A new system of education will be introduced to a dozen government schools in Abu Dhabi as their management is taken over by leading private sector operators.
The institutions, known as charter schools, will be free for their exclusively Emirati pupils who live in the neighbourhood where the school is located.
The charter schools will have a customised curriculum, not yet revealed by the Department of Education Knowledge who announced the new programme, known as Education Partnership Schools, on Wednesday.
The yet announced private operators will be responsible for implementing the new curriculum and any administrative work in the selected schools, which will remain government-owned.
The aim of the programme is for public schools to benefit from the expertise of the private sector.
This week, state agency Wam reported that the EPS programme is one of the Ghadan 21 initiatives and aims to prepare pupils with future skills.
The first phase of the programme will provide 15,000 seats for new pupils, in the coming academic year, across 12 public schools, nine of which are based in Abu Dhabi city and three in Al Ain.
The new curriculum will be rolled out at kindergarten and elementary level during the first phase more years later.
"This partnership with the private sector will benefit all stakeholders in the education ecosystem including students, parents, teachers and administrators,” Sara Musallam, chairperson of Adek, told Wam.
"Educators will also benefit from the training courses and workshops that come with the EPS programme," she said.
"Adek is planning other continuous development initiatives which will help enhance their teaching skills and create new opportunities in their careers."
Pupils currently enrolled in the schools for the next academic year will not have to re-enrol. New pupils must follow the regular process of registration in public schools and parents will have to visit the school to complete the paperwork. Registering at charter schools will not require any additional documents.
Pupils will be accepted if they fulfil all admission requirements.
This is not the first time Abu Dhabi has trialled a public-private partnership model in efforts to bring up education standards in government schools.
In 2006, some private operators were given three-year contracts to help public schools improve pupil performance and introduce international teaching practices. The plan was phased out after five years.
In 2011, The National reported that the scheme was successful in reducing demotivation among pupils, poor attendance, high dropout rates, and uninspired teaching.
Natasha Ridge, executive director at the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research said the new charter schools must be robustly monitored to determine their success.
“Reforming education involves investing in teachers and schools and taking a very long view of things. You need to have a strong curriculum, you need motivated teachers and active and supportive parents. If you have those things you will have a successful education system," she said.
Eileen Barnes-Vachell, lead school improvement adviser at Gabbitas, an education consultancy in Dubai, said charter schools have been successful elsewhere in the world, such as in the UK.
"Internationally, there is good evidence that schools in challenging circumstances need additional capacity and support to make sustainable improvements.
"Schools do benefit from having private providers with a proven track record of improving schools using their commercial and educational experience and expertise to improve outcomes for pupils," she said.
"We know that 70 per cent of what makes a difference in raising standards are the quality of teaching and learning and leadership. It is vital that schools secure the best teachers and leaders and private providers can help with this."
The schools included in the first phase of the programme are: Rawdat Al Mushrif school (kindergarten), Mubarak bin Mohammed School (grade One — grade Four) in Abu Dhabi island, Abdullah Bin Ateibah School (kindergarten one — grade four), Rawdat Al-Budour (kindergarten) and Al Dana School (kindergarten) in Mohammed Bin Zayed City, Rawdat Al-Nayefah school (kindergarten), Al Salam School (grade one — grade four and grade five, for girls) and Al-Rawda Al -Gadeda school in Al-Falah area, Alwatan school (kindergarten) in Shakhbout city.
The three schools in Al Ain include: Al-Narjis School (kindergarten one — grade four) in Ain Al Faydah, Rawdat Al-Ghadeer School (kindergarten) and Al-Janaeen School (kindergarten 1 — grade four) in Al Shabia area.