With a huge mix of expat culture, the UAE’s educational system is varied with many international schools to choose from. With varying curriculi, you may be limited if you want your child to follow one specific curriculum. For example, there is a major focus on British curriculum, but the American curriculum is also followed to some degree.
There are varying views on which are the best schools in Dubai. Asking around will get you some consensus but these schools pop up in conversation all the time (P=primary, S=secondary): Jumeirah English School (P), Dubai English Scool(P), English College (P, S), Jumeirah English College (S), Jebel Ali English College (S), Jebel Ali Primary (P), Sharjah English School (P), Dubai College (S), Emirates International School (P,S)
The schools above have a bit of a history and some may consider them head and shoulder above the rest of the schools in Dubai and all follow the British system. Looking into offerings in a bit more detail, you will see that there are a number of other schools which say that they follow the English or British System, but are run predominantly on the Indian System and very rote focused.
The quality of the education in those listed above is excellent and on a par with the best schools in England (ie top 10%), with high grades achieved, although, the quality of the students is relatively high with only the supposed intelligent expats in the top positions being able to afford the education. However, this does not necessarily negate the teaching staff who are recruited on technical expertise.
The main issue that there is in Dubai with regard to education is the problem of getting in. Many of these schools are oversubscribed, and there are not enough being built to meet the demand of the western expats. So, in order to be able to get a child in, you need to pre plan and get on the waiting lists which could be quite long. So you'll need to get in contact with them asap, especially if you are planning to move. Although there are a large number of schools opening up all the time, the issue that you will face is not knowing the quality of the schools.
The oversubscription is somewhat compounded by the fact that large expat employers (eg. DUBAL - dubai aluminium) buy bulk places at some schools, as a sort of retainer to keep places for the children of their expat workers. So, if you are coming out here independently or with a smaller company, planning is imperative.
Cost of education for a good quality primary averages at about 6000dhs per termwith three terms per year, although you should be able to get specifics from the schools themselves. The amounts to pay are not cheap and are continuing to go up. This has brought in the newer schools to try and balance the demand with supply, but as we have said, quality is not always guaranteed. You may pay less for some schooling, but you will be sacrificing in some areas. With the cost of living, whether that be rental school space continuing to increase, the standard of teaching decreases as some schools will only offer their teaching staff very low salaries. That’s not to say that schooling is bad. All we are saying that when you are researching schools, look into them with your eyes opened.
Some tips would include sending 2 kids to the same school as having one child at a school would boost the other up the waiting list later on, but it all depends on how long you intend to stay in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, and where you intend to live, especially if you are renting. If at all possible, schooling should become a negotiation point when negotiating your contract to move jobs to the UAE or internally. It can make the difference in whether it is worthwhile to work in Dubai, for example. In some companies, only a few schools are covered – and for some other companies perhaps a certain amount is covered towards schooling and you are expected to make up the shortfall. Others flatly reject paying for schooling. Be very clear that schooling is not free (unless you are a local Emirati) – and so if it is not covered you will have to pay it in some form. Make sure you are specific on your contract as to what is covered with regard to schooling. Aside, some companies cover payment of fees for schools outside of the country, which may help if your job is commutable with your family at home. Although rare, worth looking into if this is your situation.
It is compulsory to learn arabic, and sit exams in these. Rumours always fly round that this will be stopped, but it is no bad thing to have to learn the local language of the country that you are in. Students don’t have to do exams in other subjects in Arabic, just for clarity.
There is a limit on schooling when it comes to secondary school. Historically, all the UAE schools do not offer the full spectrum of technical, science or computing subjects and so this obviously limits choice. Although this is changing and there is more and more scope for growth , what this means is that further facilities, in general are not so good, in comparison to the west, e.g computer rooms, labs etc. Schools, however look amazing. The best schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are fantastic and you will be truly amazed setting foot in such schools.
The number of schools opening increases year by year however, there is no government funded schooling for expatriates so all schools will charge fees. Fees are high and some may include books and school bus fares, but usually the price only includes tuition fees. When thinking of enrolling your child into a school it may be worth speaking to friends/ colleagues for an unbiased opinion as fees and waiting lists can vary.
Most schools offer a good variety of extra curricular activities, however some may charge extra for these classes. The information required to enroll your child into a school in the UAE may seem endless but is necessary as with all the other paperwork you have to go through with everything else and includes:
• A school application form
• Copies of birth certificates. This may need to be attested depending on the school
• Copies of passport for both child and the parents which must show the residence visa stamp Again, this may need to be attested which each school differs.
• Passport pictures of the child
• Immunisation information and medical history for the child
If transferring from a school in the UAE:
• School records for the past two years if applicable
• An official transfer certificate detailing the child’s education, date of enrolment, year of placement, date of leaving the school, school stamp and signature. You may need to provide this anyway, so it is worth getting an official record from any previous school that your child attended.
We have broken down information from Nursery, Primary, Secondary and Higher Education levels, providing a brief gist of what is available and links to some institutions. With additional research, you will find further institutions based in the UAE