Child nurseries in UAE to be publicly rated on standards

Every nursery in the UAE to be graded from A to E, with the results made public online.

Dubai, February 14, 2012 - Kieny Watts is the founder of the Hummingbird Early Learning Center in the DIFC in in Dubai City, Dubai February 14, 2012. (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National)
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ABU DHABI// Every children's nursery is to be inspected and given a rating from excellent to unacceptable, with the grades made public to parents.
The rating system is part of an overhaul of regulations for nurseries, of which there are about 300.
Last year each nursery received a guide outlining five sets of standards.
"We gave them one year to follow the standard, and they know where they are now," said Moza Salem Al Shoomi, director of the child department at the Ministry of Social Affairs.
She declined to identify the education company that will carry out the rating because they have not yet signed a contract, but its staff should begin inspections this year.
They will grade nurseries from level A (excellent) to level D (acceptable), with level E reserved for unacceptable operations that must improve standards.
"Our work, it must be to close some of the nurseries," Ms Al Shoomi said. The ministry closed about eight last year.
The evaluation process will help nurseries to improve, said Samia Kazi, chief operating officer for Arabian Child, an early-childhood consultancy that works closely with the ministry.
"When a third party comes in and evaluates you and gives you that clear plan, then you have a chance to change or renew your goals and objectives for the next year," Ms Kazi said.
"We're all striving to get to a level A," said Sue Jones, director of Kids Academy UAE, which opened in January in Khalifa City A.
"By striving to get to a level A it means you really do care about your staff and your children."
The ministry plans to publish the nursery ratings online. "I think that's a good idea, so it's more transparent," said Kieny Watts, general manager of Hummingbird Early Learning Centre in Dubai.
"Quality assurance is necessary in whatever industry or company, especially something to do with the caring of children," said Bernadette King-Turner, director of Beautiful Minds Nurseries, which has four locations in Dubai.
The ratings company and the ministry are still devising the rating criteria. "There are specific criteria or indicators that have to be created for this region, for this context – and that in itself is a humungous job," Ms Kazi said.
Parents struggle to find independent and impartial advice on nurseries. Sonya Edelman, 34, read online message boards when she was choosing a nursery in Abu Dhabi for her two-and-a-half-year-old son.
A government rating would be "something tangible", she said. "It would give me huge peace of mind."
Staff-to-child ratio should figure highly in the ratings, said Nesrine Khoury, 32, mother of a 14-month-old boy. "To me, that is one of the most important things, as well as the qualifications of the teachers."
The ministry also announced yesterday that all nursery workers must attend 30 hours a year of professional development training at an authorised programme. The Ministry of Labour will not renew visas for staff who cannot prove they have done so.
The Government must next find ways to support struggling nurseries, Ms Kazi said. "A lot of these nurseries, especially in the rural areas, won't be able to achieve that category A. We need to think about different kinds of support from the government to help them develop."