Gift of time and ed­u­ca­tion is bet­ter than hand­ing out cash

The National - News - - BUSINESS - NIMA ABU WARDEH Nima Abu Wardeh is a broad­cast jour­nal­ist, colum­nist and blog­ger. Share her jour­ney on find­ing-nima.com

What would an 18-year-old do with Dh665,186? I’m sure a fair few op­tions would have you shak­ing your head. We just know that a huge chunk – if not all – would prob­a­bly be frivolously frit­tered away. Gone. Poof. Just like that.

Now imag­ine it’s your money, and that the teen is your child – how do you feel about it now? Still the same level of dis­con­nect?

That is a lot of money to hand over to any­one, let alone some­one who is yet to work out the value of things, what they want from life and how they will live that life.

The sum quoted is the amount ac­cu­mu­lated should you start with zero, and save Dh50,000 ev­ery year for a decade, with in­ter­est at an as­sumed 5 per cent that com­pounds daily. It’s my sim­pli­fied cal­cu­la­tion of what else you could be do­ing with your money, be­sides pay­ing for the ed­u­ca­tion of your chil­dren. With the cost of school fees in the UAE com­ing in as the sec­ond most ex­pen­sive in the world, ac­cord­ing to an HSBC study out last year, and school­ing last­ing more than 10 years, I am be­ing con­ser­va­tive. Of course you need to mul­ti­ply this by the num­ber of chil­dren you have to get a bet­ter in­di­ca­tor of how much you’re spend­ing.

I used to say, if you are lucky enough to have a choice, save money in lieu of ed­u­ca­tion spend, and gift it to your child to start out their life with op­tions. How­ever, I am no longer of this opin­ion.

And it’s not for the rea­sons cited by most.

Two fam­i­lies I know moved home from the UAE. They now have the op­tion of send­ing their chil­dren to school for free – as ex­pa­tri­ates have to pay for ed­u­ca­tion in the Emi­rates - but they have cho­sen to con­tinue pay­ing. Their rea­son­ing is a more tra­di­tional one – they want to pro­vide their chil­dren with the “best” pos­si­ble chance at achiev­ing aca­demic ex­cel­lence.

We spoke of the cost, not only of the fees, but also hous­ing and liv­ing in the more “de­sir­able” neigh­bour­hoods they had short­listed. “At least you get to keep the house” I’d said, in re­sponse to them shar­ing their bud­gets – the idea be­ing that, should they spend zero on school, they could have the place of their dreams, and stand a chance of re­coup­ing that money if they sell later on as op­posed to the money dis­ap­pear­ing on school­ing, that would not be re­cov­ered in a di­rect, tan­gi­ble sense.

These fam­i­lies epit­o­mise the think­ing of most peo­ple I come across. It’s about win­ning, be­ing bet­ter, hav­ing ca­reers that bring in the bucks.

It is far re­moved from why I say you should spend on your child.

The more I learn, re­flect, ob­serve, the more I re­alise that what sets us on our path in life – our be­haviours, trig­gers, choices – is what we are ex­posed to and how we live as young chil­dren. So, here is how I would ap­por­tion and pri­ori­tise spend on my child’s ed­u­ca­tion, if I had the chance to start over again:

Save and take time off work from the birth until they are at least 2 years old. Have a great fund to dip into. And then ideally work part­time until they go to school.

Start school as late as pos­si­ble, and def­i­nitely not be­fore 7. The Univer­sity of Stan­ford found that hold­ing chil­dren back a year, and/ or start­ing later – at the age of 7 – boosts their con­cen­tra­tion and grades.

Find a school that fo­cuses on play and ex­plo­ration. You might think it is worth­less spend­ing on this, but in fact re­search finds that be­ing al­lowed to play longer, rather than be­ing taught for­mally, im­proves men­tal health.

Stick with a school that doesn’t force a choice be­tween the arts and sci­ences, is not league-ta­ble driven, and has a great sense of so­cial con­tract and in­ter­ac­tion. The aim here is to in­stil the joy of learn­ing, ex­plor­ing, dis­cov­ery and gov­ern­ing one’s self.

Of course I want my child to ful­fill his po­ten­tial, to achieve what he is ca­pa­ble of. Of course I wish for my child to be a pro­duc­tive mem­ber of so­ci­ety, fi­nan­cially able and a per­son who strives for bet­ter­ment, else I’ll have deemed my par­ent­ing lack­ing.

But the pri­or­ity is to find the right en­vi­ron­ment to nur­ture and help them on their jour­ney to find­ing out who and what they are.

If a free school can en­able my child to achieve that, then great, I have won the lot­tery. Sadly I am yet to find a school that of­fers this. So, this means it is up to us par­ents to seek out these en­vi­ron­ments/ schools and – un­for­tu­nately – pay through the nose. Ul­ti­mately, if we want what is best for our chil­dren, it’s about the in­vest­ment we make in their younger years – that is where the spend and fo­cus needs to be.

Un­for­tu­nately, this also means we have to fork out a for­tune to give them our time and the best ed­u­ca­tion we can but that is bet­ter than giv­ing an 18-year-old over half a mil­lion dirhams. Af­ter all, what would they spend it on? Prob­a­bly, any­thing they fancy

So, rather than giv­ing them the money, spend it on who they will be­come.

Gary Cle­ment

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