Friday, October 12, 2012

Private schools in Saudi Arabia

The announcement by the Saudi Government's Ministry of Education this week directing all private school teachers to be paid a minimum monthly salary of SR5000 has evoked mixed reactions from the expatriate community.
 
It is still not clear whether this new order applies to International schools or is confined only to private schools in Saudi Arabia. However, education has become such a hot and sensitive topic of discussion among expat community due to a variety of reasons.
 
Readers would recollect my earlier post (click here) on this subject. The fact that teachers in International Schools are underpaid has been well-established. However, this has created a vicious cycle. When you don't pay teachers well, you do not get quality teachers. Afterall, the best apples in the market command the highest price while rotten price gets only rotten apples. When our teachers are not of even acceptable quality, our children suffer. To add to the woes, there are innumerable visa restrictions which hinder direct hiring of good teachers from home countries. This results in school managements ending up hiring spouses of expats working in the kingdom. Nothing wrong with this, but with pressure to fill up vacancies, sometimes minimum eligibility criteria is not followed while selecting the candidates.
 
There is another side to this story. School fees in some of the international schools is already sky high, making it almost impossible for lower-end expats to give their kids quality education. I was speaking to the Principal of an International School recently and he expressed his helplessness. He said that with rising costs all over, it was becoming impossible to maintain and even pay the salaries to staff, particularly with no subsidy from the home country embassies. With the announcement this week by the Ministry of Education, things are going to get more difficult for expats as this additional cost would certainly be passed on to them.
 
So what is the solution? One way would be if the international schools stop behaving like profit centers and instead adopt a no-loss-no-profit strategy. Likewise, expats must also realize that there is no free lunch and the various community organizations must pitch in a bit to salvage the situation.