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DUBAI: The UAE government recognises the role of education in building a knowledge-driven economy for the post-oil era, states the country’s official website.

Providing a first-rate education system is a major pillar of the country’s National Agenda in line with Vision 2021, the primary target of which is to produce students who excel in reading, mathematics, science with a strong knowledge of the Arabic language.

Talking about the choice of schools available to parent, Jiya, who grew up in Dubai and has four school-going children, says undoubtedly, Dubai has “the most varied schooling options available of anywhere in the world.”

The choices include not just the popular British, American, Indian and IB curricula, but also Pakistani, Swiss, Chinese, Lebanese, Japanese, Iranian, French, Filipino and Australian, which combined constitute a total of 18 different curricula being taught in schools around the city. One is almost spoilt for choice even within one’s affordability bracket.

Mother of 4, Wajiha has lived in Dubai since 2005. All her children have been schooled here entirely.

She says the first decision parents are faced with vis a vis their children’s education is which curriculum to choose. While schooling is of high quality at all levels in Dubai, for university-level studies, people still prefer to send their children abroad.

The end goal and where is it that the children will eventually go for their professional education eventually determines which curriculum parents end up selecting.

“In addition, in choosing secondary schools, one other major criterion parents look at is the A’ Level results and university destinations of previous students that gives parents a certain level of confidence,” she adds.

In terms of fee brackets too, Dubai offers a vast variety of schooling options.

“You find your very high-end schools, with fees upwards of AED 70,000 per year, for example, for a year 10 student,” explains Farrah, whose children have both studied in Dubai for the last 12 years.

“On the flip side, you also have the option of sending your child to a British curriculum school, where also all the teaching staff is fully UK qualified, but the fees is more towards the middle range of around AED 45,000 a year for a year 10 student. Therefore, it purely boils down to parents’ affordability as to which school they want to send their child. In general though, schooling is quite expensive here compared to most places in the world.”

With a total of 215 schools serving the city, it is not difficult to get children admitted as most schools now have sprawling campuses.

Dubai wants to be the ultimate destination for education, and Pakistanis can benefit

If you register your children at the right time, it’s only about being able to pay the fees. Very few schools have limited seats, and that’s primarily because of space restrictions. Most other schools will increase sections to accommodate new admissions, as ultimately, most private schools are profit-making ventures.

A few of the more established British secondary schools have an entrance exam system for entry into year 7 and also have waiting lists for other year groups.

“This is because these schools are more popular and they are seeking a certain calibre of students that they want to give admission to considering their limited space.

“Most though schools are more than happy to take on new children, as schools here don’t really reach full capacity for any year groups,” adds Farrah.

In keeping with the UAE’s strict policy towards religious, ethnicity tolerance and inclusion, Dubai treasures its cosmopolitan status and the societal fabric formed by its multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious population.

As a result, schools in Dubai are well equipped to amalgamate students from any and every background.

“Dubai has always been a melting point of cultures for decades now. Schools, old and new, have developed the kind of infrastructure needed to support a multinational student body. They also employ staff from different nationalities and as a result children find all required assistance and support in schools which helps them to start speaking, reading and writing in English very soon, even if they come from a country with a different curriculum and medium of instruction,” highlights Jiya.

Farrah very aptly points out that schools are aware Dubai is a diverse city of people and hence, have a zero tolerance policy to racism, bullying or any type of abuse. Students are taught from day one of schooling to be respectful of one another, no matter what their skin colour or beliefs.

While most parents are satisfied with the school education their children receive in Dubai, they largely agree that they would not want them to pursue higher education here.

Most parents prefer to send their children to study aboard. The popular opinion is that advanced and professional education is very expensive and still limited in choice. For the same amount of money, they’d rather send their children to Western and more established foreign universities which ultimately will have more value in the job market.

Recognising the fact that the UAE as a whole, over the years, has failed to retain most of its best students to foreign universities, not only is it encouraging the establishment of foreign campuses of top European and American universities but also offering 10-year golden visas to top performing students and their families in a bid to encourage them to stay.

Comparing schooling in Dubai to Pakistan, Naveen, mother of two, who has recently returned to Karachi, is of the view that schools in Pakistan are still very traditionally and academically inclined and their focus is on the curriculum with a very bookish attitude towards teaching.

The aim is to get the best grades and the highest marks.

In Dubai most curriculums are taught in a very well-rounded manner and care is taken in making a child an all-rounder — having a balance of interests like sports, arts and extracurricular activities.

In addition, Dubai schools prioritise students’ mental health.

“The pressure on grades is not as singularly great as in Pakistan. In addition, being taught in a global environment from an early age, the children’s understanding and perspective is much more layered from the exposure they receive from a very early age,” she notes.

Wajiha’s advice for families looking to move to Dubai is that since schooling is very expensive and can constitute the largest chunk of a household’s expenses, they must consider negotiating a schooling allowance in their salaries.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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