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Emirati Parents Increasingly Turning to Private Schools

Roberta Pennington, The National
January 05, 2015

The percentage of Emirati pupils in private education rose from 31.9 in the 2010-11 academic year to 34.7 percent in 2013-14, according to figures from the Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi.

Clive Pierrepont, spokesman for the private schools operator Taaleem, was not surprised by Scad’s figures. Families are attracted to international schools because they offered curriculums that were externally validated and recognised, he said.

“The examinations students take at international schools are recognised throughout the world, and many Emirati parents’ aspirations for their children are to gain the very best possible places at colleges and universities.

“The main reasons for that is the international educational currency that externally validated examinations bring, whether it’s Advanced Placement in American schools, A levels in British schools or the International Baccalaureate in IB schools.

“Students aspire to go to western universities without having to go through a foundation year, which many students from government schools have to complete to progress away from memorisation and towards critical thinking skills.”

There were 438 public and private schools in the capital, Al Ain, and Al Gharbia in the last academic year. The school population rose by 11.2 percent from 306,497 in 2010-11 to 340,974 in 2013-14. Boys made up 51.1 percent of enrolment in general education, an increase of 11.3 percent. The number of girls increased by 11.2 percent, to 166,752.

Most pupils – 63 percent – were in private schools, up from 58.9 percent in 2010-11. The number of pupils in government schools rose by less than 1 percent, from 125,949 in 2010-11 to 126,216 in 2013-14.

In that time, 45 government schools closed, leaving 254 in operation in the last academic year, and the number of private schools increased by three to 184. 

Dr. Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, said the trend could devalue the public education system.

“One thing that happens when you get a drain from public to private is that people start to be less invested in the public system, especially since you will often see higher net worth individuals taking their families out of the public system, people who can afford to go to private schools, and often it can have the impact that public schools sort of become the domain of lower social economic groups,” she said. 

Dr. Ridge said paying for education did not necessarily mean it would be of better quality.

“There’s a fallacy that private is always better, but it depends on which private you’re talking about,” she said.

“We can see in Dubai that there certainly are a handful of elite private schools, but the majority of private schools would be comparable to public schools, and then there would be another group of private schools at the bottom end that would be far worse than public schools.”

Scad reported that enrolment in higher education institutions rose by 26.8 percent to 50,754 students in 2012-13, compared with 40,031 in 2009-10. Emiratis accounted for 77.1 percent of students in 2012-13. Of UAE nationals in higher education in 2012-13, 63.1 percent were women.

The statistics were prepared with data provided by Abu Dhabi Education Council, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Tourism, and the Ministry of Social Affairs.