costs of holidays going up. So there are pressures on the parents as well. Of course, it is easy to impose it perhaps in the state system because, after all, the state is paying for it. But I don’t quite know how parents would react in the UAE if they’re paying for it. I can hear some of the reactions on the line and I’ve heard one or two comments. 

Tom: It’s interesting because a number of the commentators, a number of the parents we have had on the show this morning, they see education as a service that they are paying for here. Because it goes without saying, that they are large fees, the school fees here in the UAE. Does that set a bad precedent, do you think, in terms of the way you are approaching education in the first place? 

SC: It is problematic because in the UK, of course, we do have private schools and they are very successful, many of them. I don’t think that system would operate here, because the parents would be outraged if they were charged for taking their children out because they’re paying fees. It’s hard to know what the feelings would be of parents in the UAE, particularly when they are paying for it. I think they would be very angry. But, in the end, if you become authoritarian, you get reactions don’t you? The most important way is to get people to cooperate. The law is a bad way of forcing people to do things, in the end, because it produces resentment and there are always going to be people who will resist you. If you can persuade people, it’s better. But I do understand the problem. I mean, we’ve had the problem in the UK, and that’s why the Government took action. 

Host: As a professional, you can probably tell us, to what extent is each day from the school calendar missed, to what extent does that damage a child’s education? I mean obviously that’s going to depend on age. Ok, so let’s just say if a child’s over 10, how much does it damage them to miss a few days of school? 

SC: Well, if the school is well organised, and I would imagine that the schools that are involved in the UAE and here if they are very well organised they have a full curriculum for their children. When children miss, they have to catch up. That then affects other children because the teacher has to somehow find a way of sorting that out and making sure that the child is up to speed because they have missed something. It is difficult, I think because you cannot have individually tailored lessons for children that missed school. They’ve got to find a way of catching up themselves and that is very difficult. I run a lot of tuition right now, but I was teaching in schools. When children were absent, it always caused me a problem because, you know, I had to find a way of helping those children to catch up. 

Host: So ultimately if a parent, and I might be one of them in the future, if I take my kids out of school so we can go skiing or something like that, I’m actually being very selfish. 

SC: Well, I wouldn’t say you were being selfish, that’s quite strong. But I do think you have to balance the needs that you have against your child’s needs. Unfortunately, we have the situation, don’t we, where airline companies and all the people in the holiday industry know that they can put their fees up and their charges up every time there is a holiday period. And that is really unfair. In a way, I would like to tackle that, that we didn’t have that problem. Then parents wouldn’t feel so pressured, particularly when money is tight, we do understand that. There are some children who are persistent offenders. Now, they’re the ones you are really after. There are parents who take their children out for the slightest whim. There’s a few of those in every school. The vast majority of parents are very committed and will contact the Head and debate it with the Head Teacher and discuss it. It is done in an amicable and amiable kind of way. Really, what we are after is those few offenders. It’s kind of hard to impose very harsh lines on everybody when in fact there are really only a few that breach those constantly. 

Tom: Interesting you mentioned the economic pressures, because that is something that is mentioned a lot here. Someone earlier using the phrase ‘we are slaves to the airlines as expatriates here’, certainly going into the summer months as well. Is that as much of a pressure over in the United Kingdom in terms of the airlines and the travel agencies cashing in? 

SC: I think it is. I myself travelled to Pakistan last year and when you go at the Easter period, the airlines know that everybody is travelling out, and they just put the fairs up. It is horrible really that they are kind of profiteering from that. I don’t know whether or not that can be tackled at Government level, where parents didn’t feel those pressure. It’s the fact that those parents are suddenly faced with extremely high fees. I remember as a child myself, every year my father and mother used to take my brother and I away at the beginning of September. The schools went back, and they used to get permission, and it was because the holidays were cheaper. They didn’t want to pay those high prices and we weren’t very well off. I never thought about it at the time, but I do remember going back to school and finding it a bit of a struggle to be honest. 

Tom: But a very good time all the same. 

SC: In the end, yes but I did have to catch up, and it was difficult. 

Tom: Stephen, got to leave it there. Really appreciate you getting up nice and early over there in the UK. Thank you very much for taking our call…