Illegal nursery schools and kindergartens continue to thrive in Qatar despite the authorities keeping a close watch on all such facilities across the country, Gulf Times has found. Acting on a list compiled by “a group representing various licensed kindergartens and nurseries in Qatar” as part of an open letter to the Supreme Education Council’s Private Schools Office director Dr Fozia al-Khater, Gulf Times finds that several of the facilities on the list have been operating as a nursery or kindergarten without a proper licence. During inquiries, it has been discovered that some of the centres have been running as nurseries or kindergarten for years with many of them having up to 70 children attending. These centres have obviously flourished due to the patronage of low-income families, who could ill-afford the licensed ones. While some charge as low as QR300 per child for a maximum of four hours daily, others charge between QR800-1,200 per child depending on the number of hours, which could range from six to ten. Fees being charged by the licensed nurseries and kindergartens start from QR1,500 and may go up to QR5,000 per child while some also charge around QR1,000 as registration fees. Some of the illegal centres that claim to be playgroups are operating in villas, either rented or part of the operators’ residence, which is clearly against the SEC rules on school buildings. A number of the nursery officials who agreed to speak to Gulf Times admitted that they were not licensed by the SEC but they claimed to have permits that allow them to operate as education centres. When asked why they have not sought proper licences for their operations, some said the process of obtaining one was too rigorous and cumbersome while some claimed ignorance, saying they did not know where to obtain the licence. An operator of an illegal nursery for children aged from two and a half to five years said she had been running the centre in a villa without a licence for close to 15 years. “There has not been any cause for alarm from any of the parents because I have ensured safety of the children being left in my care. I have been looking after children well and we have had no bad experience with either our students or parents whatsoever and in fact we have recently bolstered our fire and safety precautions ,” the playgroup owner said. The school, which operates between 8am-12 noon, is charging a flat rate of QR300 per child and has up to 40 children with four staff catering to them. However, the publication of the list in Gulf Times and in another newspaper has already started taking its toll with two of the centres Gulf Times contacted saying they would be closing down soon.“Due to some reasons I will not like to disclose, the centre is closing down by the end of this month and we have already notified all parties concerned,” a spokesperson of one of the centres said. The facility, which was originally licensed as an education centre offering after-school courses to students but started running a nursery for children aged three years and above, has about 30 students .“We have already stopped running our KG programmes and right now our focus is on the older students. We offer tuition for them in mathematics, English, social studies, computer as well as arts and crafts,” a centre representative claimed. However, a nursery operator, whom the group claimed runs an illegal kindergarten, was surprised to find the name of her school on the list, saying: “This information is definitely incorrect as we do not have a KG section at all.” The safety aspect at nurseries has come into the fore after 13 children died in a devastating fire at the upscale Villaggio mall in Doha on May 28.