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UAE FULL SCHOLARSHIPS 2020-2021

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For expats relocating with children, it is important to know about education and international schools in the UAE. Expat children are able to attend both public and private schools in the UAE but must pay fees for both as government schools are only free for Emirati nationals.

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Before the oil boom in the 1960s, there were few formal schools in the UAE. Now, the Gulf country has some of the best schools and higher education opportunities in the Middle East. In Dubai alone there are nearly 200 private schools servicing around 300,000 Emirati and expat students. In Abu Dhabi there are 296 public schools.

The UAE places great importance on its education system as a means of progressing its economy and business sector. Although government schools still separate male and female students, and even have different school hours for both, the quality of education for both genders is comparable. About 40% of pupils in the UAE attend private schools. Some of these offer foreign language education geared towards expatriate communities, typically preserving the culture and following the curricula of the students’ countries of origin.

The Education System in the UAE

The Ministry of Education (MoE) oversees the UAE education system at the federal level, including K – 12 and higher education. In addition to the MoE, the emirates also have their own, local governing bodies:

School is mandatory for all kids aged 6–18. This mandate includes expat children as well. Government schools are free for Emirati nationals, but expats will have to pay a fee for both public and private schools. Public schools offer courses in Arabic and place emphasis on English as a second language. Parents wishing to have their kids educated in the school system of their home country will have their choice of country-specific institutions as well as many international schools.

UAE Education Facts

  • As of 2018, the UAE has allowed mixed gender classes in government schools for kindergarten and Grade 1. Grades 2 to 4 will eventually introduce mixed gender classes over the coming years.
  • Whether in public or private school, all students must wear a school uniform.
  • Although education systems from across the globe are present in the UAE, most schools in the emirates follow the UK education system.
  • Most schools offer primary and secondary instruction. Students will not need to transfer to a separate school to graduate from primary to secondary.

What Is the School System Like in the UAE?

If you want to know what the school year is in the UAE, there are two answers. For most UAE schools, the school year starts in September and ends June. Indian, Pakistani, and Japanese schools start in April and end in March. School hours start between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. and go until about 14:00 to 15:00. The specific time differs between the grade level and, for public schools, divided male and female classes. Kindergarten and primary school students have shorter days than secondary school students.

In government schools, the language of instruction is Arabic for all subjects. English is taught as a second language and is used for teaching technical or scientific subjects. As of 2017, the UAE mandated that more core subjects be taught in English as a way to improve the English language proficiency of their student body.

UAE Schooling Levels

The UAE education system is divided into four tiers:

KindergartenKG 1 and KG 24–5 years old
Primary SchoolGrade 1–66–11 years old
Preparatory StageGrade 7–912–14 years old
Secondary SchoolGrade 9–1215–17 years old

What are the School Ages in the UAE?

Grade/YearAge Range
Pre-kindergarten/FS 13–4
KG 1/FS 24–5
KG 2/Year 15–6
Grade 1/Year 26–8
Grade 2/Year 37–9
Grade 3/Year 48–10
Grade 4/Year 59–11
Grade 5/Year 610–12
Grade 6/Year 711–13
Grade 7/Year 812–14
Grade 8/Year 913–15
Grade 9/Year 1014–17
Grade 10/Year 1115–18
Grade 11/Year 1216–19
Grade 12/Year 1317–20

For students wanting to be admitted into a particular grade for a school beginning in April, the must meet the minimum age requirement by July 31st. For schools starting in December, students must meet the minimum age by December 31st.

UAE Grading System

Although it can vary from school to school, the standard grading system in the UAE is based on the American grading system.

A100-90
B89-80
C79-70
D69-60
F59-0

What is Education Like in the UAE?

Prior to 2015, the UAE required students to choose a scientific or literary stream. Now, the UAE has imposed a new system of four streams:

  • General stream: All students start their education in this stream. The stream includes a balance of arts, math, and sciences courses. When students leave this stream, they receive greater emphasis on math and sciences.
  • Professional stream: This can also be called the Vocational stream. Students can choose this stream in Grade 9. Upon completion of Grade 12 they will obtain an applied high school certificate which is equivalent to technical high school certificate. Learning in this track is based on applying knowledge and developing students’ practical skills.
  • Advanced stream: The only difference between this stream and the General stream is an increased emphasis on math and science courses.
  • Elite stream (Advanced Science Program): For academically outstanding students. This stream admits students from Grade 6 until they finish Grade 12. The curriculum focuses on mathematics and science with particular attention to analysis, reasoning, and problem-solving.

One of the main differences between public and private schools in the UAE is gender segregation. In public schools, boys and girls are taught separately throughout most of the primary, and all of the secondary, levels. Even recess times are staggered so that boys and girls do not mix. This is required by law. Private schools, on the other hand, typically have mixed gender classes throughout all grade levels.

For expats wanting their children to be educated in the school system of their home country, private schools offer curricula that follows British, American, French, German, Indian, Pakistani, or Filipino teachings. In addition to these course offerings, private schools must also offer core programs such as Islamic education, social studies, and Arabic as a second-language.

Required Documents for UAE Private Schools

For students seeking admission into one of the UAE’s private schools, these are the general requirements:

  • Emirates ID;
  • birth certificate;
  • immunization records;
  • for Grade 2/Year 3 or higher: certificate of last grade/year of enrollment and transfer certificate / school leaving certificate; must be attested by the UAE Embassy in the country from which it is issued;
  • international level examination if pupil was previously homeschooled or has a gap year in their education history.

Any certificates issued within the UAE must be attested by the relevant local authority.

