Are British Schools in Dubai Overestimated?



British curriculum schools are becoming more popular than ever in the UAE. This could be mainly attributed to aggressive marketing campaigns by investors in the education sector. The number of British schools is rapidly increasing, but according to many parents this doesn’t necessarily result in a higher quality of education for their children. With the growing number of pupils, the sector is continuously expanding and new lucrative opportunities are presented to investors. However, instead of providing education competitive to solid international standards, most of the Dubai’s British private schools are offering simply elevated pricing for their services in addition to plenty of entertainment. 

According to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, over the next five years, new private schools in Dubai will provide additional 90,000 places. By 2020, 50,000 places are expected to be opened only in British curriculum schools. Such development would normally lead to an intense competition on performance among schools and reduced tuition fees for parents. However, this is not the case in Dubai!

Dr. Abdulla Al Karram, director and chairman of the KHDA told British businessmen during a meeting this week that British schools are what is “lifting the education system up” in Dubai due to the quality it brings. However, natives of central Europe question the quality of British education in Dubai when they compare it to the education in their countries. The regulator also claims that inspection teams report very high performance of British schools during assessments, although still the majority of the said schools is not rated “Outstanding” or “Good” even according to the local standard. In addition, it is important also who inspects the schools and what is their level of qualification.

In fact, the number of new British schools in Dubai is the largest among all curriculums.  And they all claim to be bringing traditional, high-quality UK education according to all international standards. This is despite the fact that most of the British schools are operated by non-British, but mostly Indian and even local managements. However, aggressive advertisements implemented by marketing professionals with long-term plans and serious advertising budgets aim to convince parents otherwise.

Certainly, better education means better opportunities for children. However, many parents say that the education offered by most of the British schools in Dubai is not compatible to the education in UK. According to parents coming from Britain and other European countries, their children cannot receive the same quality in Dubai. Many of them even return back home when their children reach high school only for the purpose of receiving proper education. First, education in Europe means tradition and decades of hard work. In the past several years, British schools began popping up across Dubai. But how can they promise quality when there is no tradition or well established system to follow? Second, teachers in Dubai cannot match UK teachers, because of a number of factors. However, their salaries can. As if higher teacher’ wages means top qualified teachers. According to Clive Pierrepont, director of communications at Taaleem, up to 80 percent of the school operator’s costs are in fact for salaries. While Dubai may be part of the global market, as he says, most parents get more local wages. So, how imported British tuition fees can match families’ income?

It’s a big issue for many families in Dubai who despite of their good income often can’t afford quality education to their kids. The “quality” education in British schools is the only option for expatriates who end up paying huge sums to educate their kids. Apparently, their expectations don’t justify, as Dubai pupils’ results in Math and English exams are far lower than their peers’ results in the UK. At the same time, latest data shows that education in the UAE is the 4th most expensive in the world. And UAE students have been among top performers. Certainly, it’s not about comparing individual capabilities. It’s all about comparing education standard. Chinese kids, for instance have some of the best results in international Math and language exams, although their education is far cheaper. The most populous country is well-known for providing basic education to everyone, regardless of social status. In fact, education in China, education is compulsory and free for all their citizens aged 6 to 15. Parents pay only minor taxes for uniforms and books. Despite that, Chinese students surprisingly manage to outscore their counterparts in dozens of other countries, including the UAE, in Math, language and science.

In Dubai, education has become a huge business. Most of all, it has become a very successful and lucrative business even for many who know nothing about it. Even purposely designed investment vehicles operate in the sector with the main objective to generate profits. Education is a big business also in the United Kingdom and the British government strongly supports the export of education models and workers from the sector abroad. There are even purposely designed programs for jobless young people that offer jobs abroad if they join short courses to become teachers. Parents in Dubai refer to this teachers as “the backpackers”. However, for school managements they are a little cheaper to hire, while still their native English accent elevates the school’s standard in parents eyes.

Of course, one can’t blame only private schools operators. They have found a great business opportunity, why shouldn’t they explore it? This is Dubai and everything should be higher, bigger and pricier. Unfortunately, it is not necessarily better!

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