Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 5 April 2020

'Typical' Dubai pupil is five, Indian and called Mohammed

New data sheds light on shifting trends in private schools - with British curriculum soaring in popularity

Some private school regulators have said no refunds will be given despite closures. Reem Mohammed / The National
Some private school regulators have said no refunds will be given despite closures. Reem Mohammed / The National

Mohammed is five years old, Indian, and is enrolled in the first year of a British curriculum school in Dubai.

But you will not find him in a classroom. Instead, he is an invention of Dubai officials, who have created Mohammed as a personification of the changing landscape of private education in the emirate, with the average age of pupils becoming younger and classrooms more diverse.

A report compiled to offer a comprehensive snapshot of private schools in Dubai shows that Mohammed is more likely than ever to go to a British curriculum school.

Enrolment at British schools has grown by seven per cent over the past five years, to almost 110,000 pupils, accounting for more than a third of the 295,148 private schools pupils in Dubai.

Meanwhile numbers of pupils at Indian schools - virtually identical to UK schools as recently as 2016 - have flatlined over the past five years. Numbers at American schools have also levelled off.

The opening of new private schools, training institutes and international branch campuses in Dubai over the last decade has stimulated growth and helped us create a diverse education community

Abdulla Al Karam

“The success of key economic sectors in Dubai has created new opportunities that are contributing towards better infrastructure and creating more choice for families,” Abdulla Al Karam, director general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, said.

“The opening of new private schools, training institutes and international branch campuses in Dubai over the last decade has stimulated growth and helped us create a diverse education community with diverse curricula and programmes that meets the expectations of families.”

The report shows that the 295,148 students enrolled across Dubai’s 208 private schools in the 2019-20 school year was a record high. The figure has risen by more than two per cent on last year, and is up 50 per cent in a decade.

Of Emiratis going to Dubai private schools, the most popular are American curriculum institutions, where around 20,000 are educated.

But a rising number of Emiratis are sending their children to British schools, too. Less than 5,000 pupils were educated in them a decade ago, compared to nearly 10,000 now.

Despite the rise in overall student numbers, there remain a large number of unfilled places, with private schools running at just 81 per cent capacity.

The most unfilled places are at Dubai’s 16 International Baccalaureate schools, which are running at 65.1 per cent capacity. Both Indian and Ministry of Education schools are at 85.1 per cent capacity.

At Dubai’s most diverse school by nationality - Gems Wellington Academy - a British curriculum school, there are children from 103 different countries.

Overall, children from 173 different countries are enrolled in Dubai schools, with the largest group being from India. They are followed by Emiratis, Pakistanis, Egyptians and British children.

Teaching a broad range of nationalities had helped create a richer learning environment, Kevin Loft, principal at GEMS Wellington Academy, said.

“The growth and development of the school shows the appeal that the British curriculum offers a range and variety of people," he said.

"Welcoming and supporting diversity has made the school a richer and more internationally-minded community to learn and work within.”

Schools charging the cheapest fees are the most full, the report said, with those charging less than Dh15,000 at 88 per cent capacity. At the most expensive schools, where fees are more than Dh60,000, 83.9 per cent of places were taken up.

Dubai private school pupils
Dubai private school pupils

The average annual school fee was Dh29,057, KHDA said, with just over half of pupils' families, 51.1 per cent, paying less than Dh20,000. Total income across the sector in Dubai, not allowing for fee discounts some parents are eligible for, was Dh8.45 billion.

Updated: January 22, 2020 07:40 PM

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