School fees are on the rise; gaining access to the top institutions requires registering your child’s name on a waiting list years in advance and the government is now proposing to lengthen the academic year by 10 days.
With parents increasingly flummoxed by the UAE school system, it’s interesting to find out what the educators think? Souqalmal.com spoke to two Dubai-based teachers, who are also parents, to gauge their thoughts on education in the emirate.
Both teachers work at outstanding secondary schools in Dubai – Teacher A at an English curriculum school and Teacher B at an IB curriculum school – and both have two children attending outstanding primary schools. Here, they answer a series of questions:
Are pupils receiving a high standard of education in the UAE?
Teacher A: As someone who works in a British school, yes, the standards are high. Part of that quality comes from the type of student that attends the schools here. Their parents are professionals which means you start off with a higher caliber of student and as a teacher you rarely have to deal with the social problems you face in UK schools for example.
Teacher B: I think it’s mixed. There’s a real divergence between schools where students are considered as individuals, where learning is ‘personalised’, resources/ facilities are good and teachers, and therefore the pedagogy, is sound. Conversely other schools are caught in a cycle of high staff turnover and poor inspection findings and therefore are only able to charge lower fees. I wonder what resources and support are actually available for these schools to improve. Maybe the inspection system will develop to become more supportive to those that need improvement while successful schools are able to function more autonomously.
That said, I do think overall that standards are improving, My own experience as a teacher and a parent is that children here have access to a wonderful range of experiences and fabulous teachers. I am always at pains to express to my children how lucky they are.
What about the fees, are parents paying too much?
Teacher A: The fees are high because companies are willing to pay them. It’s economies of scale. As soon as companies or parents aren’t willing to pay them, the rises will stop but because companies keep paying, they keep going up.
Teachers don’t see the money. I have worked here for several years and although I receive an incremental rise every year to recognise my years of experience, the school has not awarded a pay rise in line with inflation for over six years.
Most schools here are businesses. They are profit-making schools and the high fees often go towards building the next school. The schools can’t claim that the rises are needed for salaries or other expenses such as resources or rents. The biggest expenditure is on facilities and a lot of schools haven’t expanded on those because they do not have the space. Instead the company behind the school simply builds new schools with better facilities.
Parents are right to moan about fees. They do not feel they are getting a good deal because they are not.
Teacher B: It depends – my children are just starting out on the education ladder and at the moment the cost is acceptable to us. I see that later on, in the GCSE and sixth form years, it could be cripplingly expensive as the fees increase as the child goes through the school. For many expats now, companies are not necessarily offering ‘paid fees’ as part of a package. Add that to soaring accommodation costs and expensive healthcare and it becomes prohibitive. Schools are trying to improve, attract the best staff and build the best facilities. All of that is understandable and commendable but you worry that it’s all gloss, no substance. I think back to my own early school experience in a porta-cabin in Africa as an expatriate child. No facilities but a superb teacher and that’s what really mattered. I was interested to hear one of my sixth form students calculate that next year’s fee increase will be AED15,000 per year. When you consider that some parents have two, three or four children in the education system, it’s a lot to take on.
Are class sizes are too big?
Teacher A: There are two types of school here: non-profit schools which have fixed classroom sizes and profit schools that want to fit as many children into classes as they can. There’s no doubt children benefit from smaller class sizes but what parents are paying for here is the environment their children are in more than anything else. It’s not that the standard of teaching is any better, it’s just that the types of student you have here allows us to actually teach and therefore a deliver a full lesson rather than half a lesson.
Teacher B: Given that increasingly substantial fees are paid, they are verging on too big. The pressure to get bums on seats dictates that you’ll have capacity classes. However, my children are currently in the British system (Year 1 and Foundation 1) and the level of support for them is superb – around 22 per class and teacher and learning support teacher in each.
What about waiting lists?
Teacher A: It is a problem for parents who have their heart set on a particular school for their child. But they need to remember that some of the best schools are also the biggest. Therefore, particularly at primary level, their child could get lost in a rather large system. At this stage parents might want to consider other factors such as proximity of a school to their home, class sizes and size of the school. A smaller, newer school may be able to offer your child more one-on-one time, which can only be beneficial.
Teacher B: If you don’t get into one of the most popular schools with, then you need to look elsewhere. There are lots of franchises of UK schools lending their brand names to new schools and charging huge fees. There is a mushrooming in the education field generally and I don’t know if it’s sustainable – they’re banking on a lot of people coming here. Fortunes of schools can wax and wane and there can be instability quite quickly so it’s worth looking around at all your options.
Do you think this proposal to lengthen the school year by 10 days will have an impact?
Teacher A: Longer hours will see the children and teachers suffer. Children are exhausted by all the demands on them as it is. If they are too tired, they can’t concentrate and it’s a waste of time them being there.
Teacher B: A longer academic year is better for working parents who have been frustrated with additional days off school but in general children need substantial time off and they need rest particularly in a grueling academic year. And if the school year is longer – what are the schools going to do with all that extra time? If you are already teaching the curriculum well, then why do you need extra time?
Which Dubai schools would you recommend to parents?
Teacher A: For primary it would be Horizon – because it’s a small school with small classroom sizes. Young children need this because there is such a difference in age, learning abilities and styles when they start out. For secondary I would choose Jumeirah College. It’s compact, sociable and there is a strong sense of community. There is also discipline in the school so the students are well behaved and well turned out.
Teacher B. For primary it would be Jess Arabian Ranches because it is a great little school with a small number of classes per year.For secondary it would be Dubai English Speaking School in Academic City. It has a growing reputation for catering to the needs of all children.
You can visit Souqalmal.com com to compare all information on schools in the UAE.