x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Top Dubai schools told to give priority to Emirati pupils

Education chief says top schools in Dubai should be forced to give preference to Emirati pupils before enrolling students of any other nationality.

Pupils of KG 1 listen to a story by their teacher, Jan Roulston, at Jumeirah Baccalaureate School in Dubai.
Pupils of KG 1 listen to a story by their teacher, Jan Roulston, at Jumeirah Baccalaureate School in Dubai.

DUBAI //The best private schools should be forced to enrol Emiratis before pupils of any other nationality, the emirate's education chief said yesterday.

More than 58 per cent of Emirati pupils in Dubai study at private schools, but most are enrolled at underperforming institutions.

"How can we limit the number of Emirati pupils in low performing schools? One way is to give them priority in good schools, if they fulfil the other admission criteria," said Dr Abdulla Al Karam, director general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority .

Rabaa Al Sumaiti, a researcher at the KHDA, said such a policy would ensure that Emiratis were never put on waiting lists at top schools, but given first preference.

"This way we can help Emirati families to choose schools that are doing well," she said.

School principals said they would support moves to promote the capabilities of Emiratis.  "Unless the Emirati population are trained in the right skills and knowledge they will continue to heavily rely on the expatriate community," said Mohammaed Riad El Merabi, director of Dubai National School.

"But it is not enough to only send them to school; we must ensure they are learning well, develop their interpersonal skills and take on responsibility."

The private education group Taaleem said they would support positive discrimination. "We also believe the private sector has an important role to play in helping shape the future of education within the region," said Clive Pierrepont, its head of communications.

Hind Al Janahi, an Emirati parent with children at a private school, said: "I can tell you out of experience that some schools shun UAE nationals because they think we are lazy and do not perform as well as expatriates.

"When I moved my daughter to a high-performing school in Dubai, she was the only Emirati there. Why? I know a lot of Emirati parents who want to enrol there but cannot because of the racist attitude followed by some."

However, one education expert advised caution. "Trying to favour one group over another is a form of discrimination," said the government-employed Emirati education expert.

"It can have an adverse effect where it results in a lack of effort by UAE nationals to succeed. This would be disastrous."

KHDA research suggests Emirati parents choose private schools based on feedback from other parents and perceived prestige associated with high fees.

"Often socio-economic factors determine the school a parent picks, but we know that a school with high fees may not necessarily be of good quality," said Dr Al Karam.

Results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) conducted in private schools in 2007 showed high fees accounted for only 24 per cent of a school's success. The test, designed to predict pupil readiness to contribute to GDP, evaluates maths, science and reading skills.

A principal who dedicates time to the curriculum can raise pupil performance by 29 points, more professional development for teachers can result in an increase of 26 points, and encouraging a peer-review system could account for a leap of 78 points in the test.

Going up by a single level in TIMMS results would equate to a 2 per cent rise in GDP.

Through the emirate's school inspections the KHDA could provide detailed information about the quality of schools, said Dr Al Karam, who headed the Dubai delegation at the World Bank-funded Regional Network for Education Research Initiative yesterday.

At the workshop, education representatives from six other Mena countries presented policy papers on how to improve education.

A representative from the World Bank said Dubai was on the right track. "It is key that the authority disseminate as much information possible about the quality of schools and offer school within their means," said Mourad Ezzine, manager of the Mena Education Section at the World Bank's Human Development Department.

"They must also ensure that there are good schools for every level of fees."