Public Education in Dubai: Not a first choice for Emirati parents

The report for the third year of school inspections in Dubai has been released. This is a noteworthy occasion as it proves the commitment of the KHDA to transparency and public accountability. Two assets that contribute to improved education systems and consumer protection that are rarely observed in MENA.

The report is generating applause for some schools that have worked at improving their weaknesses, and raising a lot of eyebrows on systematic issues that are surfacing. One important highlight of the findings has been that there is a variable quality of private education in Dubai. It is therefore, interesting that most Emirati children in Dubai now attend private schools instead of free government schools.

In fact – currently – 57% of Emirati children are enrolled in private schools.

This means that a majority of Emirati families make a conscious choice to pay for private schooling rather than accept the status quo of public schooling. The justification is believed to be tied to better quality of teaching and learning in private schools and higher achievement in English language. But is this true?

Given that most private schools were ranked “acceptable” – the question being raised is if the decision to opt for private schools when public schools are free is reasonable? Some have made the claim that it is better to keep Emirati children in public schools where they can learn Arabic and Islamic studies well and be immersed in their local culture at school.

So…. are Emirati parents making the right choice by choosing private schools for their kids?

Let’s consider that Emirati parents – like all parents – want the best for their children and want their children to benefit from local opportunities for higher education.

In order to better understand the motivation for the choice, one must know that there are three federal institution (HCT, ZU, and UAEU) that are funded by the government. For students to be accepted into these local institutions, they need to have a minimum of achievement on a Common Educational Proficiency Assessment (CEPA) which includes an English test and a Math test.

The startling reality is that over 90% of public school graduates in the UAE do not achieve the minimum requirement on their CEPA.

This means that almost all students graduating from public high schools in the UAE require a bridging program when they are admitted into federal institutions before they can start their diploma program. For example, at ZU, the Academic Bridge Program (ABP) caters to about 85-90% of all new students entering the university. Students can stay in the Academic Bridge Program for 10 weeks – 2 years. UAEU decided that in 2011, they would disband their ABP program.

This means that if your child is attending a public high school – most likely – they will not be able to graduate and directly enter a degree program at a federal institution.

If you are a parent making a decision on the best preparation for your child to do well in school and stay in  the country for their higher education, what would you do?


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