There are plenty of good reasons to live and work in the Middle Eastern region as a whole and the United Arab Emirates in particular. Expatriates from all over the globe have been drawn to the UAE in vast numbers over the last decade or so, usually attracted by the high rates of pay that professional people can expect. But, what about the country's services? Chief among these for families that are relocating to the Emirates is the education system. It must be said that although the rate of growth in the Middle East's international schools has been second to none, this does not always equate to the highest quality of education for school-age children in every part of the globe. How does the UAE measure up and how confident can parents be that their relocation will not adversely affect the chances of securing a quality education for their offspring, given the rapid changes in the Emirates' expanding international schools market?
According to the International School Consultancy Group (ISC), which is a research and market intelligence organisation that specialise in international schools across the globe, there is now in excess of 1,300 international schools throughout the Middle East which are English speaking. They claim that all deliver their schooling completely in English. However, they vary greatly. The size, facilities and the favoured curriculum all differ. Furthermore, many of the examinations and learning systems also vary. However, this is usually also reflected in the fees that the schools charge. In the UAE, there are some specifics which can be picked out from the region-wide data. This will be of interest to anyone thinking of relocation to the Dubai area, whether English is their family's first language or not.
UAE – Regional Educational Leader?
It is fair to say that the United Arab Emirates heads the region in terms of its schooling facilities. The UAE boasts well over 400 international schools which is over thirty per cent of the region's total. This reflects the attractiveness of Dubai and the other Emirates to expatriates wanting to settle with their families – not something that every Middle Eastern state could claim. Not only do the international schools attract expatriate students in sufficient numbers to thrive economically, but as they grow in experience so educational standards rise. It is noteworthy just how many Emirati nationals now make up the pupils of such schools - a significant percentage of the children at each school will not be from an overseas family. Indeed, local families from Dubai are opting for international schools for their children in ever increasing numbers. Since there are no limitations placed on the enrolment of local children at international schools in the Emirates, the combined demand is leading to continued and sustained growth in the sector.
As you might expect, the two hotspots for international schools in the UAE are situated close to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Of the seven Emirates, it is Dubai that possesses greatest number of expatriates and, consequently, the largest concentration of international schools. Back in 2010, the government launched a programme called UAE Vision 2021. This scheme was, according to the government, aimed at making the UAE “amongst the premier countries in the world by the Golden Jubilee in 2021.” Although the programme cut across many different aspects of life, governance and culture, one of the priorities was deemed to be the country's education system, which it planned to transform by 2021. Less than a quarter of the way into that programme, the UAE's schools are benefiting from it immensely already.
Studies into the educational attitudes of parents in the UAE are a regular occurrence and inform ongoing educational practices. For instance, the findings of a recent survey confirmed that academic record, access to technology and extracurricular activities outweighed fees in importance to most parents. In other words, all-round schooling is deemed to be of greater importance than the expense or location of a particular school. The UK Govt Education Investment Study also found that, when parents evaluate schools in the Emirates, they regard academic record as the most important factor. Followed by the school's reputation, the third most important factor is the range of subjects taught.
Despite surveys like these, assessing the quality of schooling in the UAE is not an easy task for parents relocating from abroad, particularly when they are required to provide a short list of preferred educational establishments before immigrating. Fortunately, Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) sets strict regulations for the standards of international schools and accreditation for such schools under the authority is mandatory. KHDA makes regular school inspections and posts the results of its findings on its website, helping to inform parental decision making even before they arrive.
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