DUBAI // Parents, particularly Emiratis, are queuing up to enrol their children at schools offering the International Baccalaureate curriculum, despite fees of up to Dh96,000 a year.
The number of pupils at IB schools in Dubai has increased by 66 per cent in the past four years. From only three schools in 2005, 25 have now received the IB accreditation. The curriculum, which is founded on empathy, international mindedness and independent learning, is also in demand in the capital.
When the Australian School of Abu Dhabi was just a concept on paper, operators knew they would opt for IB.
"It was decided we would offer a curriculum to cater to various nationalities," said Bruce Handley, principal of the school, which opened in Khalifa City B in 2006. "They can easily transfer to other systems and are better prepared for challenges and sought after by universities."
The school has nearly 1,000 pupils, 90 per cent from Emirati families. "Emirati parents are keen because such education moves away from the traditional rote learning they were used to at local schools and emphasises global thinking," said Mr Handley.
Seeing the growing interest among families in the UAE, many school operators are lining up to gain authorisation with the International Baccalaureate Organisation, a non-profit foundation set up in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968.
Other schools have started offering it in parallel to the home country curriculum. The International Concept of Education School, which opens for primary grade pupils this September, said this week it would offer IB along with the option of the French curriculum.
Shoaib Khoori, a management board member, said it was a fast-growing concept around the world. "We are blending the two systems at the school," he said. "We are just trying to cater to the parents' demands."
It takes up to three years to earn the IB World School status. A school can choose to offer the IB's Primary Years Programme (3-11 years), Middle Years Programme (11-16) or the Diploma Programme (16-19), and can apply for all three.
Poonam Bhojani, chief executive of Innoventures Education, which manages the Dubai International Academy and said that rigour guarantees a high quality of education.
"IB schools are internationally recognised and the education is transferable - a valuable attribute for a transient population," said Ms Bhojani, who is also president of the Middle East IB Association.
"Leading universities in many countries including the US, Canada, UK and Australia show preference for IB graduates as the IB Diploma Programme is rated to be the best school leaving qualification."
At the core of the courses are lessons in collaboration, curiosity, open-mindedness and balance, supported by community service, projects and exhibitions that pupils are involved in throughout the year.
"Students develop an understanding of themselves as part of a community within a wide context where they are encouraged to have empathy for the less fortunate, and global citizenship is promoted."
But the cost of such a well-rounded education is high, and fees are among the highest in the country. The Gems education company, which has more than 8,500 pupils at its seven IB schools, charges between Dh55,000 and Dh96,000 a year at its World Academy. At Taaleem's IB schools, fees ranges from Dh30,000 to Dh60,000.
Clive Pierrepont, Taaleem's director of communications, said the cost of running an IB school was so high because of staff recruitment and retention cost "and the ongoing professional development that schools are contracted into to gain and retain candidate status and eventually authorisation".
Nevertheless, the group plans to open another IB school in the capital. Gems plan to open another in two years' time and Innoventures hopes to introduce IB at its Collegiate American School.