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Capstone Project: Factors affecting the quality of public education in the UAE Analytical Essay

Abstract and hypothesis

The UAE is a budding economy that is doing better by the day and education has contributed greatly to this promising turn of events. This observation holds for in 1970, only 20 per cent of the population was literate, which is a figure that has increased to 80 per cent (82 per cent women; 76 per cent men).

Forty percent of the schools are private, the other 60 per cent are public schools, and these figures continue to shift in favour of private schools.

The exact cause of this ‘migration’ is not clear and so this paper attempts to explore possible explanations by reviewing the matter through a series of perspectives including

  • an ideological perspective (looks into capitalism vs. socialism and perhaps the reflection of these systems on individual parents’ perspectives of private vs. public schools. Additionally, it touches on theories of classism and elitism as determinants of preference;
  • a financial perspective – costs;
  • a social perspective – looks into the school reputation, special programs proffered, school safety, and location.

Finally, an academic perspective yields a review of the school performance and college preparation, curriculum, quality of education, teacher qualification, and dismissal option, and issues like class size and teacher- student ratio.

The hypothesis is that the divide between private and public schools is due to compounding all these perspectives into the reality of each circumstantial parent.


Public schools refer to the schools that are owned and run by the state and federal government while private schools are owned and controlled by individuals for profit-making ventures.

Private schools get their funding from the tuition fee that they charge as well as grants from other benevolent persons and donations from charities. Public school funding comes from the treasury. In the UAE, education was introduced in 1970 when literacy levels were a bare minority in the population.

Almost half a century later, these levels have quadrupled to 80 per cent literacy in the population and this aspect is a remarkable development. The government has come a long way in ensuring that each citizen has access to education.

At this point, it is worth mentioning that only 25 per cent of the UAE population is native citizens with the rest of the population being comprised of expatriates.

This scenario is an important element in this analysis as it explains the little numbers such as education provisions in the GDP (public schooling and education as a whole was only issued 1.3 per cent of the GDP in 2012).

Some of the differentiating factors that set apart public from private schools in the UAE include the fact that public schools have Arabic as their main language of instruction.

Since 2006, the federal government has made policies to reform this situation by putting in place two major oversight bodies namely the Ministry of Education of the United Arab Emirates, which is responsible for accreditation and under its wing is the Dubai Education Council, which was established in July 2005 to cater for Dubai’s educational needs.

For the purposes of this paper, Dubai shall be used regularly as the specific example of execution of policies. Finally, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) came into existence in 2006 with the goal of managing education reform and providing accreditation to educational institutions (Gaad et al. 299).

Some other reforms that the government is implementing include the change of instruction language from Arabic to English, specifically for Mathematics and Sciences coupled with the overhaul of public school teaching system to replace no-Muslim teachers in public schools with the Muslim teachers up to 90 per cent by 2020 (Kechichian 45).

The justification for this clearly discriminating policy is that the government would like to ensure the continued upholding of Islamic principles and moral instruction of students in the school set up.

On the other hand, private schools do not seem to have such restrictive requirements to comply by the law in terms of their curriculum, language of instruction, teacher qualification, and student admission.

They are not required to admit students from their district regardless of record or handicap like in public schools, they can set their own standards of teacher qualification and they can set up special programs for students with gifted minds (Emirates Centre for Strategic studies and Research 106).

The curricula between these two rival sectors are also different as public school curriculum is dictated by the state whereas private schools have more flexibility in determining their curriculum.

Public schools offer a 3-6-3-3 curriculum, which means that three years are spent in kindergarten, six years in primary school, there years in a preparatory school, and three mote years in high school or secondary school.

One may opt to skip out on the preparatory school in which case he or she may join a technical institution for secondary education and have the option of joining college thereafter.

Research findings on factors affecting private vs. public school debate

Academic reputation

For public schools, it does not matter whether the school reputation is good or bad and all the children living in that district who cannot afford to go to private schools shall attend the local public schools.

The only available alternative is relocation to a district with preferable public schools and the question that comes to mind when making this decision is whether it is desirable or feasible for the family to move in order to accord the child or children education in the school with a better reputation.

If not, the child will have to attend the jaded public school. Most public schools have a good reputation, but if a parent finds himself or herself questioning a school’s reputation, that is warning enough to send the child to a private school.

Private schools have a more rigorous education program that is demanding on students and one that yields results in proportional amounts to the money charged for that program.

The focus is channelled on college preparation with 98 per cent of the enrolled students finding a place in the local universities or in Western universities. Public schools on the other hand have college graduation as a variable that is dependent on the school district or location.

School Size and class size

Size is “proportional to the ability of a school to achieve its academic goals” (Chen Para.12). If the school is too big, then it shall be difficult to administer and govern and some students and programs shall not receive sufficient attention for optimal performance.

