Schools exodus opens eyes, and demands action

The decline of public schools will only accelerate as those parents who are most engaged in their children's education turn to private schooling.

That a majority of Emirati students are now attending private schools in Dubai is "eye-opening", says Dr Abdulla al Karam, the director general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority. Indeed, but what does this development open our eyes to and how must the nation address these revelations? The exodus from public schools in Dubai is eye-opening because it reveals the extent of their difficulties. Many of the problems are well known.
Proposals for changes in public education were delivered nearly 18 months ago. Critical thinking was to be at the core of a new curriculum. Teachers were to depend less on rote memorisation and emphasise problem-solving in the classroom. In large part, these remain to be applied. And the decline of public schools will only accelerate as those parents who are most engaged in their children's education turn to private schooling, as so many have in Dubai.
Sending a child to a private school, and incurring the considerable costs of doing so, are a clear vote of no-confidence in the public school system's ability to prepare pupils for the workforce. And those parents who send their children to private schools are not the only ones dissatisfied with the instruction public schools offer. As we reported on Tuesday, many parents of pupils who remain in public schools spend thousands of dirhams a year on extra tuition after school hours.
In every society, education is a great equaliser. To foster a sense of a shared purpose and invest in a society's cohesion, every child must have the chance to develop their God-given gifts in the classroom. But even in the most wealthy nations, not all families can afford private education. The absence of a viable public-school system can also perpetuate differences in class and status, to the detriment of a nation's identity.
The importance of public education is not limited to how it strengthens a country internally. The leaders of the nation are rightly aware of its growing international role and the growing connectedness of all nations. In a global economy, pupils in Dubai will compete not only with each other but also with those from Dallas to Delhi. Those who have moved their children to private schools appear to be aware of this. So too must be those who are charged with enacting the changes urgently required to improve public schools.