More than half of Emirati parents in Dubai choose to send their children to private schools, despite free education being provided at public schools, a recent study has established.
Although the fact has been known for long, the report highlights the reasons behind the decision by members of the Emirati community and the perceived drawbacks of public education.
The Search Of Good Education report published by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) and CfBT, a British education trust, contains the first such study conducted by Emirati researchers with Emirati parents.
According to the annual school census (2010-2011), 57 per cent of Emirati students (28,983 students) attend private schools, the report says. More than seven years, from 2003 to 2010, the number of Emirati pupils in public schools has plunged by 15 per cent, while those in private schools have increased by 75 per cent, it says.
All parents interviewed confirmed that it is a social trend for Emiratis in Dubai to enrol their children in a private school, Kaltham Salem Kenaid, the author of the report said.
"The biggest reasons for this choice was because many believe private schools offer better quality teaching and learning environment and also better English language instruction as well as school leadership."
The location of the school and the affordability of the fees were not so much the deciding factors, she said.
Interestingly, nearly two thirds of Emirati students (22,141) go to just 22 private schools (mostly US curriculum) out of the total of 148 private schools in Dubai. Ten schools were used as a sample group in the study and 65 mothers and ten fathers were interviewed.
The parents were very specific about why they choose these schools, Kaltham said.
"We found that mostly they wanted their children to be among other Emirati children. And have a strong sense of cultural identity.
"Teaching of Arabic language and Islamic is very crucial to them too," added Kaltham, an educationist with more than 20 years of experience in the Dubai education system. She has been heading research projects within KHDA for the past four years. Some felt that their experience of public school education was negative. One of the drawbacks parents pointed out in public schools was the inability of the children to attend the same school from which they cannot enter high school, she said.
Another concern was that many felt their children, especially boys, were not in a safe environment at public schools, she added. "We chose to pay for our children's education even though we have the option of free education because we want more for our children," said one parent was quoted as saying in the report.
Parents believed that children who attended private schools came from families with a better social background. "It's the kind of children that I want my son to be around," one father said.
Overall, parents felt that private schools offered their children a more controlled and safe environment that limited opportunities for students to misbehave.
They expect schools to be guardians of social values and to cater for the specific cultural needs of Emiratis, the report says.
Speaking of the importance of the research, Dr Abdullah Al Karam, director general of KHDA said that understanding the reasons why UAE national parents chose to invest in a private education for their children was critical in helping KHDA ensure access to the choice of school that parents desired for their children, now and in the future.