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Five Lessons from Dubai on improving the Private Education Sector

world-bank-reportMost children in Dubai attend private schools because of the huge expatriate population and 15 different national curricula

After just five years, 51% of Dubai’s students are now in good and outstanding schools, compared to 30% percent five years ago

Better schools improve more easily than weaker ones trapped by lack of material or technical 

In the late 2000s, Dubai adopted (and adapted) recommendations made by a flagship report the World Bank had published on education in the Middle East and North Africa. Called the Road Not Traveled (2008), the thrust of the report was that better governance—most notably, accountability measures—could improve educational standards at the city’s growing number of private schools.

Largely because of the city’s diverse expatriate population, the share of students in private education increases at about 7–8 percent a year. The vast majority (88 per cent) are taught in one of about 160 private schools—different curricula including British, American, Pakistani, French and Japanese. More and more Emirati nationals are opting for private education.

A body was created to lead the effort to improve the quality of teaching in the burgeoning sector, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). The challenge for the KHDA as a new public institution was finding the right approach to the private education sector. The idea of oversight rather than intervention was appealing. The 2008 report had stressed accountability, participation and transparency. The KHDA aimed to promote these.

One of the key things that families, teachers and principals were all lacking was access to objective information on the state of schools. The KHDA set out to change that. Through its inspection bureau, the Dubai Schools Inspection Board (DSIB), the KHDA rates the city’s private schools yearly and makes the results of its inspections available online, in print and via an app. Fees are not factored in: the Indian High School, one of the least expensive, is rated ‘outstanding’, while the standards in some of the more costly schools are just ‘acceptable.’

A World Bank review of the KHDA’s approach to education reform is contained in a new report, The Road Travelled. By publicizing the results of school inspections, the KHDA has made information about private education in Dubai far more available than ever before and, as a result, more public debate about it is taking place.

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