Expats’ Guide To International Schools: How To Find The Perfect School For Your Children In The UAE

expat feature picture
Arabic / Education / Language Learning / Learn Arabic / Teaching Methodology / Travel

Expats’ Guide To International Schools: How To Find The Perfect School For Your Children In The UAE

Most parents are looking for a good education for their child. And international schools in the United Arab Emirates have plenty on offer. Especially with diverse options in teaching style, curriculum and classroom philosophy. Therefore, parents will have to spend some time narrowing their options.

There are so many choices in the UAE. As such, it can be daunting to know where to begin. It is also probably your little one’s first brush with education. Therefore, you may feel the added pressure of this. 

The expat population in the UAE is growing rapidly. As a result, the demand for quality education for expat children is increasing as well. There is a high percentage of expats that make up the population of UAE. As such, more and more international schools are popping up in the UAE. But as a parent, how do you choose the best school for your child?

In this article we’ll explore some of the key aspects that go into choosing the right school. We will also review some of the best international schools on offer.

  1. The United Arab Emirates education system
  2. International school curricula and certificates in the UAE
  3. Should you send your child to an international school in the UAE?
  4. How to choose an international school in the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates education system:

The educational system in the UAE is a huge operation. Private and public schools across the Emirates are working to improve, develop, and meet standards in a school system that is less than a century old. The nation has made incredible progress. As it stands, it has one of the world’s greatest literacy rates. 

Quality of schools can vary substantially. However, there are some very strong schooling options available in the Emirates. At every level, at that. Schools in the UAE generally have four levels:

  • Early Childhood Education (ages 3–5)
  • Primary (ages 6–11)
  • Lower Secondary (ages 12–15)
  • Upper Secondary (ages 16–18)

There are considerable distinctions between government-run public and privately-run schools. These include gender segregation, the language of instruction, teaching methodology, and price.

Many schools in the UAE use Arabic as the language of instruction. It would be a good idea for your child to get a head start and support in learning Arabic. This is especially as Arabic, as any language, can be tricky to learn. You can do this by hiring an experienced tutor from Learn&Co. They will dedicate 1 on 1 time with your child to assist them in all the areas of the language.

The structure of schools also differs as government schools are broken up into four levels. However, the majority of private schools offer nursery through to secondary school. This allows for educational continuity. Private schools don’t tend to follow the Ministry of Education curriculum. In fact, they are not directly under government supervision. 

International school curricula and certificates in the UAE:

IPC – International Primary Curriculum

The International Primary Curriculum is a structure that emphasises certain themes. Examples are high engagement, rigorous learning, and intercultural awareness. It highlights explicit learning goals and personal learning between the ages of five and twelve. It is fundamentally an adaptation of the UK curriculum for international schools. Many schools throughout the UAE follow this IPC model.

IB – International Baccalaureate

The International Baccalaureate program is a highly structured program that is truly international. At the core of IB are essay writing and the theory of knowledge. Then, there is a project that combines innovation, activity, and service. However, students also study science, arts, math, language, and literature. To receive the IB Diploma students take a thorough exam at the end of secondary school. It is clear that many parents recognise the value of the IB program. Especially because it is widely acknowledged for its rigor and recognition as students apply to universities across the world. There are 42 schools in the UAE that offer the IB diploma program.

International GCSE (IGCSE)

The International General Certificate of Secondary School follows the British curriculum. It is broken down into three stages which altogether lead to an A-level qualification. Students take coursework in science, English language and literature, maths, and a foreign language. Most students will take the IGCSE through the Cambridge International Examinations Board in the first two years of secondary school. In the final two years, they will take their A-Levels. British curriculum schools in the UAE are very popular because they let students move smoothly into higher education in the UK.

Should you send your child to an international school in the UAE?

Sending your child to a private or public school is a huge decision.Within your family discussions, you should explore a few different questions. Would you like your child to be in a predominant Emirati cultural environment? If not, a multicultural one? Is your child an Arabic speaker? If not, would you like them to learn it? Does your child focus better within bigger or smaller class sizes? Would your child like to go to university? If so, in which country?

International schools offer the benefit of anticipating and meeting many expat students’ needs. They also make it simpler to apply to a university abroad because of their international certifications. That said, studying in an international school can be wildly costly. It also typically means that your child will likely be in an expat bubble. Be sure to have a clear goal for your child in mind before deciding.

How to choose an international school in the United Arab Emirates:

When deciding on a school for your child, there is one essential thing to do. This is to think through what kind of experience you would like them to have. What kind of teaching strategy best suits your child? Should you enrol them in an educational system that mirrors your home country? What is the reputation of the schools you are considering? Do they offer the extracurricular activities your child is passionate about? Your best bet is to make a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves in a school. This should enable you to come to a suitable decision. 

Check The Ratings

If you would like to see the overall rankings of schools, check out the yearly reports. ADEK Ratings 2021 covers all the schools in Abu Dhabi. KHDA Ratings 2021 reviews all the schools in Dubai. These ratings take into account everything. This ranges from facilities, student completion, leadership and teaching quality. They are also commonly accepted as the best benchmark for how a school is performing.

Match Your Curriculums

It is crucial to ensure your child can slot seamlessly back into the system they have come from. Or into a new system depending on your move. This is something that most expat parents in Dubai need to take into consideration. That is where a school’s curriculum comes in. There are 17 different curriculums available in the UAE. The most popular is the British, followed by the International Baccalaureate (IB). You may eventually want to travel back to your country. Due to this, it is better to follow a curriculum that matches the way it is done in your country. This ensures that the transition won’t be too difficult on your child.

Research The School’s Background

Another way to get a feel for a school is to research the group that it’s part of. This way, you can see whether its qualities and values match what you’re looking for. For some, that may be a school that is part of one of the large, established educational companies with a proven track record. For other parents, sending their child to a non-profit school is a priority. These places tend to be more heavily contested, which is why it depends on what you want for your child. Non-profit schools are popular because they tend to be the older schools in Dubai.

Then, there is a third option that is becoming progressively accessible to parents in the UAE. Specifically, branded international schools. This means they have a founding school in the UK or other countries. These schools tend to maintain close connections with the original schools. They present families a sense of familiarity. Furthermore, they enable a smooth transition back to a home country if and when the time comes.

Book a Tour

Having checked the ratings and researched the schools, the final step would be to pay the school a visit. Most schools have regular tours you can book onto during term time. Knowing what you want is the most important factor when it comes to making that final decision. You should focus on meeting your child’s needs when it comes to choosing a school. If you do that at every stage, then you’re always preparing them for the next step. And of course, you may find a few years down the line that the school is not right for your child. In that case, you can always consider moving them. There are plenty of decent transition points in every curriculum. Make the decision that’s right for now.

To summarise, there are many factors to consider when finding the perfect school for your children in the UAE. This means you need to make sure you do your research. You should also know what your child needs. Finally, you must figure out what your requirements from a school are. Also, bear in mind that students enrolled in public schools have to know Arabic to a certain degree as it is the main language of instruction. The solution to this would be to hire a professional Arabic Tutor from Learn&Co. They will teach your child the language in a way that is best suited for them.

Leave your thought here