Has Abu Dhabi created a new model for the Privatization of Public Education?

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?


7 thoughts on “Has Abu Dhabi created a new model for the Privatization of Public Education?

  1. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one today..

  2. Sonia, I can’t agree more, your blog and the theme and level of writing are amazing.
    But i am impressed with your passion to bridge the theory practice gap.
    I would also recommend that we in this region inform our work with Asian theories, which will also require that we document, develop, theorize, disseminate and also in the current world demonstrate entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity. innovate. I see your work as a demonstrated exemplar… Continue the good work!!

    Unaeza Alvi

  3. Kheloud Al Dhaheri, Vice Principal in Al Raqia School in Al Ain and Elise Tarvainen, Director, Global Operations, EduCluster Finland Ltd presented the five-year Educational Partnership Programme (EPA) to a large audience of educators and attendees at GESS. Kheloud was quoted as saying: “The Finnish education system is neither centralized nor de-centralized yet it is considered both, which was very confusing for me as a Vice Principal to get used to in the beginning. However by the second year, I got to understand how important it is to encourage everyone in a schools decision making process, Principals, Vice Principals, Administrators and Teachers, as is done in Finland, since this encourages everyone to become committed to coming up with decisions that are beneficial for students.”
    An ADEC news release on the session has stated that “Finnish teachers are not only taught how to practice best teaching methods in classrooms are taught how to conduct research and how to practice self assessment, self reflection and share professional ideas with a school community.
    Kheloud alongside 40 other Emirati teachers and academics from both Al Raqia School and Al Ameen School in Abu Dhabi have undergone an intense professional development program that focuses on a student centered learning process, while preparing for their Master’s degrees. An experience that will enable them to become licensed to teach in Finland as well as in the UAE, of course.”

    Sonia, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and a subsequent discussion as to where this fits into the reform process in terms of ADEC creating a new model for privatization.

  4. Dear Deborah,

    A late reply indeed!

    The Finnish system is already known worldwide and looked up to by many. As professionals engage with Finland, they soon realize that there is more than meets the surface vision of high international scores! There is a context that is not easily replicated.

    For example, in Finland, teaching is a prestigious career!
    Consider this: In Finland, children aspire to be teachers, doctors, lawyers, or scientists. Teachers are respected and they are ALL highly qualified. Getting into teachers’ college is not an easy task and they require a Masters degree for full time employment. So yes, these Abu Dhabi based teachers will indeed have the qualifications to teach in Finland…. but will they? it is competitive to get a job as a teacher in Finland when you are educated and trained there. You need to demonstrate that you are a top candidate to be able to get a post in a school. In Finland, qualifications are just the minimum entrance requirement… not the summit!

    Given that classroom instruction is the single greatest school–level predictor of student success, and that the Finnish system selects the best of the best to be teachers…. is it a surprise that there is high student achievement? or even more foreign a concept to many education systems (including the UK and US) – that the system is very relaxed and does not adhere to the prescriptive approach to curriculum delivery but to a professional accountability model that relies heavily on teacher expertise?! (decentralization)

    This is just one piece of the puzzle… and I would submit that there are other contextual factors that need to be taken into account.

    All this to say that when parts of a system are selectively extracted for export into a country with a vastly different context, it is important to consider the whole system when considering the potential and real effect of that one factor.

    In the case of Abu Dhabi, the differences in context within the system need to be taken into consideration. But by this point in time… I imagine that you have some deeper insights into the effect from a practical point of view. I invite you to share them when considering the impact of this intervention.

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