DUBAI: Hundreds of students with financial constraints, a majority of them Pakistanis, are waiting in line for enrollment in Dubai’s Hope Academy since it opened its doors just over a month ago.
Over 250 children-- from kindergarten level to the 8th grade-- are currently studying at the affordable, community-based school, in a country where school fees are otherwise considered the second highest in the world, according to a 2017 HSBC study.
“These are children of those people living in the UAE who cannot afford to send their children to regular schools,” Omar Farooqui, President of Coded Minds, told Arab News, and added: “It is as if a ghost population has come to the fore.”
Coded Minds is a Dubai-based global iSTEAM and leadership education company and has founded Hope Academy.
“Hope Academy is a movement,” Farooqui continued. “It was an idea that came from behind a table where we discussed how we could bring quality STEM education to the masses.”
“We are expanding to other emirates including Abu Dhabi and Ajman to accommodate 500 other children by January,” he said.
Statistics gathered by the academy show that 29.94 percent of the children seeking admission belongs to Pakistan, followed by 11.65 percent Syrians and Indians-- from a total of 45 different nationalities.
“These are the children of people who have not regularized their status in the UAE or cannot afford school fees, widowers, single parents and many others with unfortunate circumstances,” Farooqui said.
“But we didn’t realize that there was this huge number,” he added.
He said that there were families with multiple children who had never been to school.
The academy charges $286 per year and teaches core subjects -Science, Technology, English and Maths.
The academy will also be partnering with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the future and offer its services to the children of 8,000 refugee families in the country, Farooqui said.
Teachers are hired full-time, with a whopping 70 percent of them, women. Since many of the children have never been to regular schools, the academy carries out an assessment of their educational readiness and adjusts them in classes accordingly.
For Ishaq Ahmed who is from Swabi in northwest Pakistan, the opportunity is a Godsend. Ironically, Ahmed is a school driver but he cannot afford to send his five-year-old son to the school where he works.
“I am so happy I got to know about this academy and now my son is a part of it,” Ahmed said.
This is the first time his son has been to school.
“Whenever I get the time in between work, I go and check on my child. My heart fills with pride on seeing him sit in class and learn,” he said.
Earlier this year, the Pakistan Association Dubai (PAD) became the first welfare association in the UAE to join hands with Hope Academy, followed by the Pakistan Social Centre Sharjah.
Rizwan Fancy, Director for Welfare at PAD said: “There are a large number of Pakistani children in the UAE who cannot continue their education because of financial problems. Such initiatives will help lots of families who are desperate for an opportunity to send their children back to the classroom.”