Understanding the Private Education System in the UAE

Sep 2,2023

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For expat parents moving to the UAE, their children’s education is a big deal and a major priority. Should your children get public or private education in the UAE? Which curriculum should you choose: American, British, or International Baccalaureate (IB)? If you like the National Curriculum of England, how do you pick one from all the British curriculum schools in Dubai or Abu Dhabi?

We understand you have a lot of ground to cover and information to unpack, so we’re here to help. Read on for a crash course on the UAE private education system.

Public vs Private Schools in the UAE

Every expat parent newly transplanted to the UAE has probably asked this: Are there public schools—state-funded and free to attend—in the UAE? If there are, should my children go there?

1. Free to Attend for UAE and GCC nationals

Government schools in the UAE are free to attend for the citizens of the UAE and other Gulf Cooperation Council member nations, including the children of those who are UAE citizens by decree.

If you are from another GCC country, therefore, you can get free state-sponsored education at a UAE government school. Otherwise, a government school is not free; you must pay for tuition.

2. Arabic Language As Medium of Instruction

Government schools in the UAE follow the Ministry of Education (MoE) curriculum, and Arabic is their primary medium of instruction. This may not represent an obstacle for Arabic-speaking expats, but it can be a significant challenge for others.

This is why the children of expatriate families who are not from the GCC or another Arabic-speaking country typically default to private education in the UAE.

Thankfully, the UAE also has an excellent private education system.

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Why Go Private: The Advantages of Private Schools

Here are a few important reasons why you should consider private schools in the UAE:

1. Innovation

The large expatriate population in the UAE—around 90% of the approximately 10 million people in the country—means there are hundreds of private schools in the country. Expatriate families have many options to choose from.

The competition among private schools ensures improvements and innovation. Private schools cannot be complacent and must do what they can to provide world-class education to attract students.

2. Strict Regulations

The government also strictly monitors private schools. In Dubai, The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), through the Dubai School Inspection Bureau (DSIB), conducts annual school inspections to ensure private schools satisfy the emirate’s private education standards.

After the review, schools get a rating of Weak to Very Weak, Acceptable, Good, Very Good, and Outstanding. You can see the KHDA DSIB ratings for Dubai schools on this school directory.

In Abu Dhabi, ADEK, or Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge, administers and regulates the private school sector in Abu Dhabi. It also conducts school inspections under the Irtiqaa Inspection programme, and schools get a rating of Very Weak, Weak, Acceptable, Good, Very Good, or Outstanding. See the Abu Dhabi school ratings using this school finder.

3. Multiple Curriculum Options

You have 17 curriculum options in Dubai. Below is a list (with the number of representative schools indicated) of the different curriculums available based on an infographic published by the KHDA:

Abu Dhabi offers 14 curriculum options.

  • American (e.g., GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi)
  • British (e.g., GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi)
  • IB Curriculum (e.g., also GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi)
  • MoE
  • Bangladesh
  • Canadian Curriculum
  • French Curriculum
  • German Curriculum
  • Indian Curriculum
  • Japanese Curriculum
  • Pakistani Curriculum
  • Philippines Curriculum
  • SABIS Curriculum
  • Spanish Curriculum

How to Choose the Right School in the UAE

The large number of private schools in the UAE gives you many options. However, it also makes it challenging to choose a school for your children. You can use the following steps as a guide in identifying the best private schools in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

  • Begin your search by deciding on your preferred curriculum. That should help narrow down your options. If you like the British curriculum, your list will need a lot more whittling down.
  • Check the school’s DSIB (if you’re in Dubai) or Irtiqaa (if you’re in Abu Dhabi) rating and shorten your list by selecting only the schools rated good, very good or outstanding.
  • Choose a school nearby. Ideally, you want a quick drive or bus ride from your house to your children’s school. If driving your children to and from their campus is not feasible, most schools offer bus rides for students as an optional service.

Caveat: Quality outweighs distance when ranking factors to consider in choosing a private school. A longer commute should be fine if it is a choice between finding a good school and an outstanding one.

Remember to compare your school options according to their educational programmes, faculty, and facilities.

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The GEMS Advantage

GEMS education is nuanced and multi-faceted.

1. High Performance Learning

At GEMS, we enhance our curriculum using the High Performance Learning (HPL) framework.

HPL operates on the premise that all children can become academically successful regardless of their starting point. A school can ensure this by equipping students with the Advanced Cognitive Performance characteristics (ACPs) that will teach them how to think, and the Values, Attitudes and Attributes (VAAs) that will teach them how to behave.

2. Extracurricular Programmes

We enrich our students’ lives through an extensive portfolio of extracurricular activities.

Research shows arts education is positively correlated with academic performance. Thus, at GEMS, we have thriving art education programmes, through which students can further their interest in painting, sculpture and design. Those who are so inclined can hone their talents in music, dance, cinematography, and theatre through a thriving performing arts programme.

3. Language Education

We don’t stop at extracurriculars. We have an extensive mother tongue programme at the GEMS World Academy Dubai Language Institute, and a modern language programme is standard among GEMS international schools.

We understand the importance of learning more than one language. A paper published online by Cambridge University Press, reports that multilinguals have stronger neural timing or neural synchrony than monolinguals. This study will tell you neural synchrony is positively associated with learning.

Ultimately, we understand that you’d like a school that will allow your children to excel academically and embrace their interests even as it nurtures their unique talents. This is the environment we aim to provide here at GEMS.

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Excellent Education Awaits in the UAE

Deciding to move to the country is not easy. Rest assured, though, that your children will get excellent private education in the UAE. There are many curriculum options and the best private schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to choose from.

GEMS Education is a leading provider of private education in the UAE, with more than 40 private schools in the country.

We offer the most popular curriculums in our international schools, and we have schools in the best UAE neighbourhoods.

Contact us to learn more about GEMS schools today.