DUBAI // More than half of Emirati pupils in Dubai attend private schools because their parents believe they not only offer a better education, but also provide a higher social status in the community, according to a new study.
"It's the kind of children that I want my son to be around," said one parent who was quoted in the report published by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) and CfBT, the British education trust.
There was a 75 per cent increase of Emirati pupils in private schools between 2003 and 2010, with 28,983 enrolled in the current academic year. Within the same time period, government schools have seen a 15 per cent decline.
Overall, about 57 per cent of Emirati children attend private schools in Dubai.
More than 50 per cent of Emirati parents said they chose to pay for their children's education rather than receive it for free because private schools offered better teaching and learning.
Most Emirati parents who participated in the study, entitled "In Search of Good Education-Why Emirati parents chose private schools in Dubai" said they also preferred private education for socio-economic reasons.
However, Kaltham Salem Kenaid, the report's author, said the principal reason UAE nationals opted for private school was because they believed their children would receive stronger skills.
“They said it would lead them into an easier entrance into university either here or abroad, and that they would have better employability skills,” Ms Kenaid said.
She said fathers who were invited for discussion on the topic said they wanted their children to be around families with a better social background.
The fathers also believed that parents who sent their children to private schools were more actively engaged in their children’s education.
“Fathers said they want their children to be decent Emiratis with good social skills, and prefer them mingling with students from other nationalities.”
Another important factor missing in public school, according to parents, was safety.
Parents said they felt their children were in a controlled and safe environment in private schools, with limited opportunities to misbehave.
Humaid Obaid Al Muhairi, an officer in the military, said he sends his children to private schools because he wants them to be better citizens.
“Its not because private schools have better studies, but I have noticed that discipline is a problem in many public schools now,” he said. “The children do not behave and their parents are not interested in their studies.”
He said he did not want his children to be raised in such an environment.
“I want them to learn well but they must also have a good behaviour,” he said.
Additionally, the government-school practice of dividing grade levels into cycles was also a point of concern.
Ms Kenaid said parents wanted their children to finish their K-12 education in the same school.
“Parents do not necessarily like the governments Cycle 1, 2 and 3 system, which means they shift schools after every cycle,” she said.
The report stated that 22 per cent of parents said they were drawn to private schools because of the emphasis put on the English language. The poor English standards in government schools cause about 95 per cent of Emirati students who graduated high school to need remedial programmes before entering degree programmes at federal universities.
Hind Al Janahi, an Emirati mother who has two children at Gems World Academy, said she has seen public school children struggle to acquire language skills, and did not want her children to have the same problem.
“I know children who after 30 years of their life cannot read and write in English, and that is the language of instruction at university,” she said. “I think it is ridiculous to waste one or two years of your life in a foundation programme to be better at something you should have been taught in school.”
Dr Howard Reed, the director of the Dubai Women’s College, said the teaching and learning at government schools was lacking.
“This is why so many Emirati parents opt for private education in Dubai,” Dr Reed said.
The federal institution recently announced a private high-school on its premises to address the problem of remedial learning and to help students avoid the foundation stage at university.
“It will be an American system that will focus on essential skills and will be taught in a mixed group, which is the best learning environment”, he said.
According to the study, two-thirds of Emirati pupils attended only 22 of the 148 private schools in the emirate.
Ms Al Kenaid said this was because of word-of-mouth recommendations, inspection reports and cultural understanding in the schools.
“For example, parents have reservations about mixed schools and prefer sending them to private schools that segregate boys and girls classes,” she said.
However, the report also highlighted some of the issues that Emirati parents face in private education.
“Most parents said their concern is that they do not feel there is a school that caters to all their needs despite having to pay for education,” Ms Al Kenaid said.
The teaching of the Arabic language, Islamic values and national identity were also important concerns that parents raised.
Although a majority of parents saw the advantage of a private education, the report concludes that their expectations did not match the assessment by KHDA, which rates them every year.
Eight of the 10 private schools attended by Emiratis received an acceptable grade, with only two rated “good”.
This is in comparison to most government schools, which KHDA considered to be on par with those private schools.
Private schools have advantages, say Emirati parents
DUBAI // Amal Al Qasim wants her son to stay after school for football practice, to be in a classroom with children from different parts of the world, and to be assured he is safe.
She also believes that her son would not have had all these advantages if she had sent him to a government school.
“It is important my children are safe and happy,” the Emirati mother of three says. “I could not have them go to a school where there are too many pupils in one class.”
Her children, Yousuf, Majid and Omar Khoori, attend the private Greenfield Community School in Dubai.
Other Emirati parents echoed Mrs Al Qasim’s concerns, saying they would rather pay the high tuition than opt for a free government education.
A report from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority states that nearly 57 per cent of Emirati pupils in Dubai study in private schools. A similar trend was found in a study by Booz & Company and YouGov, which said the number of Emiratis attending private schools was expected to continue rising in the next decade.
Clive Pierrepont, the communications director at Taaleem, which owns the Greenfield school, said 16 per cent of pupils who attend the company’s schools are Emiratis. Taaleem, with more than seven schools, is the second-largest private education provider in the Emirates.
“Parents see international curricula as a direct route to quality universities,” he says.
Ms Al Qasim, who went to school in the US, says it is essential that her children be raised in a multicultural environment.
“I like the International Baccalaureate system of education,” she says. “My kids are exposed to international pupils which helps them when they decide to go abroad for college as well.” She says they do not have any fear about facing the challenges in the world. “They can adjust to any work and study anywhere, in any country,” she says.
She says her husband went to a government school, but “things are different now. He said it was fine then but I do not think the system has progressed with time”.
The teaching of the English language in school was another important factor for parents. “I know public schools do not teach mathematics and science in English, and if they need to progress at university they need to have that strong foundation,” she says.
The only drawback with international schools, she says, concerned Arabic and Islamic instruction.
“It’s always going to be the case that international schools will have to put in more effort to ensure these subjects are given equal attention,” she says. “Greenfield has been doing a good job to improve, but then I also supplement it with teaching the kids about our culture at home as well.”
* Afhsan Ahmed