gulf education

10 steps to choosing the right school in the UAE

Picking the right school for your child can be a tough call, but not if you’re armed with the right information. We put together a checklist

Helga Jensen-Forde | Special to GN Focus
00:00 March 20, 2018
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With so many schools offering quality education, superb facilities and multifarious curriculum, it can be difficult knowing where to start in the quest for the school that is right for your child. However, with a little knowledge and preparation it doesn’t necessarily have to be a stressful experience, not if you take the following into consideration:

Rankings 

Knowing what rating a school has scored at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) or The Abu Dhabi Educational Council (ADEC) inspections can be the first step in finding the right school without having to even leave the house. Ratings are readily available online and when Dubai resident and mother of two, Robyn Stromsoe, was looking for a school, the rating was where she began. 

“The school had to have a good KHDA rating. This was a very important aspect for my choice. Having said that, my school of choice is only rated as good and not outstanding. However, not many schools have outstanding ratings.” 

Location

Naturally, location is key when looking for a suitable school as you don’t want to get stuck in traffic or have a long drive during the school run. 

“The school had to be in close proximity to the place we lived — nothing further than 10 kilometres or having to cross major highways to get to school,” says Stromsoe. 

Indeed, Lumby says that geographical considerations should certainly be taken into account. Parents need to ask, “Will I send my child on a school bus or do I want something closer? Will all your children attend the same school? Is there affordable accommodation close to the school?”

Facilities

While there is no shortage of exceptional school buildings in the UAE, depending on a child’s interests you need to look at what the school offers. 

For Stromsoe the school’s range of facilities was another important factor influencing her decision.  

“The facilities need to be modern, to be of a large enough scale to accommodate school tournaments and host various competitions. The facilities need to be well maintained with well-educated staff teaching the various sports and/or extra activities. I also inspected the library to ensure that it was well stocked and had a large variety of books accommodating all ages.”

Teaching standards 

The standard of teaching has to be a priority when looking at any school. 

“Dubai, offers a diverse and mature educational landscape, with schools catering to different aspirations,” says Luke Osborne, Head of Secondary School, Swiss International Scientific School. The framework for assessing teaching standards in Dubai is robust, so families should afford as much importance to the personal touch — strong home-school relations underpin high quality learning. Is it easy to talk to teachers and school leaders? Do they listen? What do parents say?” 

Child development

No matter how wonderful a campus is or how qualified its teachers are, there are more factors to consider. 

“Providing children with opportunities beyond the academic curriculum is also an important consideration for parents,” says Hilda Tabrizi, Parent Relations Executive, GEMS Dubai American Academy. “A school that encourages critical thinking, collaboration, and which provides students with leadership opportunities and extension of learning beyond the classroom walls will serve students best for success in the 21st century world.”  

Academic advice

Alongside the need for a good education, additionally having an education counsellor is another box to tick. 

Parents should examine whether a school has an academic adviser or guidance counsellor on staff whose primary responsibility is advising students in course selection and beyond, the team at Hale Education Group suggests. Ask how many students is the academic adviser responsible for and to what extent the academic adviser will support students in developing their academic and extracurricular profile.

Merits

Looking at past results can help your decision. “We chose the IB because it is widely accepted, offers learning at a high level, and has a good variety of subjects and activities,” says mum of four Kristina Hammond, who asked that her name be changed for privacy reasons. “We looked at schools with high scores in recent years, which showed that students were well prepared for the final exams.”

Take a tour

Once you’ve established what type of school you’re looking for and it fits all the criteria, the next step is to take a look around. 

“One of the most helpful ways of understanding more about a particular school is to take a tour,” says Tabrizi. “This way, parents are able to see first-hand the learning environment of students and really get a feel of the student experience.  As parents, we all want to see our kids succeed and we are looking for a school that will nurture their strengths.”

And, when having a show around, Lumby has some final words of advice. “Ask to see the student work — look around the classroom and in the corridors at the displays. Look at the school culture — do you feel comfortable and welcome in the school building? Does the school meet your written and spoken language needs?  Is it warm and inviting, is student work displayed in the corridors, is there a parent café, etc. Parents should be asking themselves if they can see their children in this school.”

Cost of schooling 

If a school is above your price range then there is no point considering it. School fees vary widely so keep in mind that you will have to afford the fees to keep your child there in the long term. 

“Not all companies provide an education allowance, thus bringing the burden of the high schooling fees to our savings,” says Geetanjali Kaul, who has a two-year old son. Meanwhile, Victoria Lumby, Manager, Enrolment Centre, GEMS Education, advises, “In addition to tuition fees, you also need to consider the cost of transport, uniforms and extracurricular activities.”

Curriculum

With the wide variety of choices available, one of the most difficult tasks for a parent is deciding which curriculum suits their child. 

“Students studying the CBSE Indian curriculum are rated highly globally because of the robust syllabus and cutting-edge advantages CBSE possesses,” says  Ainsley Edgar, Executive Principal, Buds Public School, Dubai. “In the 30+ years that Buds Public School has been operating, its graduates need no foundation year and get admission to universities worldwide, where they excel.” 

A Hale Education Group spokesperson says when the choice comes down to IB, British and US curricula, no single system is objectively the best, nor is one preferred over others by US and Canadian universities.