Whether you’re new to the UAE, have just had a baby, or are looking to switch schools, you’ll be eager to get up to date with everything you need to know to choose the right nursery or school for your child
With September fast approaching, many of us are thinking all things education – how do I know if a school is good and where is going to be the most suitable for my child? To help whittle down the vast level of choice here, we’ve rounded up some of the most important things to consider before refining your shortlist. And of course with the events of this year you’ll also have to take into account their policies for navigating education in the time of coronavirus.
Here in the UAE, pre-primary curricula starts at age three (your child’s age is calculated as his/her age on the 31 July for Indian, Pakistani and Japanese curriculum schools or 31 December for other curricula) in the UAE, while compulsory education begins from Grade 1 (approximately age six, depending on your child’s birth date and the curriculum they will study).
Research the schools near to your home
Dubai is booming. There are currently 208 private schools in Dubai, delivering a total of 363,643 seats and offering 17 different curricula, according to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), which regulates schools in the emirate. Over 90 percent of Dubai students study in private schools. As a result, places are hard to come by in the most sought-after schools and can be a challenge to find at short notice in some year groups, particularly the Foundation and Reception ages, between four and six.
Meanwhile, in Abu Dhabi, private schools operate across three regions — Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and Al Dhafra — catering to around 200,000 students. The Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) is responsible for managing, guiding, adopting and implementing various educational development strategies and initiatives in the region, with its Irtiqa’a inspection system measuring quality and supporting improvements so that all schools in the capital adhere to international standards.
Your child’s school placement may be organised through the company you work for, but if not, it’s wise to shortlist several schools so you have options should you not gain a place at your top choice. Be sure to research the assessment and admission criteria for the schools you shortlist, as well as the requirements for fees and payment schedules.
Things to consider before choosing a nursery in Dubai:
Currently, more than 120 early childhood education centres are registered in Dubai, according to KHDA. Here, the authority highlights factors to consider when selecting a nursery:
Curriculum and approach to learning
What kind of curriculum or learning approach does the centre follow? Whatever the approach, there should be clear learning and development outcomes for your child along with mechanisms for the teacher to report on your child’s progress on a regular basis. Depending on your first language, you will want to ask about the languages used in the centre. For example, will your child be given the opportunity to interact with adults speaking good Arabic and good English? Check that the daily programme will provide your child with different experiences within a clear routine and that the centre is committed to the importance of play for your child to learn. Some centres also enhance their curriculum with in-house programmes or visits by outside organisations.
Quality of provision
It is important to inquire about and, if possible, observe the teaching and learning. In general, are the teachers friendly, caring and qualified to provide care and nurturing for your child and do they make you feel welcome in the centre and answer your questions openly and fully? Ask about the nationality and qualifications of the staff and about the staff-to-child ratio — how many children will be under the care of each adult?
The Ministry of Social Affairs sets out a number of safety regulations, which early childhood education centres must follow. In addition, it is a good idea to ask about the presence of a centre nurse, the number of staff who are qualified in first aid and the safety and security measures taken by the centre. Ask about the measures taken to ensure a clean environment and to prevent cross-contamination. You will also want to check that there are secure procedures to stop unauthorised people entering the building and for the drop-off and pick-up of children by authorised adults only.
Things to consider before choosing early years education in the UAE:
With compulsory education starting from Grade 1, the academic year runs from September to June, except for Indian, Pakistani and Japanese curriculum schools, which run from April to March. There is an accepted age range for each school grade/year and your chosen school should be able to give you information about this. Here are the factors to consider when choosing a school:
The curriculum is much more than the textbooks or examinations — it refers to everything the school teaches, including subjects and activities inside and outside the classroom. These include extra-curricular activities, school trips, and visitors to the school. Different curricula also adopt different approaches to learning.
All curricula lead to public examinations and qualifications. These will be important considerations in your choice of curriculum for your child — you may need to think about the requirements of any future application to university or further education, either in the UAE or abroad. In addition, if you are coming from abroad, your selection of a curriculum may depend upon your country of origin as you may want your child to integrate back into your home country’s education system at some time in the future.
Quality of education
The learning outcomes and performance of schools will be important to you in making your decision. The Dubai School Inspections Bureau’s (DSIB’s) annual inspection reports allow you to look at these and other aspects of schools in detail (visit khda.gov.ae for individual inspection reports).
Your child will be spending a lot of time in school and all aspects of the school have an impact on your child’s social development and personality. As part of the decision-making process, try to arrange a tour of the school, talk with administrators, teachers and students and see the school in action. Areas you should talk about include how the school is structured, whether classes are mixed and/or whether classes are streamed for ability, how transport is arranged, and the arrangements for lunch and breaks. You can also find out the school policies on examinations, assessment, discipline, dealing with bullying, communications with parents, and technology integration, to name just a few.
What’s the parent-school contract in the UAE?
Upon enrolling in a school, you will be required to sign a Parent-School contract at the start of the school year, which ensures that both schools and parents are aware of their duties and responsibilities towards each other and towards their children. The terms and conditions stipulated in the contract will also be a reference for dispute resolution.
However, if your child is continuing at the same school, you will not be required to sign the Parent-School contract annually. Your contract with the school will continue to remain valid while your child is enrolled at the same school. A new contract shall be issued and signed by the parent only if your child’s school is changed.
What are the ranks for school inspections in Dubai?
The Dubai School Inspection Bureau (DSIB) of KHDA provides comprehensive information on the standard of private school education in Dubai, which helps to inform improvement planning at school and policy level. This is achieved through a number of approaches, including annual school inspections, parents meetings and focus groups, teachers, parents and students surveys. The inspection results, which are released in February or March for Indian and Pakistani schools and in April for all other schools, is based on a six-level scale, as follows:
Outstanding – quality of performance substantially exceeds the expectation of the UAE;
very good – quality of performance exceeds the expectation of the UAE;
Good – quality of performance meets the expectation of the UAE;
Acceptable – quality of performance meets the minimum level of quality required in the UAE;
Weak – quality of performance is below the expectation in the UAE;
Very weak – quality of performance is significantly below the expectation in the UAE.
Inspectors assess quality of education at a variety of levels so the rankings are a great resource to use when considering schools.
School inspection ratings in Abu Dhabi
Irtiqa’a inspection system of ADEK employs a team that includes specialists with expertise in the school’s given curriculum or curricula. Inspections in private and government schools in Abu Dhabi take place once within a two-year cycle, using the six-level scale, with Band A including levels Good to Outstanding; Band B covering Acceptable; and B and C including Weak and Very Weak ratings.