JEDDAH: Marwa Haddad
Published — Monday 4 February 2013
Last update 4 February 2013 7:33 pm
About 13 private schools in Jeddah laid off staff and students after experiencing significant financial hardships following the decision by the Ministry of Labor to raise minimum wage for Saudis teachers, school officials said.
The closure of private schools will increase public education costs on the government.
“Private schools save the government SR12 billion annually, given the fact one public education pupil costs the government about SR 20,000 a year,” said Othman Al-Qasabi, chairman of the committee for private schools at Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The Saudization quota required from girls’ schools by the Ministry of Labor led to difficulties and hardships for these schools that had to raise their fees by 50 percent, which was rejected by many parents who drew their offspring out.
Private school Principal Al Zahra Girls’ School Buthaina Al-Ghamdi said the minimum wage decision has affected the school in terms of having to bear higher expenses, but not to the extent of closing it.
She said the school did not approve any increase in fees paid by pupils, adding that Saudi teachers needed training on the new developed curriculum.
Pupils of a closed private school would turn to public schools and that means more costs for the government and would also affect the quality of education in terms of having overcrowded classrooms.
“With the increase in the salaries of teachers it is not feasible for private schools that charge a pupil SR 8,000 or less a year to stay open,” Al-Qasabi said. “And with the fact most parents won’t pay more than SR 10, 000, the schools (the ones charging less than SR 8, 000) would close and their pupils would turn to public ones.”
Al-Qasabi, however, believes that increasing teachers’ salaries was a necessity, stressing the importance of incentives and motivation for teachers. Incentives play a major role in the educational process.
He said adding private schools teachers’ salaries are the lowest in Saudi Arabia relative to other jobs. He also called on the government to financially support private schools’ pupils in a way that expands the market, improves quality and reduces costs for the government.
It was reported the National Committee for Private Schools recorded a number of withdrawals from private schools as parents could not afford increased fees and preferred to enroll their children at public schools. Most of the closed schools are girls’.
“Most private schools owners are unable to bear the increase in salary,” said Farida Farsi, chairwoman of the committee for girls’ private schools at Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “They are small investors who rent residential buildings (villas) and opened private schools at their neighborhoods as a result of the Ministry of Education’s failure to accommodate all of a neighborhood’s pupils in its (the neighborhood’s) government schools.”
However, schools only have to pay SR 3, 100 of the SR 5,000 minimum wage as the remaining SR 2,500 is paid by the government’s Human Resources Fund.
“Many schools cannot afford the portion they have to pay, which is added to increased costs that are the result of stricter Civil Defense requirements of equipment and systems. The bankruptcy is due to several reasons not only the minimum wage decision. Some owners may have found it is the best solution.”
Malek bin Taleb, head of the national private schools committee, said the majority of private schools for girl closed their doors, while some others for boys will follow.
“Most of these schools will permanently leave the sector in the wake of the decision and the ensued regulations and instructions,” he added.
He said that more private schools will follow, given the Ministry of Education’s committee on increasing fees of private schools’ refrainment from listening to demands by the committee, stressing that the problem seems more explicit at girl’s school, where the required Saudization quota is close to 100 percent compared to boys’ schools.