Education International and the Global Campaign for Education condemn GEMS Metropole School's stance on education during the COVID-19 pandemic

published 3 August 2020 updated 12 August 2020

GEMS Metropole School threatened parents with withholding students’ report cards and transfer slips unless school fees were paid. Education International and the Global Campaign for education call on the United Arab Emirates to not tolerate extortionary manoeuvres against children in private schools.

The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) and Education International (EI) have learnt of the allegations made by over 15,000 parents calling for GEMS Metropole School to provide a 30% discount for the third term, during which students stayed at home ‘e-learning’ instead of in classrooms. In April, GEMS said it would offer parents a reduction in fees, but only after they handed over details of their financial situation, including their bank statements for the last 3 years.

In a letter sent to parents, GEMS Metropole School said students whose parents do not pay re-enrollment fees before Monday 15 June will lose their child’s seat for September 2020. “If the outstanding balance is not paid, however, the school will withhold report cards and transfer slips, preventing students from enrolling in another school”, the school said.

The GCE and EI have repeatedly shown how growing privatisation and commodification of education is impacting on progress towards achieving the right to education for all. This concern goes beyond the operation of individual private schools (which may range from excellent to appalling), and focuses primarily on whether privatization trends are helping – or hindering – movement towards making a good quality, free education available to ALL children. We recognize the reality that private education is a significant part of the education sector in many countries. Nevertheless, the expansion of for-profit and fee-paying education is contributing to increased inequality and exclusion in education systems, while diverting much-needed funds from public sector approaches that could reach goals of universality, equity and quality.

We sadly observe how many families are now hostages of a transnational company that profits from education and far from being supportive in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it takes advantage of financial limitations to even prohibit the return to school of children.

This business model is only one of the risks associated with the expansion of educational marketing. Obviously, the solution is not to prohibit the operations of these private companies, but to get the State to establish rigorous controls on profits and on these extortionary maneuvers against children. The final solution, however, must be found in the strengthening of quality public education systems that are accessible to all.

The GCE and EI deeply regret GEMS’ mercantile voracity and its lack of sensitivity to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 and its tragic human effects, and calls on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government not to tolerate children paying the consequences of this abuse. Debt collection should in no way limit the right to education and it is unacceptable to allow a private provider to prevent the transfer of students to other schools. The hostility of GEMS Metropole School seriously contradicts the principles established by the international human rights law, hinders the educational outcomes of their students, deteriorates relations in the education community and questions the credibility of this corporation.

The GCE and EI call on the UAE to guarantee the right to education of the affected students at the GEMS Metropole School and to initiate an investigation into these events.