Schooling and school selection is one of the most contentious and polarizing topics discussed by parents and educators in Dubai. There are approximately one hundred and forty private schools in Dubai providing education for over eighty thousand children. Schools offer a range of curricular from English (not British), American, Indian, French, Pakistani, Australian and several more. Unfortunately for the majority of parents, schools are over-subscribed and waiting lists are common occurrence.
So, if you’re choosing a school in Dubai, what sort of things should you be considering and how do you really know if the school you have signed up for is worth the money you are planning to pay?
Well, there’s an earth of things to consider such as the geographical location, curriculum and inspection results, all outlined in the following article by my good friend, Kevin Simpson. However, there are other factors at play that most parents aren’t privy to, so let’s navigate through the topic with some important ones:
Profit vs. not-for-profit
Have you checked to see if you are sending your child to a profit or not-for profit school? This might not seem like a massive consideration but think about this: if a school is a profit making school, they will have to cut corners at some point to err….make a profit. That’s what profit-making schools do. For example, it costs anywhere between $600 and $3000 dollars to advertise teaching posts in the biggest talent pools. If you’re a business and you’re looking to make money, are you really going to spend that much on advertising for a number of teaching posts? Well, in actual fact, not many are. If you check the TES website and a random sample of school websites, you’ll see which schools are spending money on recruitment and the ones that aren’t.
Another way to cut costs is to slash the staff training budget. Are the teachers from your school staying up-to-date with 21st century teaching practices? How would you actually know that? There’s a perception out there that once you’re a trained teacher, then you’re good for the next 30 years. Think again. The best schools invest resources into their staff so that they can design the very best learning for their students. How will you know if your school has received best possible training?
Not-for-profit schools have to put the money back into the schools, so therefore, teachers’ salaries tend to be higher, money spent on students tends be bigger and staff training tends to be better. A shining example of this is Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS). They are a not-for-profit school that is recognized for its achievements and they get the very best training from around the world. Shame about the waiting list….
What does it mean to be an accredited school? Across Dubai, you have schools claiming to “British” or “American” but are they really? First of all, there is no such thing as a British Curriculum. There is, however, an English National Curriculum and schools that are accredited by the Department for Education in the UK receive an official number. Once they’ve got that number they’re accredited to offer an English-style education. The very-best schools usually apply to multiple accrediting organizations to ensure the education they are offering meets a certain standard. For example, Dubai College is accredited by the Council of British International Schools, the British Overseas Inspectorate, the British Schools in the Middle East Association and the Royal School of Music. If you’re wondering if your chosen school has been accredited, check to see how many logos are on the school website and if the school has a dedicated accreditation page. If they’re not accredited, they’re just saying they are certain brand (British?, American) something but they don’t actually have any benchmarking to prove it.
If you’re not sure what this means, hold a sign above your house saying “Doctors’ Surgery” and start asking people to come in for random operations. If there were very few surgeries in your local area, people will start to come in and believe that you are a real organization. You could probably imitate the basics such as checking on someone etc but imagine what would happen if you had to actually diagnose someone with Asthma. It’s the same principle for learners, schools can imitate a lot, they can cover over the cracks, but when it comes to real learning, they’re not always up-to-standard or able to facilitate it, and that’s why I would be looking to see if a school has been accredited.
“Outstanding” vs. “Good” vs. “Acceptable”
Every school in Dubai has been inspected. The inspections focus on eight key areas of schooling ranging from health and safety to leadership and management. Obviously the quality of teaching and learning is the priority and if you’re sending your child to a school that is just ‘acceptable’ then you should start asking questions. Check out the KHDA website for individual inspection reports.
The education landscape in Dubai is a complex one as the private sector vastly outweighs the public one. Due to this unusual disparity, high-quality education is a rarity and families are often forced to look beyond the UAE to cater to their needs. So, briefly, let’s consider some of the possible solutions to this issue:
Public system relieving private one?
Can the public sector relieve the private one? At this stage, the public school system would not be able to provide the international-type of education that parents in the UAE want.
Imagine if all private schools had to accommodate their local demography and places were prioritized for local children. This may be an option for the future and developers such as EMAAR and ArabTec could actually design schools within their communities for their communities. It would be difficult to enforce, however, it would enable parents to feel safe and secure in the knowledge that their children were attending a local school rather than travelling across the city.
For schools, there would be more opportunities to collaborate rather than compete. Imagine if Dubai College, Jebel Ali Primary, JESS and Repton School were a federation that allowed for movement across schools and collaborative training and learning. This type of federation is common in the UK and the benefits are outstanding for all. In the current climate, this wouldn’t happen, because schools are competing for admission places and teachers, which ultimately stifle collaboration and innovation.
More of the same?
It has been reported that Dubai needs another 100 schools to accommodate the growing population. Surely if more schools were built, in a quicker time-frame, the stress of waiting to find out wouldn’t be as bad. At this point in time, according to the construction network, the following schools are currently under construction:
• Foremarke Hall
• Kings School
• The Indian High School – Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO)
• Victory Heights Primary School – Dubai Sports City
• International School of Choueifat – Dubai Investment Park (DIP)
Finally, it’s not an easy process but it pays to be informed. More often than not, parents see facilities and glossy marketing materials before they think about the important things like quality of teaching and learning and quality of leadership. I have been to a number of schools that on the face of it look amazing but in reality, they are delivering a sub-standard form of education. The issues will continue until the wider issue of lack of schools and type of schools improves. The single most important factor that you should consider is the quality of the teaching and learning. If your child is likely to receive high-quality teaching regardless of the type of school they are more-likely to achieve their potential. This should be prioritized above all other factors in your decision-making.