James Swallow Director at PRO Partner Group comments on the growth in schools in the UAE – The National (http://www.thenational.ae/)
The UAE has the highest number of English medium international schools – institutions where the language of instruction is English – in the world, according to the UK-based International School Consultancy (ISC).
In countries where English is not the official language, the UAE has 511 English medium schools, ahead of China (480), Pakistan (439), India (411) and Saudi Arabia (245).
“What many consulting groups are saying is that the two most attractive industries in the UAE for investors are education and health care,” said Alison Burrows, managing director and co-founder of the KDSL Education consultancy firm.
Population-growth projections released by the Government were helping fuel a “massive race” to open schools, she said.
Projected private school enrolment figures released in the Abu Dhabi Education Council’s Private School and Quality Assurance Sector Annual Report forecast a 7 per cent annual growth in school population, with a demand for 283,798 places in 2021.
In Dubai, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority expected the long-term enrolment growth to be about 8 per cent per year.
“The demand is high even though perhaps things are slowing down a little bit from the expat side with the oil price fall,” said James Swallow, commercial director of the PRO Partner Group, which helps investors open schools and other institutions in the country.
“There’s still a really high demand to get kids into the FS1 and the foundation levels of school and everyone is looking for the British curriculum. The British international curriculum tends to be the sweet spot.”
Lyn Soppelsa, director of consultancy services for WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, an online guide to private schools in the UAE, said English medium schools were a basic requirement for the country.
“It would be unlikely families would come to the UAE if there were no private schools,” she said.
“The more able a country is in addressing the need, the more easily it will be able to bring in the best and brightest from around the world.”
Mrs Soppelsa said cities around the world were “competing for labour and expertise”, as quality schooling was one of the first things expatriates looked for.
The growth of English-medium schooling, however, is not without consequences.
Education regulators across the UAE have expressed concern over the effect on Arabic-language skills as more Emiratis choose to enrol their children in English-speaking schools.
“I don’t have a rosy picture to paint for you regarding some of these consequences,” Mrs Burrows said.
“A lot of the teaching in these private schools of Arabic social studies, which is basically the history of Arabia, the Gulf region in particular, is left in the hands of teachers who aren’t from the region. They don’t know the history and don’t have a cultural relationship to the history.
“What we’re finding is local students here do not have adequate information about the past of their very own country.”
The study was published by ISC Research, which will be presenting more of its findings at the International and Private Schools Education Forum in Dubai next month.