There are many private international schools in Dubai catering specifically to the large foreign community that calls the emirate home, and expats generally choose this option over the emirate's public schools.
For the most part, schools in Dubai adhere to high standards, but often have different approaches. Expats must consider what kind of learning environment will best benefit their child, and what their priorities are in choosing an institution. That said, many private schools in Dubai offer a brand of education that allows students to enter any university in the world.
The Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau publishes annual reviews of all private schools in Dubai, and reports published on its website are a good place to get objective information about schools.
International schools in Dubai
Many international schools in Dubai follow the British school system, including the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and A-Levels, while others offer curricula from countries as diverse as the USA, France, Germany, India, Pakistan and Japan. The International Baccalaureate (IB), a globally recognised system of education, is also popular. Some international schools teach the UAE curriculum in addition to a foreign curriculum.
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 obliged to have Islamic Studies available as a subject. Attendance of Islamic Studies is compulsory for Muslim students, but optional for non-Muslim students.
Fees for international schools throughout the world are notoriously high, and Dubai is no exception.
In addition to tuition, there are other costs to consider. Many schools charge annual building and/or technology fees on top of tuition fees. Extras such as textbooks, uniforms, school lunches, transport to and from school, and extra-curricular activities may or may not be included in annual fees. In many cases, these are extra costs.
It's important to check whether a relocation package includes a school allowance; unfortunately, the days when this was a given are long gone. Also, most allowances won't be enough to cover a top school's tuition in full – so expats should make sure their salary is enough to cover the extra costs. We recommend expats negotiate for a good school allowance, especially if considering a senior position in Dubai.
Admission to international schools
Good international schools in Dubai are flooded with applications each year, and primary schools, in particular, are over-subscribed. Some of the best primary schools may be full for the next three or four years.
It's absolutely essential to apply as soon as possible, especially if one's child is between three and seven years old. Most schools will post admission requirements and application procedures on their websites. In many cases, it's possible to begin the application process from abroad. This should be the first priority for expat parents when planning the move to Dubai.
Tutors in Dubai
Private tutors are extremely popular in Dubai. Despite the rising cost of school fees in the emirate, many parents are reaching even deeper into their pockets to afford the hefty fees charged by tutors.
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.
Though the tutoring industry was previously unregulated, the Knowledge and Human Development Centre (KHDA) has recently implemented strict quality guidelines and licencing requirements. Parents should therefore research prospective tutors carefully to ensure they are KHDA approved.
Special-needs education in Dubai
In recent years, the UAE government has 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 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. Parents with children with special needs should be sure to do their research before settling on a school.
"Schools are great but really depend on what you're looking for like what curriculum you want your children to study etc. You really need to do your research before committing as it costs a lot of money!" Read more about UK expat Laura's experiences in Dubai.
"There are many good international schools in Dubai but since the number of expats is constantly growing, getting a place in a school can be a challenge." Russian expat Sergey shares his perspectives on Dubai.
Are you an expat living in Dubai?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Dubai. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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