x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Capital to add 60,000 school places in two years

Adec's plan to open 47 schools in the next two years will free up 60,000 new places for pupils in the capital.

ABU DHABI // The capital's education authority has approved requests to open 47 private schools within the next two years - and is considering proposals for a further 57.

The Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) said yesterday that the British, American, Indian and Arabic curricula schools would create 60,000 school seats and up to 2,000 jobs. It also said that an additional 150,000 spaces would be created in the next 10 years by allowing certain schools to increase capacity.

The announcements are likely to be welcomed by the capital's growing Indian community, where demand for school places is particularly acute.

Youssef Al Sheryani, the executive director of Private Education and Quality Assurance at Adec, said the council wanted to build the private education sector in the emirate.

"The strategy for developing education in Abu Dhabi is to provide equal opportunities for all students of the emirate to enjoy quality education at affordable costs," Mr Al Sheryani said.

Indian parents said they hoped a significant number of the new seats would be at CBSE-curriculum schools.

Demand for spaces at schools catering to the growing Indian community has been a long-standing issue in the capital. The problem was heightened by a lack of affordable options and Adec's decision to close all villa schools by 2013.

The private school operator Gems Education said it would open a purpose-built Indian school in the capital by April 2012.

"We have plans to open schools that cater to the needs of the diverse community, including the Indian expatriate populations," said a Gems spokesperson. "There are further schools in the pipeline which will depend on Adec approval."

According to the UK-based company ISC Research, the most popular private school curriculum in the UAE is the British curriculum.

In a report released in July, ISC Research said the British Curriculum was used in 52 per cent of private schools.

It said Indian (CBSE) and International Baccalaureate schools were also very popular.

Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, the deputy chief officer of Aldar Properties, the capital’s largest developer – which owns the school operator Aldar Academies – said most of its schools followed the British curriculum. “But we plan to bring new curricula like the IB and the American system to the capital as well,” he said.

He said as the number of families migrating to the emirate increased, there would be an urgent need to set up schools.

“The schools will cater to the needs of the city’s population and we are working closely with the authority to assess the situation.”

The Middle East has the fastest growing private international schools sector in the world, according to ISC Research.

Over the past two years, two thirds of the increase seen in the international education sector worldwide could be attributed to the Middle East.

Their research also suggests that the UAE has the most private schools in the Middle East and predicts that number will grow at an exponential rate in the next few years.

“The future will be dominated by for-profit international schools [that are] bilingual to varying degrees,” a spokesman for ISC Research said. “These schools will be located in residential communities with an increasing emphasis on local language and culture.”

According to Unesco, the UAE is among 49 countries with a “moderate” teacher gap – that is, by 2015 it will require an annual growth in teacher numbers of between 0.25 and 2.9 per cent in primary school teaching staff to meet demand.

Adec’s approval of 60,000 additional school seats in the next two years means there will be a guaranteed need for 1,714 teachers in the next two years (assuming class sizes are limited to 35 children per class).

“If schools plan well in advance, they will be able to find the best teachers from around the world,” said Sanjeev Verma, the chief executive at Intelligent Partners, a student services and teacher recruitment agency.

His agency has connected hundreds of teachers to schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi this year and Mr Verma expects the numbers to grow. He said the UAE was a lucrative place for teachers to accept jobs.

“By and large, schools here are looking for teachers from the US, Canada, Ireland, the UK and New Zealand,” he said. “The job situation for many international teachers back home is unstable, so the UAE is an attractive choice.”

He said international schools offered competitive salaries, and the tax-free environment was an added benefit. Teachers at international schools earn an average of Dh12,000 to Dh14,000 a month and may also receive housing and children’s education benefits.

But Mr Verma added that schools here also had a high turnover. “Some teachers are young and only here for a brief experience before they move on,” he said. “And some teachers just lack awareness and, because of a lack of cultural orientation, cannot fit in.”

Aldar’s Mr Al Mubarak said his company recruited only licensed teachers with suitable qualifications. “We try to bring the best qualified teachers who adopt the methods here,” he said.

aahmed@thenational.ae