With reporting by Ankita Menon
Many parents with children enrolled in nurseries here are facing a new headache, following this month’s passage of a stricter law governing how daycare centers are run. Due to new regulations, some children attending nurseries in Qatar are being forced to leave as soon as they turn four years old, several crèche managers have told Doha News.
The stipulation that nurseries are only for kids “below four years of age” was first brought up after 13 kids in a daycare died in the Villaggio fire in May 2012.
Although the rule has technically been applicable for at least two years, nursery managers are saying officials from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MOSA) have been stepping up enforcement only over the past two months.
Speaking to Doha News on the condition of anonymity, a manager at a British nursery called the rule “an absolute nightmare.” She said:
“I’ve had to tell the parents of 11 children who turn four from March onwards that they will have to leave our nursery on their birthdays.
“It’s just been an absolute nightmare, as understandably I’ve had very upset, irate parents on the phone, asking me what they are supposed to do. There are very few school places available half-way through the academic year.”
The manager explained that in the past, children who turned four during the academic year were allowed to remain in the nursery until the end of the term.
“They (the ministry) said that the maximum age should be 3 years 11 months and 30 days, but in the UK, it’s always 3-4, and it has worked. It does work. If they to stay with us, they would remain with us until September, to begin a new year at a new school. “
The newly enforced rule is leaving some parents without child care in the middle of the school year. An Irish mother whose child is due to turn four this spring, told Doha News that she has been struggling to find him alternative schooling.
“How can you take a child out of school in the middle of the school year? I cannot find a place for him in the bigger schools. Due to the fact all of my preferred schools are full, I’m left with no option but to look at the more expensive schools – one is nearly QR50,000 a year – crazy money for a 4-year-old.”
However, not everyone has been affected by the restriction.
One nursery told Doha News that it has yet to dismiss any of its four-year-old pupils, pending further communication from the ministry. Requesting anonymity, the manager said:
“The ministry has asked for all the personal contact details for these children (who turn 4 during the year), which we gave, but only after seeking permission from the parents in writing due to confidentiality. The ministry mentioned that they only wanted to ask these parents if they had a school placement for September. “
Meanwhile, some parents at other nurseries have successfully applied to the ministry for an exception, allowing their children to remain at their nursery until the end of the year.
Fabiola Barrios, manager of Creative Child, told Doha News that she had initially tried to get an exception for all the children turning four in her nursery, but was told this was impossible. However, some of her pupil’s parents were able to obtain exceptions individually:
“The ministry told us that if the parents wanted to discuss this matter with them, they could meet with them in person. So the parents went there and after the meeting they told us they listened to their particular concerns and they gave them permission to stay as long as the nursery will accept them.”
Officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs have not yet responded to requests for comment.
Barrios told us that the age issue is particularly acute for children who turn four in November and December.
“They have it worst since that is in the middle of the year. So what parents do is they buy time. They will apply and be on a waiting list for a school, and will only get the confirmation by January, so until then they try to extend as much they can.”
Under current rules, only primary schools and kindergartens (specialist schools for children aged 3 to 5 years old) are allowed to educate children over the age of four in Qatar.
Last year, the SEC made it compulsory for all Qatari children to begin their education at three, and facilitated this by establishing “kindergarten” sections in state-funded independent schools.
However, there is currently a shortage of suitable kindergartens and pre-schools in Qatar for those who cannot take advantage of the state system. Speaking to Doha News, one nursery manager said:
“There are not enough kindergartens to cope with the overflow. Parents may now be forced to send their children to kindergartens that would not be their first choice, or in their preferred location. Making children leave nurseries is like closing Hamad Hospital and giving the community no other solutions, or very limited ones at that.”
Meanwhile Nadene Shameem, manager of Busy Bees, told us that she has been trying to find alternative schools for the soon-to-be four year olds at her nursery, calling up new schools around Doha asking them if they have any space.
The places she’s finding are not in schools the parents would normally choose to apply to, she added.
School application problem
Nursery owners say that the necessity to leave after the child’s fourth birthday has dissuaded many parents from sending their children to nursery at all. Barrios, of Creative Child nursery, said:
“There used to be huge waiting list for the 4-year-old-age group. But now we have had to cut the age group, and include younger kids just to compensate for the financial implications that set in.”
Not sending children to nursery could put parents at a disadvantage in Qatar, because many private primary schools rely on a report or recommendation from a child’s nursery before agreeing to assess a child for a place. One nursery manager said:
“Many schools feel that a child coming from nursery has had a well-rounded first step into the educational experience.
I don’t agree with this as I feel all children deserve the right to be accepted to school, but unfortunately this is how desperate the situation is for the parents (with the current school place shortage), and nursery is the first step in gaining a placement into the schools of their choice.”
Has your child been affected by this newly enforced rule? Thoughts?