American curriculum schools top choice for UAE parents, Adec says

The number of children enrolled in the emirate’s American schools grew by 103 per cent in Al Gharbia, 16 per cent in Al Ain and 14 per cent in Abu Dhabi over the past five years

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ABU DHABI // American-curriculum private schools continue to attract the most pupils in the emirate, according to the Abu Dhabi Education Council.

In the past five years, the number of children enrolled in the emirate’s American schools grew by 103 per cent in Al Gharbia, 16 per cent in Al Ain and 14 per cent in Abu Dhabi.

Only American schools experienced this double-digit growth rate in their populations across the emirate from 2010 to 2015, according to Adec’s Private Schools and Quality Assurance Sector Annual Report for 2014-2015.

In terms of year-over-year population growth, British-curriculum schools came in second.

“The American and British curricula recorded the highest students’ enrolment growth in the past five years, with CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of 16 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively,” according to Adec.

Conversely, Ministry of Education (MoE)-curriculum schools experienced the lowest growth among the top four most popular curriculums, with a compound annual growth rate of just 1 per cent since 2010. Of the private schools, 118, are in Abu Dhabi, 58 in Al Ain and 12 in Al Gharbia.

Of the 14 curriculums available American schools had the greatest number of pupils with 53,481. Private schools offering the MoE curriculum were second-most popular with 51,463.

British schools came in third with 50,855, followed by Indian-curriculum schools, which had 39,989 children in the 2014-2015 academic year. These four curriculums attracted 88 per cent of the private-school students.

Most of the Asian schools – catering to Indian, Pakistani and Filipino pupils – offered tuition that “fall under the affordable to low categories”, according to the report, which classified low annual tuition as between Dh10,000 to Dh19,999.

Whereas most of the international curriculum schools – such as British, American and IB – charged fees in the “medium to premium range”, which is between Dh20,000 to more than Dh50,000.

Sixty-five per cent of pupils were in schools charging “low” to “very low” annual tuition.

Adec projects that the private-school population in the emirate will increase by about 60,000 – at an annual growth rate of about 5 per cent – from 223,803 pupils in the 2014-2015 academic year to about 283,798 by 2020-2021.

Most pupils – 64 per cent of the school-age population in the emirate – attended one of 188 private schools last year. Arabs comprised 37 per cent of these pupils, followed by Asians at 29 per cent, Emiratis at 24 per cent, westerners at 8 per cent, GCC nationals and others at 1 per cent each.

Hamad Al Dhaheri, executive director of Adec’s Private Schools and Quality Assurance sector, said the education regulator had accomplished numerous achievements to meet the growing demand for education in the emirate.

He said in the report that over the past four years 45 new private schools had opened in the emirate to meet the increasing demand with their different curricula, adding 58,000 academic seats.

“Total investments over the last four years reached Dh2.3 billion, where the total income of private schools is estimated at almost Dh3.2 billion for investors in the private-school sector.”

Peter Carpenter, director of education at Aldar Academies, which is opening its first American school on Yas Island next academic year, said there were several reasons American schools were growing in popularity.

“The curricula is very broad and offers a wide range of subjects and activities focusing on holistic learning, including key skills such as critical thinking,” said Mr Carpenter.

“Parents and students appreciate the strong extracurricular opportunities, something singularly extensive in the American approach and which factors into its ‘whole student’ philosophy.”

Tom Farquhar, who has run American private schools for 25 years, said the American curriculum is “more responsive” to the child’s learning needs and “adapts to new learning opportunities faster” than some national curriculums.

“I think among the entrepreneurial class in an international country like the UAE, there’s an awareness that there’s a kind of flexibility, a kind of creativity, innovation, imagination and initiative in the American character,” said Mr Farquhar, who is founding head of school for GEMS Nations Academy, which will open in Dubai next academic year. “I think our families that are interested in exploring the American curriculum are also signing up for American values and some American stylistic ways of thinking about problem-solving, about innovation, about creativity, the creative imagination and wanting to have a school experience that celebrates that and helps to cultivate that.”