Pre-school pressure in the UAE

Meet the nursery heads responding to an overwhelming choice, in a tougher economy, for early years’ childcare

The first years of education are a critical time for preparing a child for their future, according to experts. Yet there’s no escaping the expense of the decision to start this education before the mandatory age of five, and how tough the burden of financial commitment can be in a globally un certain jobs market. This is exactly why two Abu Dhabi nurseries are among the first to offer a flexible, more affordable approach.

Julie Gibson, a mum-of-three and former employee of Blooming Minds nursery, explains: “I am from Scotland, where there is nowhere near the commitment level required from parents when joining nurseries, and nothing like the lack of flexibility offered in return here.

“When I thought about my own situation as a parent – neither my husband nor I has access to an employee ‘package’ and if I wasn’t working then nursery would not be financially possible for us because most require three months’ up-front term fees and charge a multitude of add-ons.”

After having countless requests over the years from expat mums who are alone, without family, and don’t want to sign up for a whole term, Gibson was inspired. “The economy is tough enough right now, so being tied in can feel really daunting, which is why we launched the Flexipass.”

Blooming Mind’s Flexipass offers an opportunity for nursery care on a pay-as-you-go basis. The nursery charges a one-off Dhs250 fee, which is 50 percent of their normal registration, and this is redeemable from the full registration fee required should parents then choose to move to full-time attendance. Parents can buy as many as they wish, as they expire a generous three months after purchase. And they can be used during holiday camps, too, thereby avoiding another big, common ‘add-on’.

The Windsor Nursery, which follows the British curriculum, is also ahead of the game, with the introduction of a corporate advantage programme. It offers discounted fees to parents working at a range of well-known employers in the city. “One of our key focuses,” co-founder Monica Chauhan explains, “is the dual working parent. The nursery day runs from 7am to 6pm, so working parents have enough time to drop off and pick up without too much interruption. The Windsor Corporate Advantage Programme provides employers such as Mubadala, Cleveland Clinic and Etihad Airways with a way to further support their employees.”

The programme offers corporate discounts of up to 17.5 percent on a five-day, full-time care package. The nursery is also in talks with other local employers to further spread the financial benefit.

“I can see why nurseries try to be as large as possible – to share the many costs that such regulated operations incur across many children,” admits Chauhan. “But, at The Windsor, we are aiming to be different.

“We are a boutique nursery – small, independent and absolutely focused on developing a child’s confidence, independence and a thirst for learning that stays with them for the rest of their lives. But we cannot do this on a large scale, as tailored care and development is an individual thing.”

These nurseries are also proving that by differentiating yourself and offering good value and flexibility, you can also build loyalty from parents in a crowded market.

“New nurseries are popping up every week, but while competition provides choice it can also dilute the value,” Chauhan explains. “We really get to know all our children and their families and because we are not high-volume, we can take the time to understand the child’s environment at home as well as at the nursery, and deliver care and education with that in mind.

“I am confident at Blooming Minds we offer a safe, nurturing environment for children to play and grow and be healthy, but we have to respond to our parents’ needs and I feel this is exactly what the Flexipass is doing.”

Sounds like more power to the parents. And isn’t it about time?
The Windsor Nursery, (02 557 9295). Blooming Minds Nursery, (02 445 3411).

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