(MENAFN - Arab News) Delegates attending a conference of owners of international schools have called on Saudi authorities to lease land on a long-term basis for them to construct new community schools with necessary facilities fulfilling safety conditions.
"We request the Saudi government to give us land on long-term lease to build schools with all necessary specifications and facilities. A good infrastructure can solve 50 percent of educational problems," Muhammad Shaffee, principal of the International Indian School in Dammam (IISD), told Arab News.
Shaffee said the government could develop new areas for community schools, adding that these areas would soon become satellite cities. "When I was in Dubai, our school there had the same land problem. The government then allocated a vast area outside the city to build schools," he added.
The land problem is a serious one as it has threatened the existence of some schools in Jeddah. Khurshid Akhtar, chairman of International Indian School Jeddah's managing committee, revealed the IISJ had received a letter from authorities ordering them to vacate the girls' campus after two years when its lease period ends.
"This is a big problem for us. We have asked the Indian Embassy to take up this serious issue with the education and foreign ministries," Akhtar said, adding that the higher board will convene today (March 15) to discuss the issue. The Education Ministry has asked IISJ authorities to discuss the matter with the Jeddah mayor.
Khaled Al-Harthi, director of foreign and international education at the Ministry of Education in Jeddah, assured the school that his ministry with the support of other relevant ministries would find a solution to the problem.
"We have raised this issue with Abdullah Al-Thaqafi, director general of education in Jeddah, and we are trying to solve this problem with the support of the foreign and interior ministries," Al-Harthi told Arab News. He added Education Minister Prince Faisal bin Abdullah is very keen on solving this problem. "His royal highness is an ardent supporter of private and international education."
Al-Harthi said the meeting was the first of its kind bringing together ministry officials and owners of international schools. "There are two categories of international schools, one owned by Saudis and the other run by expatriate communities jointly supervised by foreign embassies and the ministry," he pointed out.
The first day of the conference was for Saudi owners while the second day was dedicated to community schools. "About 400 Saudi investors had expressed their desire to attend sessions of the first day," he said. He said the ministry has licensed nearly 75 community schools across the Kingdom.
"The authorities of these schools have thanked the ministry for organizing this meeting to start a partnership between the two sides," the director said. "Saudi Arabia is keen to provide all support to expatriates who have come to our country to participate in the development process," he added.
The Education Ministry facilitates everything for community schools in the Kingdom, he added.
Al-Harthi indicated some international schools in Jeddah would face closure if they did not fulfill the safety conditions set by the Civil Defense Department. However, he said the ministry would help them overcome the problem.
IISD Principal Shaffee said the conference was fruitful. "Even though the officials could not give us concrete answers to the issues raised, they were at least willing to listen and understand our problems. Moreover, they have assured us they will solve them with the support of other ministries," he said.
Shaffee said the ministry officials were happy with his school and have adopted it as a successful model. "They have brought Saudi principals, teachers, officials and even students to see how we operate. We allow students from Saudi schools to sit with our students," he pointed out. The IISD is the largest community school in the Kingdom with 16,000 students on its roll.
Akhtar of the IISJ said his school was facing problems with transferring the sponsorship of qualified teachers because of the professions written on their iqamas. There are several qualified housewives but they are not allowed to work according to Saudi regulations, he added. He asked ministry authorities to distribute English translations of papers presented at the conference in the future. They should also distribute rules and regulations in English.
He said the IISJ was not facing any visa problem.
"They are giving us visas to recruit teachers. Our school was earlier classified in the red category of Nitaqat and 10 days back they cleared the IISJ and all other schools and we are now in the green zone," he said.
The ministry has instructed international schools to appoint Saudis to teach Arabic language, Akhtar added.