School Governance and Happiness in Dubai


What Works had yet another successful collaborative sharing event for schools in Dubai this week: What Works Happiness!

On first glance, one might be surprised that there was a
particular focus on the critical role of good governance
and school leadership with a title of What Works Happiness. But when we consider the influence of good governance on school culture and success, it is highly appropriate that we engaged in this discussion at this event.


It was an interesting dialogue where the influence of the national agenda repeatedly surfaced as all schools in Dubai feel the pressure to meet the targets. During the open forum, stakeholders were candid about the diversity of the Dubai private education landscape and the expectations of good governance imposing on some traditional practices. After respectful dialogue, disagreement and sincere inquiry, what was clear at the end of the day is that change is not on the horizon, change is here – and it is in the interest of all of us to support any and all practices that promote school success for all.

Given this strong message of prioritizing the national agenda that unifies all schools to focus on shared goals, good governance and key school success factors were explored. The participants considered how the collective participation of all key stakeholders in school management could be made a reality in different kinds of schools in Dubai. Specifically, collective accountability repeatedly surfaced in discussions as a means to enhance efficiency, effectiveness and overall performance of schools.

The Education Bureau of the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Division offers some basic principles for good governance in school boards. Specifically, they call for:

  1. Collective participation and accountability from all stakeholders helping to enhance school governance as well as the objectivity and fairness of administrative management.
  2. Establishing a system of review of effectiveness
  3. Formulating strategies and monitoring performance
  4. Clear responsibility and accountability framework
  5. Compliance with requirements and taking practical action

Although there are a lot more frameworks globally on good governance, they all sh6c9ef529-9fbd-4276-b4f5-1a5493e85ddf.jpgare this founding value of a high level of transparency, data-based decision making and
monitoring of performance. As we know from inspection results, these are elements that are not always evident in many private schools. But as we all unify in our efforts to
support the national agenda, they will be taking centre stage. But not because it sounds good, or there is pressure from the top, but because there is evidence that it makes a positive difference in schools.
Maureen Lewis and Gunilla Pettersson (World Bank) conducted an international study and found evidence that:

 “good governance can serve as an entry point to raising institutional performance in the delivery of education services.”

So how can we help those school leaders and operators who still need to be convinced of the make the shift?


Early Years Education in Dubai


Last week, KHDA hosted What Works Early Years at Emirates Aviation University in Dubai International Academic City. The event was a shared professional learning experience for educators, school leaders, policymakers and educational officials in Dubai focused on early years education (EYE). The pockets of excellence in teaching and learning practice found in various classrooms in Dubai private schools left their unassuming daily realities and were highlighted at this event alongside international experts.

It is always a genuine professional pleasure to witness teachers who are passionate about their practice, who reflect on the research and who innovate for the benefit of student learning and success. Given that this is an on-going event where the knowledge shaIMG_2952ring has become a norm, there are now high expectations of What Works. But, this particular event left an impression that struck a chord with me for two reasons. First, that parents and children in Dubai have great opportunities for early education unique to the region. Second, that parental involvement is critical because successful early childhood education requires guidance for parents.

Across Dubai schools, children enrolled in early years education make up nearly 30% of the student population making this particular emirate exceptional in the region. There is no shortage of evidence that investing in early years education is one of the best development strategies for long-term impact. Studies have shown time and again that early years development shapes the outcome of lives of children and of the economy of a country. In fact, according to the World Bank, investing in early childhood education has the greatest return on investment that investing in education at any other stage in life.


Reports from the World Bank reporting that when developed and developing countries add one additional dollar in high quality preschool programs, the ROI is anywhere between US$6 and US$17! Maybe this is why 50% of Chinese parents now want to make preschool mandatory.

Notwithstanding this accepted reality by policymakers globally, the fact remains that investment in early childhood in MENA is among the lowest in the world placing children at a disadvantage from the start.

As various parents have read about about the What Works Early Years event, they have been asking me, where can we learn more? How can we guide our children better? How can we make better decisions for their development? … how can we do more for our children? After all, all parents want the best for their children.

These are important questions in a time when a recent report released by the KHDA indicate a high reliance on nannies. A trend attracting more and more attention raising questions about social, emotional, and academic readiness of these infants for school. We need greater strategic discussions and open education forums for parents in Dubai where early years education is being given the attention it deserves.









What can you expect from EduEval in 2016?

