What Expatriates Need to Know about Education in Dubai

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If you're moving to Dubai with your family, getting a good education for your children will be important. But all the public schools in Dubai are for Emiratis and teach solely in Arabic, so if you're planning on moving to Dubai with kids, you need to think about the costs of private schooling.

More than 90% of education in Dubai is provided by the private sector, with many locals as well as expats choosing private schools. There are almost 200 schools providing different curricula; nearly two-thirds teach to either the British curriculum or to Indian standards (there's a huge Indian community in Dubai), but you'll also find US, French, and International Baccalaureate academic systems represented.

Every private school also has to teach a certain amount of 'local' content; children all learn Arabic (though that may only be basic) and have to take courses in Islamic studies or UAE social studies.

School fees for the top schools can reach as high as $ 27,200 (AED 100,000) a year. But many schools have much lower tuition fees. A third of students are at schools charging less than $2,722 (AED 10,000) a year tuition fees.

Fees are regulated by the government. Schools are inspected and awarded a status, with the top schools achieving 'very good' and a select few 'outstanding'. If a school doesn't maintain its status, it won't be allowed to increase its fees. All fee increases are held to an index of education costs that is set by government.

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How to choose the right school?

The right school for a particular child might not the top rated school, though. Parents should consider a number of factors besides the school's status.

• What is the balance of nationalities represented at the school? Do pupils come predominantly from one background, or is it more cosmopolitan?

• Does the school have special facilities, for instance for performing arts, sports, or sciences?

• Does the school have a particular strength in certain subjects, like the Swiss International Scientific School?

• Does the school teach in a very classical, structured way, or is the teaching more innovative and project-based?

• Is the school academic or does it aim to produce "all-rounders"?

• Does the school focus on a particular age range (eg primary or secondary students only), or does it cover the full range from kindergarten through to pre-university tuition?

Overview of top schools in Dubai

One of the top establishments is King's School Dubai, which teaches the British curriculum at primary school level. While most students are British, about 10 percent are Arabic passport holders, and the school counts 40 different nationalities among its students. It's a school that takes innovation and sustainability seriously, and has a good reputation for sports and performing arts, as well as academic achievement. Fees are quite high, at $11,600 (AED 42,734) in Foundation Stage 1 to $17,700 (AED 65,037) in Year Six.

Among French schools, the Lycée Français International Georges Pompidou School comes consistently at the top of the list, and is the first choice for Francophone families. But English lessons start at age three, in its kindergarten, so it's worth considering for children from other backgrounds, too. Fees charged vary from $9,500 (AED 35,000) to $13,000 (AED 48,000) depending on the age of the pupil - very reasonable given its high ranking.

Repton School Dubai is a very English school, but has roughly 15% Emirati students. Its education is described as "holistic", with a lot of after school clubs and extra activities as well as strong sporting interests. Fees at Repton rack up to as much as $25,800 (AED 95,000) a year at sixth form level.

Rather than either French or British curriculum, many parents choose the International Baccalaureate programme. That's what the Dubai International Academy offers, with a 94% pass rate well above the world average. The school also encourages its pupils to be self-reliant and to manage their own learning - great preparation for university. The student population is very diverse - there is mother tongue teaching in Dutch and Spanish, for instance. The fees are at the premium end of the spectrum.

It should be noted that the best schools are often over-subscribed, so applying ahead of time is vital. At King's School, for instance, 80 of the 120 places in Foundation 1 go quickly to siblings of existing pupils.

Parents should also be prepared for admission fees and deposits which can add up to 25% of the annual fee. That, together with school uniforms, can make for a large up-front cost. (Many schools, though, offer flexible payment schemes to spread tuition fees in line with salaries.)

What about higher education in Dubai?

Education in Dubai needn't stop with school; the city has no fewer than 26 branch campuses of international universities, mainly located in Dubai International Academic City. There's a strong focus on business, engineering and media - students in STEM subjects are very well catered for. That said, many students do ultimately decide to head back to their original home countries for a university education - even if parents are staying on in Dubai.

While private education will make a dent in your income if you bring up your family in Dubai, the emirate's best schools are really exceptional and offer a wide choice of curricula and teaching styles. Whichever school you eventually choose, your children will certainly get a great education in Dubai.