How the Private Sector is Improving Education in the UAE

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SEATTLE — According to a study released by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the private school sector in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been growing for some time now and does not seem to be slowing down. By 2020, there is expected to be a demand for more than 175,000 additional seats for children aged K-12. As a major driving force behind the growth of education in the UAE for years, more than 90 percent of the needs are predicted to be met by the private sector.

Six of the seven emirates have experienced growth in private school enrollment rates for grades K-12. The most dramatic increases have been observed in Dubai. Based on historical demographic patterns, Dubai is expected to require an additional 74,500 seats across 50 new private schools by 2020. Over the same period, Abu Dhabi is expected to need 62,000 additional seats across 52 new private schools.

The data displays positive prospects for the growth of education in the UAE, a matter which will be discussed during the Global Education Supplies and Solutions (GESS) gathering in Dubai. Public schools within the Gulf Cooperation Council rely on a national curriculum which remains largely underdeveloped. While the region is focusing on updating their curricula, the process is gradual and has not been able to entirely account for underserved populations.

In Dubai, where 90 percent of children are enrolled in private schools, it is particularly important to address the quality of education within the private sector. Dubai private schools should be among the top 20 highest performing nations in math, science and reading under UAE Vision 2021, which is part of the UAE’s national agenda. These goals are based on average national performance in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Last month, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority reported that the performance of Dubai private schools at the eighth-grade level are in line with schools in the top 15 highest-performing nations for the 2015 academic year. According to PISA, for the same year, Dubai private schools performed similarly to schools in the top 20 countries in reading and science.

For the first time, students in Dubai have risen above the international average of 500 points in TIMMS. The results for PISA showed students improving six points in science, which is four points above the global average, and eight points in reading, meeting the global average. Furthermore, Dubai was announced as being in the league of top achieving countries in comparative performance.

However, at a national level, the average for all education in the UAE remains under 500 points in the latest TIMSS and it is ranked at 46 in science, 47 in math and 48 in reading for PISA.

There are still certain obstacles private sector education faces. For example, preschool-aged children have been enrolling at twice the rate of those who are aged K-12. This demand is currently being met with smaller facilities and attempted regulation pricing. However, private schools have generally provided the opportunity to improve the access to and quality of education in the UAE. This has, in turn, given parents a wider selection of schools to meet their children’s needs.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr

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Jaime Viens

Jaime lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her academic interests include anthropology, political science, nonprofit management and studio arts.

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