Abu Dhabi needs 60,000 new school seats.

Abu Dhabi: In order to cater to the needs of its growing population, at least 60,000 new private school seats must be created in the emirate of Abu Dhabi within the next five years, a top education official said in the capital on Monday.

These seats will be used to accommodate the more than 280,000 pupils who are expected to be enrolled in private schools by 2020, said Dr Amal Al Qubaisi, director-general at the emirate’s education sector regulator, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec).

“This signals a great opportunity for investment, especially as enrolment in private schools is growing at an annual rate of seven per cent. In addition, the sector earned a revenue of Dh3.2 billion in the 2013-2014 academic year,” Dr Amal added.

She was speaking at the third Adec forum to encourage private investment, which saw the attendance of 300 school leaders, operators and businessmen. Education officials at the session shed light on the various benefits available to providers in the emirate, and discussed means to overcome the challenges that could arise.

According to statistics revealed by the Adec, there are currently 188 private schools in the emirate, which enrol more than 224,000 pupils, or more than 62 per cent of the total student population. These include 14 schools that opened during the 2013-2014 academic year, increasing the supply of school seats by 20,064.

A report by the Adec projects that 20 more facilities, with 44,000 additional seats, are due to open during the ongoing 2015-2016 academic year, assuming that construction and site circumstances remain favourable. Despite this, there is a need for more educational institutions, especially ones that cater to certain groups of pupils.

“We require more schools that provide high quality early childhood education, such as nurseries and kindergartens. In addition, there is a great need for facilities that offer special needs education and rehabilitation, and we hope that the private sector will step in to fill this gap,” Dr Amal said.

Officials also highlighted the dearth of schools offering high quality education for children from mid-income and low-income families. At present, 73 per cent of pupils are enrolled in 129 schools with tuition fees lower than Dh20,000. Yet, only five of these facilities are in the high-performing category, and 24 maintain satisfactory education standards, as shown by the latest round of Adec school inspections. The remaining 73 schools need significant improvement, while 27 are yet to be inspected.

“The fact remains, however, that it is very possible to offer a high quality educational experience at affordable fees. This is because the average size of schools with medium-level and affordable fees is increasing with the growing demand in Abu Dhabi, allowing operators to increase their revenues. In addition, schools can offer all the required facilities, such as gyms and information technology systems, without needing to source expensive materials,” said Robert Lyttle, partner and co-head of education practice at international business advisory, The Parthenon Group.

Source: Gulf News