x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Transparency is first step in school reform

The Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau has done parents a service by providing some solid data on how well schools are performing. Bad news can be good news if it leads to improvement.

For parents on the move with school-age children, the question posed to an online forum of expatriates back in November 2010 will sound familiar: "Can anyone recommend the [sic] decent school" in Abu Dhabi? The follow-up question was distinctively plaintive: "Anyone?" A smattering of vague hints was all that was offered.

Choosing a new school can be difficult in any country. But in the UAE, it can be infuriating. Online searches for information, from basic queries about school fees to critical details like accreditation, can frustrate even the most patient parent.

Even for families already in the UAE and looking for data, there are hurdles. At the Abu Dhabi Education Council web portal, for instance, tuition fee information for private schools has not been updated since September 2010. In many cases, only an in-person visit to the school will suffice to discover even this type of basic information.

All of which is why efforts by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) to make data open to everyone are so encouraging. With the click of a mouse, parents can pore over original inspection reports and find details on class sizes, key strengths and noted weaknesses. How did the school perform in the last inspection? What subjects does a particular private school excel in? It's all there at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority's website, www.khda.gov.ae.

The DSIB doesn't shy from critical assessments, either. As The National reported yesterday, thousands of Indian and Pakistani pupils are being failed by their schools in Dubai. Far from being a name-and-shame exercise, Dubai's initiative is meant to give parents the tools they need to make informed decisions and, in turn, pressure schools to reform.

Educators in the Emirates face a massive challenge providing quality education to so many students across a range of curricula. What's more, income disparities mean profit margins vary widely, with some private schools operating on a razor's edge. But there is no denying that knowledge is power for parents seeking the best for their children. Education officials across the country can do more to give it to them.