While Abu Dhabi has a number of options available when it comes to education and schooling, most expat parents opt for private international schools. Expat children may be admitted to local public schools, but the significant language and cultural barriers make this an uncommon choice.
Many private international schools in Abu Dhabi adhere to various curricula, and the range of options are constantly expanding to cater to the city’s mushrooming expat community.
Predictably, with so many options, the standard, quality of facilities, teaching style, curriculum and teaching language all vary immensely from one school to another. Most expat parents choose an institution that mirrors the characteristics found in their home country's education system.
Public schools in Abu Dhabi
Public schools in Abu Dhabi, primarily serving Emirati students, offer a comprehensive education with Arabic as the medium of instruction. They focus on the UAE curriculum, which includes Islamic studies, social studies, maths, science, and Arabic and English languages.
Unfortunately, public schools in Abu Dhabi are only free to local citizens, and expats will need to pay for them. As a result, expats gravitate towards private schools, many of which offer diverse curricula, including British, American and the International Baccalaureate (IB).
For more detailed information on public education in Abu Dhabi, please visit the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge.
International schools in Abu Dhabi
New arrivals in Abu Dhabi will have quite a job on their hands deciding on the right school for their child. The British, American and International Baccalaureate (IB) schools tend to be the most popular, but also the most expensive. Inclusions of school allowances are less common than they used to be in expat packages, so we’d advise expats to either negotiate for this or ensure their salary is large enough to cover the costs.
All schools are required to adhere to a uniform school calendar, made up of three terms, with the school year running from September to July. The school week runs from Sunday to Thursday, and school hours vary depending on the institution.
While international schools have more freedom in their curricula and language than local public schools, they are still required to adhere to certain local schooling regulations. Arabic as an additional language must be taught at all schools up to Grade 9, although students usually only have to achieve basic proficiency. Schools are also obligated to have Islamic Studies available as a subject. Attendance of Islamic Studies is compulsory for Muslim students, but optional for non-Muslim students.
See our comprehensive guide to the Best International Schools in Abu Dhabi for more information.
Nurseries in Abu Dhabi
Nurseries in Abu Dhabi play a vital role in early childhood education, catering to children from a few months to four years old. These institutions are especially popular among expat families, offering varied curricula, including the British Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).
The EYFS curriculum in Abu Dhabi nurseries focuses on play-based learning, aiming to foster holistic development in young children. These nurseries often provide a bilingual environment, with English being the primary language of instruction.
When choosing a nursery, expat families should consider factors like curriculum, language of instruction and the overall learning environment. It is advisable to visit different nurseries to gauge their facilities, their teaching methodologies, and to understand how they meet the developmental needs of children.
Read more about the Best Nurseries and Kindergartens for Expats in Abu Dhabi.
Special-needs education in Abu Dhabi
The UAE government has in recent years begun to focus on providing support to students with special educational needs. As a result, more public schools are now equipped to support such students. The ultimate goal is integration so that even those with special educational needs can develop alongside their peers.
Some international schools have excellent special-needs education programmes, while others don't offer support in this regard at all. Parents with children with special needs should be sure to do their research before settling on a school.
Tutors in Abu Dhabi
Private tutors in Abu Dhabi have started to gain massive traction in recent years. For expat families, tutors can be particularly useful in helping children adjust to a new curriculum, learn a new language or maintain their mother tongue.
We’d advise that parents conduct thorough research to find reputable tutors. Web portals and forums are a good place to start, and international schools will also be able to point parents in the right direction.
A few tutoring agencies worth considering are Sylvan Learning, Kip McGrath and Carfax Education.
What do expats say about schooling in Abu Dhabi?
"Our children also adapted fairly quickly. We got them involved in sports as fast as we could to give them some normalcy. We also decided against homeschooling them and putting them into private school, which they have enjoyed immensely." Read more of US expat Eddie's interview.
"Good schools are very difficult to gain entry to and you need to work hard and be persistent. I spent a lot of time on this." Mark, also from the US, shares insights in his interview.
►See International Schools in Abu Dhabi for a list of international schools in the emirate.
►Nurseries and Kindergartens in Abu Dhabi provides a list of schools in Abu Dhabi for your little ones.
Are you an expat living in Abu Dhabi?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Abu Dhabi. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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