With almost 80% of the UAE’s population made up of expatriates, it’s home to a melting pot of nationalities, ethnicities, and traditions. Catering to this wide range of people, there are also many types of schooling systems. It’s understandable, therefore, that parents who are new to the UAE may be confused about how to navigate school systems and the government-issued ratings that direct enrolment decisions.
Here’s an overview of schooling in the UAE:
Schooling in the UAE is mandatory for all kids aged 6 to 18. It is overseen by the Ministry of Education (MoE), and additional local governing bodies in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. The local bodies involved are:
Abu Dhabi: Department of Education and Knowledge
Dubai: Dubai Education Council and Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA)
Sharjah: Sharjah Private Education Authority
When making a decision on what to consider when schooling kids in the UAE, here are some things to keep in mind:
Types of Educational Systems
The UAE educational system is divided into three broad categories: public schools, private schools, and higher educational institutions. Public schooling is free for Emiratis, whilst all other nationalities pay fees, whether they attend public or private schools. Most public schools in the UAE are segregated through primary, whilst all are segregated through secondary. Even recess timings are staggered so that boys and girls do not intermingle – this is a requirement by law.
Public schools follow the Arabic curriculum, whilst private schools follow one of 15 curricula. About 90% of the graduating student body study the UK, US, Indian or the Ministry of Education curricula; however, an increasing number of schools are beginning to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB), French, Canadian, German and Japanese curricula as well.
In addition to the UAE’s public holidays, private international schools in the UAE largely follow a Western calendar, aligning their holidays with the country whose curriculum they offer. For example, British schools follow the national curriculum of the UK, and follow the same schedule for winter, summer and half-term breaks.
Most Western expats prefer private schools, usually choosing a school system from their home country. The majority of private schools in the UAE follow the British curriculum, with the American, French, German, Indian, Pakistani and Filipino systems also remaining hugely popular.
In addition to these course offerings, private schools must also offer core programs, such as Islamic education (for Muslim expatriates), social studies, and Arabic as a second language, which are compulsory for all students.
According to a 2017 HSBC study, schooling in the UAE is one of the most expensive in the world. All expatriates need to pay school fees, which most often increase with every progressive academic year. However, some emirates, like Dubai, have introduced an annual tuition cap that fixes the tuition rates for a certain number of years, or caps it at a fixed percentage increase.
Schooling in the UAE, especially in Dubai, follows a system of ratings issued by the governmental educational body. These ratings, initiated from 2008 onwards, are issued after a detailed inspection process and measure an institution across six performance areas: students’ achievement; students’ personal and social development and innovation skills; teaching and assessment; curriculum; the protection, care, guidance, and support issued to the students; and lastly, the leadership and management at the school.
Valued together, the school is issued a result ranging from outstanding, very good, good, acceptable, weak to very weak. While reaching the ‘outstanding’ rating is more a journey than a straight-out jump, it needs to be said that most schools rated from good to outstanding provide the best quality education, along with a healthy balance of extracurricular activities.
Since most schools in the UAE offer a good level of academic education, expatriates end up considering an institution according to the academic system it follows, in addition to its proximity and fee structure, when making a decision to enroll.