Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1410, (20 - 26 September 2018)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1410, (20 - 26 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Escaping the school-fee trap

How can Egyptian parents better manage their budgets to pay their children’s school fees, asks Ameera Fouad

Escaping the school-fee trap
Escaping the school-fee trap

From school uniforms and supplies to the tuition fees that can come to many thousand Egyptian pounds, parents in Egypt are finding it more and more difficult to meet the costs of educating their children. Some pay in US dollars while others pay in euros, pounds sterling, or in the Egyptian pounds that have lost much of their value over the last two years. How are parents managing their budgets to pay for private and international school fees?

It is a challenge for many families in Egypt. Each September, this year after many families will have made major outlays paying for purchases for the Eid Al-Kabir, the Feast of the Sacrifice, the problem re-emerges of how to find the money to pay school fees. What has made matters worse is the fact that many schools are raising their fees apparently without any control from the government. 

Every year, the government says it “will make sure there are no rises in school fees, and every year the rises come all the same. This year we just cannot afford it,” commented Mohamed Mustafa, an accountant who works in a bank in Borg Al-Arab. Though Mustafa is in a managerial position and has a payment plan to pay for his son’s school fees, he was still shocked to find that his son’s international school fees had doubled this year. 

“The school sent us a letter last month to notify us of the increase in the fees,” he said.

Mustafa referred to a Ministry of Education announcement a few months ago that schools should only put up their fees by seven per cent over last year. The announcement, made in the official newspaper, came after complaints that the government was not doing enough to control the fees charged by private and international school in Egypt and was allowing them to “abuse parents,” as Mustafa put it.  

Mustafa sought a loan from his son’s grandparents to pay the fees, even though this was a “last-minute necessity” and it scarcely solves the problem in the longer term.

The rises in private school fees come against a background of a crisis in the state education sector, with Egypt’s schools now ranking 111 worldwide in a recent Global Competitiveness report. However, the statistics do not really measure the extent of the problem, as the quality of public education in Egypt has been falling for decades.

According to the Out-of-School Children Initiative (OOSCI), a UN-backed research programme, there are around 51,000 state schools and at least 8,000 private schools in Egypt, including international ones. As a result, the private sector educates around eight per cent of students. But who is suffering most? 

“Actually, everyone is suffering from the problems of the education system, whether public or private,” answers Dalia Ahmed, a science teacher and head of secondary education at a private school in Cairo. “Parents sending their children to state schools are suffering because of the private lessons they need to pay for and the poor education in the schools, and private and international schools are increasing their fees every year even as teachers are continually underpaid,” she said.

“The blame is always put on teachers who are forced into giving private lessons to make ends meet, not on the schools which are financially abusing the teachers, the parents, the kids and the whole society,” she added. 

The country’s new cities in particular suffer from a lack of educational choices for parents. “All the schools nearby are demanding almost unimaginable school fees,” said Yasmine Ahmed, a parent living near the new city of Tagammu Al-Khamis who has been trying to find a good international school for her four-year-old daughter. 

Ahmed, a graduate of the Deutsche Schule der Borromäerinnen (DSB) in Cairo, has been looking for the best school she can afford for her daughter, but there seem to be none nearby. “Every parent wants their children to receive a good education in a good social setting. In the past, there were fewer problems in arranging this. Today, there are huge problems relating to the location of the schools, money, private lessons, and so on,” she said.

The parents are to blame to an extent, she added, since they simply pay whatever the international and private schools demand. “Education is like any other commodity — the price is an effect of supply and demand. If we as parents refuse to pay the outrageous fees, these schools will have to reconsider as there will be less demand for their services,” she noted. 

 “It is a case of appearance and reality,” said Mona Ahmed, a mother of three who has placed her three daughters at the Nasr Girls College in Alexandria. “While we are all looking at appearances and considering the brand names of the schools, we forget what is really important, which is the quality of the education. My husband and I decided to forgo appearances and to send our daughters to the same schools we went to when we were children,” she said.

They concluded that they would rather save their money for their children’s university education. 

In some countries, financial firms help parents pay school fees, but in Egypt parents do not usually seek expert financial help. “Loans are by far the worst way to pay school fees at the moment,” Mohamed Owais, a financial expert, told Al-Ahram Weekly. To ease the financial burden on parents, Owais suggested looking at inflation rates and the value of the Egyptian pound. “Try to invest your money in commodities, not cash,” he added, saying that gold and bonds are safer alternatives to real estate and bank deposits. 

“A saving plan can help pay for school fees, and parents should work together to make sure they manage their budget,” he added. Parents should ask themselves as early as possible how they intend to pay for their children’s education, and what kind of additional funds they can expect to find to do so.

However, it is also important not to feel trapped and not to suffocate the rest of the family in order to pay school fees. It is also important to find money for travel, sports, and social and cultural activities for children, as well as for their classroom education. And then there is the problem of how to pay for university, he concluded.

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