But are private schools better?

Importance attached to English Language proficiency


More than half of Emirati parents in Dubai choose to send their children to private schools, despite free education being provided at public schools,  according to a new  report- ‘In Search of Good Education-Why Emirati parents  choose private schools in Dubai.’ It is the first such study conducted by Emirati researchers with Emirati parents.

Tony McAleavy, CFBT Education Trusts Education Director, writes in the preface to this report ‘ In 2004, the World Bank’s Development Report identified two different forms of accountability which can  both be applied to school inspection. Providers of public services are accountable to the public via the institutions of government. This is the so-called ‘long route of accountability’. Government bodies should establish a form of compact or contract with schools whereby the provision of resources to government schools and the licence to operate for private schools are linked to the measurement of performance. The government acts on behalf of parents and students. Among other data sources, government bodies need to listen carefully to parents’ voices and should use this data when regulating school performance. They should use hard data and the perspective of service users – in this case parents – to hold schools, both government  and private, to account. This report provides important evidence about what ‘service users’ are looking for from an education system.  The high parental demand for private education in Dubai is a unique phenomenon amongst education  systems around the world and understanding why they choose the schools that they do is vital in ensuring   high quality education for the young people of the Emirate.’

Dr Abdulla al Karam of the KHDA writes ‘   Understanding the reasons why UAE national parents choose to invest in a private  education for their children is critical to help KHDA ensure access to the choice of school that parents desire  for their children, now and into the future.  Through research such as in this report, we are learning to  understand the context, preferences and deeper values that influence parents’ decision-making which in  turn helps potential investors understand the specific needs of Emiratis’.

Data collected from the 2010-2011 annual school census indicate that 28,983 Emirati students attend a private school in Dubai. From 2003 to 2010, the number of Emirati students in government schools plunged  by 15% while in private schools it has increased by more than 75% Annual data also point  to the fact that two thirds of Emirati students (22,141) go to just 22 private schools out of the 148 private schools in Dubai. According to the annual school census (2010-2011), 57 per cent of Emirati students (28,983 students) attend private schools, the report says.

Emirati parents base their preference for a private school principally on their perception that the school will provide their children with better learning and teaching, better English language instruction and better school leadership; and to a lesser degree, on the location of the school and the affordability of the fees. Parents pointed out that they preferred the arrangement of private schools that provided the entire education for their children from KG through grade 12 at the  one school rather than the public system which has separate schools for KG, first cycle, second cycle and  secondary levels.

Parents expect private schools to provide a safe and secure environment. They believe that only a few schools cater for their needs. Therefore most of the UAE students are concentrated in a smaller number of schools that accommodate such needs.

The study also provided additional evidence in support of English language instruction as an incentive for choosing private schools, since in the focus groups, parents placed high emphasis on English language proficiency. The report says ‘ this study English language was the  main subject that Emirati parents considered in choosing a private school though ‘ a  balance between  Arabic and English languages was challenging to find in private schools.’  The distinctive feature of the parents’ view was the importance of cultural values in their decision. They expected the schools to be guardians of social values and to cater for the specific cultural needs of Emiratis.’

However, the report also finds that ‘the perception of parents  that private schools offer a better education does not seem to be matched by the objective assessment of  school inspections.’

Research Report: Kaltham Salem Kenaid

Knowledge & Human Development Authority/CFBT Education Trust

‘In Search of Good Education-Why Emirati parents choose private schools in Dubai.’  (2011)




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