Some schools may allow a student to enroll in classes before acquiring all of these documents. Expect waiting lists for some schools. Be wary of institutions that offer placement on the spot with the promise of a monetary “donation.” These schools may only be trying to increase their numbers.

Education in the UAE

One of the UAE’s highest priorities has always been education. As President His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE, noted, “The greatest use that can be made of wealth is to invest it in creating generations of educated and trained people.”

The UAE has focused on educating both men and women. In 1975, the rate of adult literacy was 54 percent among men and 31 percent among women. Today, literacy rates for both genders are close to 95 percent.

New initiatives are being launched at all educational levels. A key area of focus has been to transform K to 12 programs, to ensure that UAE students are fully prepared to attend universities around the world and compete in the global marketplace. In addition, some of the world’s best universities are creating programs in the UAE, attracting talented students in the Arab world and globally.

The UAE’s commitment to education has helped the nation diversify its economy and prepared a new generation of young people ready to compete in the global marketplace. In 2019, young people surveyed throughout the Arab world identified the UAE (link is external) as the top country to live in and to emulate for the eighth year running, reflecting the opportunities available to youth entering the workforce.

K-12 Programs

The education system of the UAE is relatively new. In 1952, there were few formal schools in the country. In the 1960s and 1970s a school building program expanded the education system. Now, education at the primary and secondary level is universal. In the 2013-2014 academic year, approximately 910,000 students were enrolled at 1,174 public and private schools. 

Education reform focuses on better preparation, greater accountability, higher standards and improved professionalism. In addition, rote instruction is being replaced with more interactive forms of learning, and English-language education is being integrated into other subjects, such as math and science. While general strategy is determined by the Ministry of Education, education councils set up in individual Emirates assist in implementing government policy. The Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), the Dubai Education Council (DEC), the Sharjah Education Council and the UAE Ministry of Education are each tasked with reforming the educational program in the UAE while still preserving local traditions, principles and the cultural identity of the country.

Higher Education

The UAE is home to a wide range of universities, both public and private. UAE citizens can attend government institutions free of charge, and the UAE has one of the highest application participation rates in the world. Ninety-five percent of all girls and 80 percent of boys enrolled in the final year of secondary school apply for admission to a higher education institution. UAE public universities include:

  • UAE University, where enrollment was 502 in its founding year and has increased nearly 30-fold over the years. Women represent a majority of the student body. UAE University awards 70 undergraduate degrees in addition to graduate degrees with many programs that are internationally accredited. (www.uaeu.ac.ae (link is external))
  • Zayed University (ZU), established in 1998 as an all-women’s institution, and recently opened a men’s campus.  It is organized into five colleges—Arts and Sciences, Business Sciences, Communication and Media Sciences, Education and Information Systems—and the primary language of instruction is English. Zayed University has US accreditation, attesting to its high standards. (www.zu.ac.ae (link is external))
  • Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), the largest higher educational institution in the UAE with an enrollment of 16,000 students. Founded in 1988 with four campuses, HCT now includes 16 men’s and women’s colleges in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Madinat Zayed, Dubai, Ra’s al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Fujairah. The colleges offer more than 80 technical and professional degrees and certifications. More than 10,000 of the current students are female. (www.hct.ac.ae (link is external))

Private Institutions

Some of the key private institutions include:

  • American Universities of Sharjah and Dubai, both of which are US accredited
  • Sharjah University
  • Ajman University of Science and Technology
  • Abu Dhabi University, with campuses in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain
  • Al Hosn University
  • Khalifa University of Science and Technology

In addition to these institutions, the Masdar Institute for Science and Technology (MIST) began accepting students in 2009. MIST is the Middle East’s first graduate education and research university focused on clean energy and developing the next generation of solutions to the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Global Partnerships

A number of international universities have campuses and/or programs in the UAE.  Some are housed in special zones, including Dubai Knowledge Village and Academic City.   

Other special programs include:

  • The Sorbonne opened its Abu Dhabi campus in 2006 and awards qualifications under French regulations and standards set by the Sorbonne in Paris.
  • New York University is the first comprehensive liberal arts and sciences campus with a robust research component to be operated abroad by a major US university. NYU Abu Dhabi graduated its first class in Spring 2014 with 150 students from 39 countries. The campus has a permanent home on Saadiyat Island to house 2,000 students.
  • Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health is helping establish a public health doctoral program in the Emirates.
  • Other US institutions include the University of Washington, Boston University and Rochester Institute of Technology.

Technical Education

Founded in 1997, the Center of Excellence for Applied Research and Training (CERT) is the commercial arm of the Higher Colleges of Technology and provides education, training and applied technology instruction. The company is the largest private education provider in the Middle East and is developing projects throughout the MENA region.

Other vocational and technical educational centers are sponsored by the:

  • Emirates Institute for Banking and Finance
  • Abu Dhabi National Oil Company Career Development Center
  • Petroleum Institute
  • Dubai School of Government
  • Emirates Aviation College for Aerospace and Academic Studies

Special Education

The government of the UAE strongly supports education and learning services for students with special needs. The UAE signed the optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and passed Federal Law 29/2006 guaranteeing rights for people with special needs.  

Vocational and rehabilitation centers have been developed throughout the country. In addition, efforts are made to include special needs students in mainstream educational settings. The government of Abu Dhabi has partnered with the New England Center for Children, a Massachusetts school serving children with autism. The partnership has allowed the UAE to establish a comprehensive education program as well a training course for UAE nationals to provide services to students with special needs in Arabic. The UAE also participates in the Special Olympics. 

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