x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Top schools to lose rank

Some of Dubai's leading schools will be downgraded by inspectors because of a new emphasis on teaching Arabic.

Dr Carlo Ferrario, the headmaster of Dubai College in the campus.
Dr Carlo Ferrario, the headmaster of Dubai College in the campus.

DUBAI // Some of the emirate's leading schools will be downgraded in the next round of government inspections because of a new emphasis on teaching Arabic. Dubai's school authority, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KDHA), confirmed yesterday that some schools which were ranked "outstanding" last year had been marked down because they had not made sufficient improvements in Arabic language and Islamic studies instruction.

Four British-curriculum schools topped the rankings in the last round of inspections - the two branches of Jumeirah English Speaking School, Jumeirah College and Kings Dubai. It is understood that three of them have lost their "outstanding" ranking, while an inspection is still going on at the fourth. The looming downgrades are a serious blow to the schools as their ability to raise fees is linked to their performance in the inspections.

After last year's inaugural round of inspections, schools were told their future scores would depend on improvements in Arabic and Islamic studies classes. The warning came after inspectors found that one in 10 schools were not complying with Ministry of Education requirements and 71 per cent of private school pupils were not making progress in Arabic. Andrew Turner, whose daughter is a student at Dubai College, said he was concerned that the KDHA was compromising quality, and giving Arabic language and Islamic studies more priority than core subjects.

While he understood the need to study local culture, Mr Turner added: "Parents are sending our kids to learn the British curriculum, not to study the Islamic culture and Arabic. We send them to a British curriculum school to get a British education." However, officials from the KHDA said since a high number of Emiratis and Arab expatriates attended private schools, these subjects remained of the utmost importance.

"Dubai's private schools have high numbers of nationals and Arab expats so the teaching of their language must be taken seriously," said Dr Abdulla al Karam, director-general of the KHDA, told the Arabic language paper Emarat al Youm. "Ignoring the language or teaching it badly does not reflect the cultural values of Dubai." On Sunday, Dr Carlo Ferrario, the headmaster of Dubai College, one of the country's most prestigious schools, resigned in protest over what he called interference from government agencies.

The KDHA said it was "sorry" to hear that Dr Ferrario had cited inspections as a reason for leaving, and assured parents that the board and management of Dubai College had "stated their support" for inspections. But Dr Ferrario's resignation reignited the debate over government regulation of privately owned and operated schools. "People prefer to work in a deregulated market," said Clive Pierrepont, director of marketing and communications for Taaleem, the second largest private school operator in Dubai.

Taaleem, Mr Pierrepont said, "would prefer to work in a market that is accredited by international bodies rather than regulated by local bodies". Mr Turner said: "It is clear that the regime of inspections is misaligned with the core responsibility of our top schools to maintain the standards of education that they have over the past years. "To see these standards be eroded in such a way as to cause one of the most experienced educators in the emirate, Dr Ferrario, to resign is a great cause for concern.

"Dubai College is one of the top British curriculum schools in the world, delivering an outstanding standard of education. The fact that the KHDA do not recognise this through their processes of inspections says more about KHDA processes than it does about Dubai College." Schools say regulatory bodies should have limited power in overseeing private institutions and many have called for the abolishment of fee caps.

Under previous federal rules, schools were only permitted a maximum annual tuition increase of eight per cent. The new KHDA rules allow for larger increases for most schools, but these are determined according to inspection scores. While some parents have questioned the Government's decision to emphasise Arabic and Islamic studies, principals protest that finding qualified teachers for both subjects remains difficult.

Mr Pierrepont said it was "extremely difficult" to find "great" Islamic studies and Arabic teachers. Since government schools in the UAE are open only to Emiratis and Arab expatriates, 85 per cent of pupils in Dubai attend private schools. Those in favour of increased regulation suggest that this unusual situation justifies a larger degree of government oversight. "From what I can see, the Government needs to protect parents from unscrupulous operators who are purely driven by a profit mentality," said Dr Natasha Ridge, a fellow at the Dubai School of Government and an expert on education in the UAE.

"You have almost a monopoly environment and people cannot send their kids to public schools." The parent of a child at Repton, who did not want to be named, said she did not have a problem with the government requirements for Arabic, but schools should not be downgraded for failing to comply with them. klewis@thenational.ae