School Choice in Dubai

In a recent conversation with a French mom in Dubai who has three kids of school age, she was explaining a dilemma that she was facing last year. Her eldest son and daughter were doing very well in the French system. They were in the top 15% of their class and enjoyed learning.

Student looks bored in class

She explained that they responded well to the discipline and the homework in the school. But, her youngest son, Frederique, was not responding well to the French approach and did not enjoy school last year. He struggled and his grades were consistently dropping. Despite the best efforts of the mom supporting her son through additional help at home, speaking with the teacher and trying different motivation tactics, Frederique just wanted to leave school!

Their neighbors were Americans and of course, Frederique played with the kids next door after school. Part of kids connecting is connecting about school work. So Frederique became exposed to the project-based work that this school promoted AND… he discovered that the teacher would help the students in school depending on how much they needed it. After seeing the homework and talking about the structure of learning in his new friend’s school, Frederique decided that he did not want to leave school, he wanted to change schools. And so, he informed his mom.

His mom and siblings thought he was really out to lunch! After all, he is French and that is his primary language. Furthermore, he will be going back to France eventually and would need to be able to keep up when he returns home. This request seemed very far fetched to the family who informed Frederique that he needed to make the French system work for him.

After a year of declining grades and decreasing motivation at school, his mom finally registered Frederique in the American school. It only took 2 weeks at his new school before her son rushed home with his first science experiment excited about doing his homework. His siblings rolled their eyes thinking that this kind of work was not their cup of tea at all! (her words). They believed that this approach was not “strong” enough and that they preferred their school. They were very articulate about their own gratitude that they would not be joining their brother at the American school.

It was obvious to the mom, the American approach was better suited to her youngest son, but not to her other two children. However, accommodating this difference did mean that there might be implications for the family so that Frederique could stay in the American system until graduation. In addition, she recognized that her youngest son would most likely be on a different path to post-secondary than her other two children and this was a concern.

But is this really an issue?

Perhaps if Frederique continued in a school where he kept getting lower and lower grades and becoming disengaged from school, the issues that the mom and family would be addressing would have  been far more serious.

The school choice offered in Dubai allows for this kind of diversity and brings differentiation to a new level. 

There is a lot of talk about 21st century learners needing to be tech-savvy and critical thinkers. There is a lot of attention being given to the notion of differentiation and the potential of personalizing learning on a large scale using technology. There seems to be less discussion and debate on the potential of school choice in the way this French family in Dubai responded to their reality and context.  It would seem that Frederique displayed critical thinking skills and creativity in thinking outside of the box to resolve his situation.

Dubai affords a different level of differentiation and choice because of the open-market education sector. There are issues with a market of education, especially for pro-public advocates who have a multitude of valid concerns. But one very distinct advantage that it can offer is the one that Frederique and his family found in this unique system.

It seems that Dubai is the perfect Petri dish to study the privatization of education on a micro-global scale!


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