By Olivia Olarte www.khaleejtimes.com
As part of a comprehensive plan to boost the education system of the Abu Dhabi emirate, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) has started rolling out its private education strategy in a bid to drive long-term improvement in the private sector where the largest group of students are enrolled.
At present, according to the ADEC, the quality of education in the private sector is generally poor, resulting in below-average student achievement, which the council attributed largely to inadequate financial and human resources. This lack of appropriate resourcing is made worse by poor school governance and a shortage of qualified teachers.
The private school capacity is also stretched. The ADEC estimates a demand for 10,000 additional school seats year on year, thus, making additional capacity provision an important priority.
To specifically address these issues, the ADEC’s strategy focuses on three core elements — improving quality by focusing on student performance, teaching and leadership quality; affordability by making affordable quality options available for all students; and increasing access to private schools by ensuring an adequate capacity in the market.
“With the private education sector accounting for 31 per cent of Emirati student enrolment and 78 per cent of expatriate students, the development of a solid private education infrastructure in the emirate is an essential foundation required for achieving Abu Dhabi’s Economic Vision 2030. High quality private schools are required to attract the right talent and to prepare students to meet the workforce demands of Abu Dhabi’s future diversified knowledge economy,” stated by Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, director-general of the ADEC.
On top of this agenda is the development of the private school regulations which will cover the fundamental elements of private education including making education accessible to all students in the emirate, student security and safety, and effective and efficient school leadership.
Comprehensive road map
The regulations also cover procedure for private school licensing and accreditation, roles of board of governors, principals and vice principals, school operations, financial and audit reports, and self-assessment requirements.
In addition, specific issues such as school fees, curriculum, assessment, admission and registration, student progress and special needs students, will be addressed.
“This strategy lays out a comprehensive road map with implementation milestones that will provide clarity and direction to all stakeholders in private P-12 education,” said Yousif Al Sheryani, executive director of Private Schools and Quality Assurance at the ADEC, adding that the private school regulation handbook will be published during the first quarter of this year.
As part of this process, the ADEC organised workshops for school principals in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the Western Region, to provide school administrators with a comprehensive understanding of the ADEC strategy on private education performance improvement. It is also aimed at assisting private schools in designing and preparing development plans to meet the school inspection criteria and enable them to reach their required level of performance.
Despite the commendable move by the council, parents and school management remain in two minds, from wanting ‘better’ education for their children and the possibility of having to eke out more from an already scant resource.
“Of course, we would always want the best education for our children, this move is very ideal but the associated cost will affect the small-scale school operators that are already running on minimal profit, and this will have a knock-on effect on the livelihood of low-income parents,” asserted Filipino mother Loi Pangilinan.
The offer by the ADEC to allocate lands to school investors to build quality but not-for-profit schools are deemed insufficient to help small-time investors who opt to operate their own schools rather than partner with another investor. Only large-scale operators or those with substantial funds are believed to primarily benefit from this offer.
The ADEC assured, however, that ‘funding mechanisms’ will be put in place and that existing schools with affordability issues will be given ‘advisory support’ and ‘potential assistance’. It has also offered the use of unused public school facilities for those already in the process of constructing their school buildings in order to avoid disrupting the students’ learning process.
For Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Arab Pakistan School, the ADEC’s new regulations put them in a less ideal situation, especially since this means dipping deeper into their already meagre income from parents who already struggle to pay the Dh300 monthly school fee. Meeting the ADEC’s basic requirements means a large overhaul of its entire system starting from the improvement of the fire safety and security of the 33-year old building, enhancement and safety of the kindergarten playground, having a new clinic and hiring a nurse licensed by the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD), in addition to its academic improvement.
Chaudhry Muhammad Munir, principal of the Pakistan school, admits that English language comprehension is a major drawback, which affects the students’ entire learning process, especially since all syllabi are written in English.
“We need help from the ADEC to hire a specialist, to help us out on how to improve our methodology of teaching, as we cannot afford to hire a master trainer ourselves,” said Munir who has not increased the school’s fees for the last three years.
“The ADEC has set a very high standard, but for community schools like us, we (simply) cannot afford to provide world-class facilities,” stated Munir who has to pay 107 faculty members and 45 other staff members salaries every month.