Education reform is at the forefront of public policy in the Gulf states. The call for results is getting louder as international testing is increasingly being adopted in the region. For example, as a first time participant in international testing of mathematics, science and literacy (TIMSS 2011 & PIRLS 2011), Abu Dhabi raised the bar on its open dedication to meeting an international standard of educational quality. In so doing, the leadership also increased transparency and attention on the quality of education provision in Abu Dhabi as we start the 2011-2012 school year.
On September 14th, the Bedaya Forum in Abu Dhabi marked the start of the new academic year for schools. Officials from the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) presented the plans that will change the governance of the public and private school sectors in the emirate. The transformation of ADEC outlines a new strategy that merges public and private interests and management approaches.
As expected, all private and public schools in the UAE capital will be under one umbrella: ADEC (in association with the MoE). That one authoritative body leads all schools – private and public – is not unique. In most developed countries, the body that approves private schools is generally embedded in public governance. This is mostly to ensure that private schools respect the mandatory national curriculum and minimum standard of quality set by the state. However, the Abu Dhabi case is different because:
- a common mandatory curriculum does not apply to private schools in the UAE who offer an education from the UK, US, Canadian, Italian, German, French, Indian, etc….. It only applies to those private schools who offer the national UAE curriculum – and – for Arabic and Islamic Studies across all schools.
- a minimum standard of quality remains a debatable point to date. According to ADEC’s director general, Dr Mugheer Al Khaili, this new structure will ensure that all schools are regularly inspected for quality by ADEC. However, unlike KHDA – there is no evidence that any of the inspection reports will be transparent or that the results made publicly available.
So why is this a noteworthy transformation?
Society holds a shared interest in the access and quality of education – both public and private. Moving private schools under the domain of ADEC presumably increases the role of ADEC as the capital’s authority to ensure that there are individual and societal benefits from all education providers in Abu Dhabi. This portrays ADEC as the public authority that considers and represents the interests of all members of its society.
Given this increased scope of ADEC, it is interesting that the Council also announced that there will soon be an external body separate from ADEC – School Operations Sector – who will be responsible for running the operations of all public schools in Abu Dhabi. Indeed, as part of the Council’s transformation roadmap for 2015, an independent company will be responsible for running public schools, licensing teachers, assessing schools, and career guidance for students.
This means that ADEC is the public authority for education in Abu Dhabi who will soon be responsible for private schools and no longer responsible for running public schools. ADEC’s new role will be primarily to declare high-level regulations and conduct performance evaluations of educational institutions in the emirate.
In addition, ADEC also announced that the public school organization would soon mimic private schools by 2018 when all schools will be operated privately and monitored by ADEC- affiliated centres. There is not much more publically available information on this move … but this statement does seem to parallel Qatar’s Supreme Education Council’s Independent School model raising series of questions including:
- What will be the relationship between the new independent company – School Operations Sector – and these privately operated schools in 2018?
- How independent will these schools be in terms of their operations?
- Will the ADEC-affiliated centers be under the umbrella of the new independent School Operations Sector? or ADEC?
These are the details that will help to characterize the ADEC model of educational governance and answer the larger question:
Has ADEC created a new model of privatization of public education?