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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Schools' survey: best education should not come at highest price

Fee-paying schools in UAE are getting better but fee incentives should not allow standards to slip

Pupils from GEMS Wellington Academy, one of the schools in Dubai ranked "outstanding". Pawan Singh / The National
Pupils from GEMS Wellington Academy, one of the schools in Dubai ranked "outstanding". Pawan Singh / The National

Every year the number of students in school in Dubai swells by 10 per cent as the city’s rapid growth attracts throngs of new arrivals. The UAE, with 596 international schools educating more than 600,000 students, teaches more international schoolchildren than any other country, according to UK-based ISC Research. Parents will be relieved that improvements in the quality of teaching have partnered rising school numbers. As The National reported, the number of fee-paying schools in Dubai graded “good”, “very good” or “outstanding” has doubled in the past decade – a statistic backed up by 12,000 hours of classroom observation and feedback from 400,000 parents. Thorough inspections are integral to any successful schooling system and reflect a sector that has matured considerably in recent decades.

With thousands of people arriving in the UAE every year to work, bringing their families with them, ensuring the very best education for their children is a priority for many. There are some benefits in offering financial incentives for achieving better standards, although there is a danger that could widen the gap in the quality of education provided between the most and least expensive schools. Schools that barely make the grade could get trapped in vicious cycles, unable to raise fees and fund improvements, which is turn can cause good teachers to seek opportunities elsewhere. Currently, institutions that are deemed outstanding are able to increase their fees by a maximum percentage, allowing them to reinvest in better facilities and quality staff. Those whose performance is judged to be weak are permitted a smaller fee hike. While failing for-profit schools will get little sympathy from fee-paying parents, it is crucial that prices vary across the board so the best education is not limited to the wealthy elite.

In 1962, almost a decade before the UAE was born, there were just 20 schools in the Trucial States. Last academic year, more than 25 new schools opened in Abu Dhabi and Dubai alone. The speed with which the country's educational offering has developed and matured mirrors its economic growth. Those who come here to work hard and contribute to that growth expect excellent schooling for their children. While it is encouraging that private schools have generally improved, action is required to prevent those currently failing from slipping further.