United Arab Emirates

Moza Al Ghfeli
Assessment Department, Ministry of Education

Overview of Education System

Since the formation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1971, education has been a top priority in the country. The UAE offers citizens a comprehensive, free public education from kindergarten through university for male and female students. Approximately 36 percent of the UAE population attends public schools in the Northern Emirates, excluding Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Private education also is offered at different levels and is divided into three types: national private schools, foreign private schools, and foreign community schools. National private schools implement the federal Ministry of Education curriculum and use its textbooks, while the other private schools have their own curricula and textbooks approved by the Ministry. A key component of government strategy has been the decentralization of educational authority from the Ministry to local education bodies in each emirate. Three major bodies are working to improve the education sector: the Ministry, which has full jurisdiction over the northern emirates; the Abu Dhabi Education Council; and Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority. Under this structure, the relationship among the educational committees, educational councils in each emirate, and educational zones is clearly defined.

In the UAE, kindergarten is offered for two years and is free and noncompulsory for children from age 4.  The basic stage of education is compulsory and comprises two cycles: Cycle 1, covering Grades 1 to 5 (ages 6 to 10, although children at private schools begin Grade 1 at age 5), and Cycle 2, covering Grades 6 to 9 (ages 11 to 14). The secondary stage of education is delivered at general schools, religious schools, or the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT). The former two types of schools encompass Grades 10 to 12 (ages 14 to 17). At general schools, students who complete Grade 10 may choose to continue their education on a public track or an advanced track, and receive the Secondary School Leaving Certificate upon completion of Grade 12.

The IAT encompasses Grades 9 to 12 (ages 13 to 17) and consists of five campuses in the UAE: Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai, Fujairah, and Ras Al Khaimah. Students at the IAT may study one of six clusters: Engineering Sciences, Engineering Energy, Applied Mechanical Engineering, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), or Health Sciences and Technology (HST). Upon completion of Grade 12, students receive the Secondary Certificate in Applied Technology, which is fully accredited by the Ministry of Education.

In 2009, the Ministry began integrating students from a variety of special needs centers into regular public schools. These students are assessed according to Individual Educational Plans, and are automatically promoted to the next grade at the end of each academic year.

Since 2008, when the Ministry of Education released its strategic plan for educational reform, curriculum revision, teaching standards, and student performance have received attention. The goal of the plan is to ensure that graduates are not only able to compete in a regional knowledge-based economy, but that they also are able to be competitive players globally. To achieve this goal, mathematics experts at the Ministry have been working toward replacing the Basic Education Curriculum with a standards-based curriculum, adopting the Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley mathematics textbook series up to Grade 9. Similarly, science experts have been working toward adopting the Harcourt science textbook series, translated by Geoprojects, for Grades 1 to 12. These enhanced curricula have been implemented in both the public government and national private schools. Foreign private and foreign community schools follow different curricula.

The changes in the mathematics and science curricula reflect anticipated changes in the application of these two subjects in the areas of production, technology, and scientific research and development. The development of the mathematics and science curricula is based on a set of four principles and considerations:

  • Philosophical—Curricula are developed from the principles of the Islamic faith as the cornerstone of the spiritual and intellectual formation of society, respect for the personality of the individual, recognition of individual mental abilities, and teamwork based on cooperation
  • Social—Curricula are developed to prepare students to see relationships among science, technology, and society, to link the curricula with the needs of their community, and to help students employ scientific capabilities to meet these needs
  • Psychological—Curricula are developed to facilitate subject integration as well as to create desirable learning situations for students, to encourage learning through practice, to take into account differences in mental development and other individual differences among students, to motivate students, and to develop their ability to innovate
  • Knowledge—Curricula are developed to distinguish science and mathematics, which are based on evidence and proof, from other human knowledge

Languages of Instruction

According to the state constitution, the official language of the UAE is Arabic, which also is the language of instruction in public schools. English is taught as a second language, and there are other languages of instruction used in international schools across the UAE.