They say they greatest gift you can give a child is an education. It empowers them with the knowledge and tools to build a life for themselves, and in the words of Nelson Mandela it is the most powerful weapon one can use to change the world. I believe that the priority of any school or university is to provide that education to our children, to be a platform of development, creativity, and thought that prepares them for the future.

But what happens when schools have a different priority above and beyond providing our children with the best education possible? What if something else mattered more? The founder of GEMS schools which is the largest operator of private kindergarten-to-grade-12 schools in the world, with schools across the United Arab Emirates, is quoted in Arabian Business as saying “If you put your children in a school that you can’t afford then you can’t grumble. You understand what I’m saying? You must choose a school that you can afford.”

https://twitter.com/RwaLovesClouds/status/625577245973704705

What’s funny about that quote is that with the prices of primary and secondary education in the UAE today all parents can do is grumble, because there isn’t really many options when it comes to affordable private education. At several private schools across the UAE Kindergarten can be as high as 55,000 dirhams with students in their final year of high school (Grade 12) paying as much as 95,000 dirhams.

To put those prices into perspective the 2015/2016 fees’s for an EU student at Oxford’s computer science program is 51,300 dirhams, and international student would cost about 124,000 dirhams. To study architecture at Columbia University in New York would cost around 63,000 dirhams. One year at Stanford University’s MBA program would cost approximately 76,000 dirhams. You get the picture?

Now there are obviously a lot more expensive universities throughout the world, and there are cheaper ones as well. The fact that prices of private kindergarten in the UAE for my sons are in the same conversation as the tuition at Oxford or Stanford scares me. Now I agree market dynamics are in play here, demand outstrips supply; the never-ending waiting list proves it. Some schools have even moved to a ballot system due to such a high number they simply pull a name out of a box and parents simply pray they get lucky. But there does come a point when even paying for the best becomes too much.

Schools owners and business leaders might think it is simply parents complaining and being tight on their expenses, but in reality it is the children who pay the ultimate price. They either have to settle for a sub par education, parents who are constantly stressed with ever growing costs that are yet to see a limit, or even being home schooled and never getting to experience life as a real student, making lifelong friends, supporting their school’s sports team, and being part of a wider community.

I feel authorities need to have stricter regulation with regards to the fees and “additional” expenses the private education sector are charging families. For those who talk about an alternative in the public sector unfortunately for the expat community it is hard to access. I was actually lucky enough to speak to a private school owner who charges almost half the market price and mentioned that the school was very profitable. The reason I asked why schools would charge that much, her response was simply “pure greed”.

When all is said and done the education sector is critical to the futures of our children, the level of education they can have today essentially dictates their lives tomorrow. When excess profits by school owners becomes a priority over the betterment of our youth and society then I think there might be an issue. By no means am I saying that schools should start offering their services for free, at the end of the day they are running a business.

At the rates private schools are charging we are not asking them to do anything other be a little more reasonable. To look at the people and children around them, and the lives they impact. To understand the struggle that many parents have to endure to give their kids world-class education, rather than be the reason they are struggling in the first place.