At the recent GCES symposium in RAK, researchers, policymakers, operators, and consulting companies were present to discuss the private-public education debate – UAE style. This was an invitation to reach a better understanding of the private-public education debate that is raging in Western countries and developing in practice in the Gulf.
The landscape, rules, policies, and governance is simply very different in the UAE because it caters to a different population of nationals and non-national children whose needs are diverse in terms of their long-term ambitions/realities. The models of privatization that are being discussed in the West simply can’t be applied directly in the UAE. The models in the UAE are not being appreciated as learning opportunities by the West.
The timing for this particular symposium could not be more relevant. In the country today, quality control for consumer protection of this critical service (education) is being balanced with commercial rights of operators given the strong and growing business sector of private education. Pick up any of the local papers, and there is something about fee hikes, inspections, parental rights, access issues, and the list continues.
So what is happening now?
In Dubai, the KHDA is in their 3rd year of inspections. The caps on fee hikes has caused some ruffling of feathers for operators who are not pleased with any kind of cap on profit margins. On the other side of the fence, there are parents who are using the inspection results to make informed school choices within the constraints of availability and affordability of schools.
Interestingly, Abu Dhabi decided to do things a little less publicly. ADEC is stressing the need for a 3-year accreditation license that will be granted to private schools who achieve a grade that is – at least – good in overall performance and satisfactory given their standards. As of May 2011, ADEC will run a pilot application of the accreditation system in a number of Abu Dhabi schools with the full intention of scaling up for the entire of Abu Dhabi.
Unlike Dubai, the results of the Abu Dhabi inspections of private schools won’t be made public. Interesting.
The different models in these two emirates are worthy of serious attention from educational researchers. We are now living in a time where privatization of education is at the forefront of how we think about public education in the West, but there is insufficient attention given to alternate models. The UAE landscape calls for a real examination of policy, practice, and effect from educational researchers and evaluation experts to better understand the different options that exist along the public-private education continuum.