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Report Praises State of Dubai’s Private Education Sector

Melanie Swan, The National
November 03, 2014

A report released by the World Bank on the state of Dubai’s private education sector has revealed the emirate’s regulator “has put into place a system that is uniquely adapted to the private education landscape” in the emirate.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), which licenses and regulates schools and universities in the emirate, commissioned the report, The Road Travelled: Dubai’s Journey Towards Private Education, to assess its progress in the past five years. The authority has a unique challenge in that it is a government entity developing public policy for a private sector. The emirate is made up of 169 private schools covering 16 curricula.

Simon Thacker, the report’s author, noted that nine out of 10 children are in private schools, yet to oversee that as a public entity has its challenges. “In other systems governments can enter into the system to modify curricula and train teachers, but that’s not available in Dubai.”

The challenge, he said, when teachers came from different training backgrounds, was ensuring quality across the board.

Dubai’s system is growing rapidly. In the past year, 11 schools have opened, including eight British, two Indian, and one Canadian. This has opened up about 23,000 new seats, 10 percent more than the previous year, even though the population growth has not risen at such a rate.

In the past five years, the number of schools rated good or outstanding has risen from 33 to 51 percent.

Mr. Thacker said that although five years ago the emirate lacked good governance, there had been massive change.

“Parents now know what good schools look like,” he said, as the system of making ratings publicly available created “perfect transparency.” 

“It’s created higher expectations of consumers.”

However, Mr. Thacker said there was still work to be done. “More focus is needed on the weaker schools rather than always spending time each year doing such detailed inspections on the good schools.”

With the fee structure of schools, he said, it was still necessary to have good and outstanding schools at a rate that was affordable to those not in the upper-income bracket.

“There are outstanding schools that are in the less expensive category, and they show it can be done, and that’s a very important point. There are these exceptions that we need to work towards.”
Dr. Abdulla Al Karam, KHDA director general, welcomed the report. “All of the benchmarks have shown improvement. Every year we take an area of focus, such as Arabic language, and focus on it as a serious issue. We have to highlight it."

He said putting the report in the public domain was vital to “create dialogue” and to engage everyone from school heads and teachers to parents, one of the report’s recommendations.
Dr. Harry Patrinos, practice manager at Education Global Practice, said the report suggested further research on the emirate was still needed. “There is a growing number of private schools, so the question is to what extent this information is changing the behavior of parents in a positive way, so perhaps that’s the follow-up study to do.”

Susan Kippels, a researcher at the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation For Policy Research in RAK who was attending the event, said this bode well for the future. “This could be a model of transparency for the region,” she said. “It shows a lot of potential. The Dubai government really benefits from this as it adds credibility having a body such as the World Bank carrying out this kind of research. It gives a lot of positives to the work the KHDA has been doing.”