Majority of Dubai's Emirati children attend private schools

Emphasis on English outweighs concerns on possible deficiencies in Arabic language and cultural teaching.

Students at Al Shorouq Shool in Jumeriah. Standards at the school are said to be acceptable which falls below the expectations of parents who pay for private education. Duncan Chard for the National
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DUBAI // Most Emirati children in Dubai attend private schools instead of free government schools, despite concerns at the standard of teaching of Arabic and Islamic culture in the private sector.

According to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), 57 per cent of Emirati children are enrolled in private schools, and there is a seven per cent annual migration of Emirati pupils out of the public sector.

Nationwide, Ministry of Education statistics show 84,000 Emiratis were enrolled in private schools in 2009.

Parents say the cost of a private school is justified by better teaching methods and an emphasis on English.

The Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) findings for 2010 show a steady improvement in the overall performance of private schools.

Still, that most of the schools are ranked only "acceptable" raises questions about whether it is worthwhile for Emiratis to be paying high fees.

Dr Abdulla al Karam, director general of the KHDA, which regulates private schools in Dubai, said parents will always seek the best option for their children.

"This migration has been going on for the past 15 to 20 years," he said.

"Now, with the inspection reports for both public and private schools, they have the information to gauge and compare the quality."

Nahla Mohammed al Yousef, an Emirati mother, did not think twice about enrolling her children at private schools. "It is well-known that they have a much stronger English language programme, the faculty is experienced and the courses taught prepare them for university," she said.

In private schools, the teaching of Arabic and Islamic studies has been a constant issue. In the first two rounds of DSIB inspections, many schools were found to be disregarding government requirements for the time allotted to these subjects. While all the schools are now complying with the guidelines, the new DSIB report says improvement in these areas over the past three years has lagged improvements in maths, science and English.

"The increasing number of Emiratis in private schools makes it important for us to constantly monitor them, because issues in teaching Arabic, Islamic and culture need to be addressed," Dr Al Karam said.

Ms al Yousef believes the education her son receives at Dubai International School will be unlike the experience at a public school.

"The school teaches him to be self-confident. They have global days and he even learns French.

"If he was in a government school, his English would be poor and he wouldn't get to learn an additional language."

Ms al Yousef's daughter also attends a private school. The school in question follows the ministry curriculum and was rated "acceptable" this year, but Ms al Yousef says its standards are much higher than those in public schools.

"Unfortunately, it also comes down to the lost confidence," she said. "I still think public schools have not managed to evolve like the other schools."

In Dubai, 15 private schools follow the ministry curriculum - with 4,600 Emirati students between them - but none of them received a "good" ranking in the latest DSIB report. Inspectors said teaching and learning were not at the desired level and the narrow curriculum restricted skills development.

Al Shorouq Private School, which follows the ministry curriculum, was asked to develop teaching to promote independent learning, and assessment to identify students' progress. Classroom mawnagement and corridor discipline also had to be revised according to the inspection report.

Nevertheless, the school has made considerable advances according to its principal, Dr Maher Hattab. "The term acceptable does not provide the right picture of our position in progress," he said. "The school was able to enhance the curriculum and has invested in teaching, equipment and resources. We have expanded student activities to make it a more attractive learning environment."

Marwa Hassan, a Grade 12 student of Al Shorouq, said the rank did not bother her parents.

"My mother wanted me to be here because of the individual attention which I would not be getting at a public school," the Emirati said. "Also, I know the scores I get are through hard work and not because teachers have been forced into giving good grades."