EduEval has evolved over the years since its inception in 2010. We have enjoyed working closely with governments, private school operators, NGOs and corporate partners to help support evidence-informed decision making in the education sector. We are excited that we have been able to grow in the MENA region. Our growth is a recognition that there is a need for high quality consulting for all stakeholders who want better education for a knowledge-based society.

As we have grown, we do need to make sure that we continue to meet the needs of the community that engages with us. So we have made a few changes and we are working on a few exciting internal projects to share with you.
So what can you expect from us in 2016? 
  1. We will be changing our name from EduEval Educational Consultancy to EduEval! This represents our organic growth as we have built several verticals where we will continue to promote the same level of excellence in evidence-informed decision making on a broader scale.
  2. We are working on a School Choice Guide for parents in Dubai. We have been approached by several parents and concerned stakeholders over the years. Parents who need help in understanding how to make the best decision for their child when it comes to choosing a private school in Dubai. This guide will be available soon – so keep your eyes on us.
  3. We will be publishing more on understanding the practical link between assessment for learning, the role of technology and promoting better teaching and learning. So follow us on twitter and you will notice more activity sharing relevant information about education.
  4. We will be directly engaging with communities to promote our new initiative: Industry Connect. This is a great series of programs that are being developed with corporate partners and schools to promote a greater link between the theoretical learning in schools and real-wold applications.
  5. We will continue our commitment to excellence by relying on assessment, monitoring, evaluation and research to make informed decisions that promote the best practices in education in the MENA region.
Thank you for all of your support over the years of our infancy. We appreciate all of our followers, our partners, our clients. We also appreciate the time from the students, parents, teachers, school leaders, and high level bureaucrats who have given us their trust and engaged with EduEval.
We have received many accolades and statements of gratitude from our stakeholders. Each of these positive reflections have meant a great deal to all of the professionals who have worked tirelessly to ensure a high quality service since we started this company.

From the EduEval family, we wish you a wonderful new year and lets make 2016 one where we can focus on cultivating motivated confident happy young independent 21st century learners.

Happy new year!

Sonia Ben Jaafar, PhD
Managing Director
EduEval Educational Consultancy

Progressive vision in Dubai private schools at What Works 2015

The third What Works event and first in 2015 was held on the 19th of January. Educational professionals from all over Dubai private schools came together to exchange their best practices on teaching, learning and leadership in schools. This series also included the signature workshops dedicated to  professional knowledge sharing for school leaders where a key talking point was the challenge to meet the National Agenda 2021 and Dubai Plan 2021. Schools are being asked to improve student achievement and improve Dubai’s ranking on international tests. Private school leaders are taking this tall order from HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum very seriously. The message is clear, residents of Dubai should be assured that their kids are in schools that are one of the best in the world!

With this demand hanging in the Dubai air; it was only natural that What Works dedicates a series of leadership workshops on school self-evaluation where school leaders exchange their expertise to promote systemic measurable school improvement. At this particular event in January, there was a focus on the practical coupling of performance management and school vision.

Effective educational leaders help their schools to develop or endorse visions that embody the best thinking about teaching and learning.

– Task Force on Developing Research in Educational Leadership (2003)

With this in mind, a group of school leaders from Dubai schools reviewed their approaches on:

  1. How they reflect the needs of their school in the school vision?
  2. How they ensure the vision is appreciated and owned by various stakeholders?; and
  3. How they make the vision operational in daily practice across the school?

visionThere is no scarcity of literature on the galvanizing effect of a progressive school vision that is well implemented. Moreover, a quick visit to most Dubai private schools will show that vision statements are a dime a dozen boasting laudable goals of whole student development, 21st century skills and the fostering of life-long learners.

So why all the attention on school vision and performance management?

This audience took progressive school vision a step further. They talked about the alignment of school-based outcomes and the vision with an explicit purpose: the daily practices in their schools should result in desired outcomes. This is a shift from static leader-driven visions to a shared vision that promotes a learning organization.

You cannot have a learning organisation without a shared vision…A shared vision provides a compass to keep learning on course when stress develops

– Peter Senge

This meant a few tweaks in how some leaders were thinking about their school vision. Yes, it is good to consider the desired outcome when creating a vision. But, it is also necessary to consider the evidence of the current context using data collected from various sources such as assessment results, staff anperformanced student attendance rates, staff turnover rates, disciplinary incidents, parental surveys, and student questionnaires. These data can be utilized to develop evidence-based strategies for a vision that moves schools from the abstract to the real – in other words, from traditional goals to progressive goals using a SMART framework. Progressive goals that will support an actionable school improvement plan to get the most out of the school vision.