Interview: Abdulla Al Karam
Why have private schools become so popular, and what are the implications of such a trend?
ABDULLA AL KARAM: Currently, 87% of all education in Dubai takes place in the private sector, with a growing number of schools opening regularly. Since 2007, 28 new schools have opened, providing capacity for 44,000 new students. The sector continued to expand throughout the economic downturn, increasing year-on-year to total more than 210,000 students in the 2011/12 academic year. Student enrolment registered a 7.4% jump during this time, while 58% of Emirati parents are now choosing to send their children to private schools.
The expansion in school capacity has been matched by improvements in quality. Over the four years of inspections in Dubai, there has been a steady advancement in the proportion of students attending good or outstanding schools. In fact, the percentage of students enrolled in good or outstanding schools has elevated significantly from 30% to 46%.
The private education sector will continue to be dominated by providers that make the necessary capital investments to satisfy the growing expatriate and Emirati populations. KHDA’s school inspection and regulatory activities are designed to promote quality and to assist parents in making an informed choice about their preferred school for their sons and daughters.
How can Dubai encourage more higher education institutions to establish branches here?
AL KARAM: The launch of Knowledge Village in 2010 as the world’s only designated free zone for education, together with the opening of Dubai International Academic City have both been very notable developments for the sector. By following a branded system that consists of distinguished institutions operating locally through international branch campuses (IBCs) in the free zones, the number of IBCs for higher education in Dubai continues to expand.
Dubai now has 31 higher education institutions located within free zone areas. These universities make up 60% of higher education providers in Dubai, with a combined student enrolment of 17,700 students, an increase of 18% from the 2010/11 academic year.
Branch campuses which operate in Dubai do so knowing that the degrees they award their students are recognised by the government of Dubai. In June 2011, the government issued Resolution No. 21, which permits students who graduate from higher education institutions in the free zones to have their degrees certified by KHDA for employment and all other purposes in Dubai. Our aim is to attract quality institutions to come to Dubai and to diversify the programme offerings available to locals, expatriates and students who choose to study in Dubai from overseas.
What are your main initiatives for improving education at the primary and secondary levels, and how are these currently being delivered?
AL KARAM: We have schools in Dubai that are equal in status and performance to the best in the world and their success is a consequence of their focus on improving teaching quality and student learning. Our aim is to facilitate the sharing of best existing practice while looking forward to “next practice” among schools, so that they can provide support and guidance to each other to advance the quality of education in Dubai.
The “What Works” series of events has been designed for educators, by educators. KHDA’s role is to convene the event so that educators cooperate productively. The first What Works event was attended by 500 professionals from across Dubai’s private schools network. Participants had the opportunity to listen to teachers and principals from within the sector who had demonstrated excellence in: education; special education needs provision; good school governance; integration of information and communications technology; Arabic and Islamic education. These types of collaborative events will continue to be held regularly in the future. By sharing this intelligence, we will be better positioned to transform and strengthen education provision in Dubai.
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