The Abu Dhabi private education sector continues to expand as the Emirate pushes for higher teaching standards and overall development of quality education.
Investment in private schools, nurseries, and institutions of higher learning in Abu Dhabi is expected to increase in 2018 as growth in the student population and demand for high-quality education show no signs of slowing down.
In mid-November 2017, the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) presented its plans for three new American and British curriculum schools, which will be ready to take on 4,600 students. ADEK made the announcement, which included an offer for land plots to investors, at a Private Schools and Quality Assurance (PSQA) workshop.
PSQA was created in 2010 to facilitate the goals of the 10-year strategic plan of the department to transform the quality of education at all levels in the Emirate. In order to fulfill the priorities of the plan, which include improving access to education from pre-school through 12th grade, enabling successful careers, and preserving culture and heritage, Abu Dhabi seeks to radically expand the availability of high-quality private education.
With the opening of three new private schools by 2020, the Emirate is seeing a continuation of an ongoing trend. According to statistics from the Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi (SCAD), the proportion of pupils in the Emirate enrolled in private education rose from 49.3% in the 2005-06 academic year to 64.5% in 2015-16. During 2016-17 alone, 10 new private schools with space for 22,500 pupils entered the market, bringing the total private enrollment to 241,000 students in 191 private schools with 14 different curricula.
With a relatively young demographic and a high general population growth rate, the population of students in Abu Dhabi has risen by 5% over the last six years. Meanwhile, the number of students enrolled in British and American curricula schools rose at significantly higher paces of 9% and 14%, respectively.
Increasing the number of private education facilities is not the only method of raising standards in Abu Dhabi education. In the 2017-18 academic year, after years of planning and a successful pilot project in the year before, the Emirate rolled out a compulsory teacher licensing process. Coordinated by the Ministry of Education, the process is set to involve all 63,497 teachers in the UAE and is due to be completed by 2021.
Currently the only institution with the ability to provide teacher training certifications is the Emirates College for Advanced Education. The college’s Vice-Chancellor Robert Milne told TBY that there will be different levels built into the teacher licensing system. Meanwhile, both Kenneth Vedra, Director General of the Emirates National School, and Nilay Özral, CEO of Aldar Academies, told TBY that they see opportunities for their institutions to provide teacher training courses as Abu Dhabi and the UAE seek a smooth rollout of the licensing process.
Other areas that have been targeted for improvement or identified as requiring further expansion include vocational training, special needs schools, and nurseries. While vocational training has long been promoted at the federal and Emirate levels as a key priority to diversify the economy and further Emiratization, the push for higher quality special needs education and the recognition of a need for affordable and high-quality pre-K education are more recent developments.
Recognizing this opportunity, developers are ready to come in and fill the demand for specialized early year education. Sameh Muhtadi, CEO of Bloom Holding, told TBY that part of its diversification strategy involves rolling out 25 nurseries in the UAE over the next five years in partnership with Mindchamps, a leader in pre-school solutions in Singapore. As a Nobel-Prize-winning professor of economics, James Heckman promotes the development of early education as the best way to reduce deficits and strengthen the economy; Abu Dhabi is proving its agreement the Heckman Equation, and education remains key as the engine of future growth and the development of a more robust economy.