Months after Qatar introduced a stricter law governing nurseries, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) has warned daycare managers about fee increases during the coming school year.
The instructions came in a letter sent to all nurseries earlier this month. However, some managers told Doha News that they are going ahead with planned fee increases because they interpreted the letter as a request – and not a directive.
Many managers said they are raising fees because of increased costs due to the Nursery Law No. 1 of 2014, which requires daycares to have a qualified nutritionist, nurse, supervisor and manager on board, among other things.
Any nursery that operates without a valid license can be fined up to QR100,000, and its owner could face a jail term of up to two years.
However, in an email to Doha News, a MOLSA representative said that nurseries needed a “real and convincing reason” for raising tuition, such as an expensive curriculum. The cost of hiring a doctor or nutritionist is not being accepted as a reason, she added.
Children over the age of four years old are also now no longer allowed to attend nursery, according to the recent legislation.
This has caused problems for some childcare establishments that have seen their numbers drop since the six-month grace period for enforcing this provision ended just before the summer break.
One manager said:
“I used to have two, full classes of three-year olds. Now I only have one and for the first time, we have introduced a baby room as a way of trying to increase our numbers.”
The older children who previously would attend nursery are now more likely to register with a kindergarten, which is allowed to take children up to five years old, she said.
Fee increases have had a knock-on effect with parents, many of whom cannot afford fees of up to QR3,000 a month demanded by licensed nurseries, and there are reports of a rising number of “underground” childcare establishments being set up.
These are unregulated and the owners take the risk of legal action in order to meet the needs of parents who are priced out of official child care, the Peninsula reports.
MOLSA’s attempt to cap fees on nurseries could be a response to complaints by parents over the rising cost of childcare, and to stop the spread of the illegal establishments.
But nursery managers said the increased financial burden of meeting new requirements gives them no option but to raise their fees, or to introduce administration or registration fees as a means of covering their rising costs.
In addition to the new legislation, MOLSA has also recently made several other requests/directives, including outfitting their facilities with CCTV.
During spot-checks over the summer, some nurseries were also told that children are no longer allowed to eat their lunch or snacks in their classroom, and that a dedicated lunch room should be built.
However, the requirement does not appear to apply to all nurseries, with some managers saying it was only a suggestion.
Speaking to Doha News, the manager of a popular and well-established nursery in Doha said that building a new lunch room would cost her up to QR100,000. She added: “I am lucky in that I have the space for one, but lots of other nurseries don’t.”
The manager said she was surprised after receiving the letter about fee restrictions earlier this month, as she had been given permission by the ministry earlier in the year to double the rates.
She said she decided to increase tuition by 10 percent and plans to keep this raise in place, interpreting the ministry’s letter as a request rather than an order. She added:
“We have so many costs, particularly with the new lunch room. Where is this money coming from if we can’t increase our fees? If they enforce this ruling on the fees, then we might have to close down…
Another nursery owner said that during an inspection earlier this week, her staff were told that the lunch room was a suggestion but was not a necessity.
“We have no room for a lunchroom, so I am not going to build one. We have huge class rooms with lots of space for the children and a beautiful library, which I won’t compromise…
They don’t ask us if our staff are all first-aid trained, which they are, or if we have regular fire drills, which we do. Instead, they want us to have lunch rooms.”
The ministry have previously been a source of ire for many nursery managers, who say they often receive unclear advice or observe inconsistent enforcement of regulations.
Earlier this year for example, all nurseries were informed they were no longer allowed to undertake water play activities.
However, the decision caused confusion among nursery managers over which water activities were permissible and the advice given to individual nurseries by MOLSA inspectors was not uniform.
Note: This article was edited to correctly reflect nurseries charging fees of up to QR3,000 a month, not per term.