On the other hand, if the school is too small, it may lack adequate funds to perform its obligations and execute its vision. In terms of actual numbers, public schools are much bigger than private schools and they have close to 500 students while private schools have 200 (Chen Para.6).

However, the fact that the state still restricts the educational budget makes this a tricky situation to draw any conclusive comparisons. The other issue is on the student teacher ratio.

Parents prefer having their child receive the teacher’s undivided attention and the smaller the student teacher ratio the more popular the school.

Note that the school may be large in numbers, but have an adequate supply of teachers and thus reducing the student teacher ratio to an acceptable quantum, as is the case with most public schools.

However, surveys indicate that parents generally have distrust for large schools and they do not factor in the number of teachers before rapidly deciding to go for a smaller private school.

Safety and school environment

Most public schools are safe and have a pleasant learning environment. However, in some locations, children would be safer attending private schools instead of the local public schools.

Private schools on the other hand are in a much better position to guarantee student safety, as they get the chance to select the students that they enrol unlike public schools which have to admit everybody.

This selection acts as a sieve to sift out the riff raff and make the milieu that private schools end up with a much safer lot than in public schools.

Special programs

Public schools are designed to cater for all types of students as at no time can a parent take the child to school only to have him or her turned down due to for instance they are mentally handicapped. Consequently, public schools are self sufficient in terms of various special programs.

Private schools on the other hand are very specific about their admissions and so if a parent is looking for a special program, he is best suited to go to public school.

This assertion holds for private schools do not have any law that bars them from discrimination on grounds of gender or disability and so they choose whom they take in (Benjamin 66). Unless it is specifically a school for disabled children, they rarely make exceptions.

They have programs for gifted students such as gymnastics among others and if one is looking for a specific program such as boarding school, art school, military school, or a sports academy, he or she is best suited to try at a private school.


Public schools are cheaper as they do not have requirements as tuition fees uniform, equipments, or transportation. Private schools charge for each of these services and they do not automatically offer transportation.

In terms of costs, the decision is usually simple: can one afford to take our child to private school. This element is an addendum to costs is the decision of whether the parent wants religious and moral education to form part of the child’s academic instruction structure.

If so, public schools may be best for in the UAE, private schools were initially intended for the expatriates.

Therefore, now that they are in existence and public schools are busy inculcating Islamic principles and moral and nationalistic traditions in their students, these private schools rarely teach religion, unless they are a religious institution such as the Catholic Loreto Schools or they are theological school (United Arab Emirates Para.9).

Location and ideology

The public school that a child attends depends on the zone that the parents or family resides in; therefore, if the school is not preferable, the question to ask is whether it is desirable or feasible to move the family for the purposes of obtaining admission into a more acceptable public school.

Alternatively, if the local school is not in a good location, parents often seek to take their children to a private school. Note that transportation of students is not a guarantee in public schools and it may or may not be available.

As for ideology, parents are usually decided on whether they prefer public or private school in terms of classism or elitism theories and they are set on these stands. Presently, most parents in the UAE seem to prefer private schools, which is discombobulating especially from a financial perspective.

In terms of age, public schools are older as they came forth in the 1970s, with the first public university coming into being in 1976. Private schools on the other hand started to mushroom only in the 1990s. This radical growth of private schools warrants some serious consideration over what may be the cause of such popularity.

This line of thought brings in a contradictory type of sense as private schools charge tuition fees while public schools are free from kindergarten to university, which means that there has to be another perspective from which parents are considering their children’s education and that is what the next section seeks to identify.

An Ideological Explanation

Three socio-economic and political positions intersect in this debate, viz. capitalism, communism, and socialism. Capitalism is the belief that private individuals should own or control the country’s trade and industry or economic system for profit.

Socialism on the other hand refers to the political and economic theory, which advocates for state’s land, transport, natural resources, and chief industries to be owned and controlled by the entire community and the state.

This theory rallies for equal distribution of resources (Godwin 11). Finally, communism is a social and economic system without any private ownership whereby all the means of production belong to the members of the community.

The UAE represents a myriad of ideologies in its social and economic structure with an inclusion of communism, capitalism, classism, elitism, and even socialism. The citizens seem to understand that these systems have a bearing on the education system especially if such a government is heavily capitalistic.

This aspect could possibly explain why parents are transferring their children to private schools, which are not state-owned as a nationalistic and somewhat defiant way of not supporting the government projects.

Conversely it could be that they simply believe that private schools are better and source of pride for as noted earlier, the UAE economy is booming hence families are becoming rich. This aspect means that expensive tastes are also being acquired.

Elitism suggests that this movement could be due to a very independent and completely nationalistic phenomenon. Having been exploited most of their lives; the parents are simply looking for the best option to guarantee their children’s liberalisation from the present undemocratic rule.

Financial Perspective

As established above, cost is a hardliner in making a decision between public and private schools with the answer being a strict yes or no. However, if the family can comfortably foot the private school bill then the decision again hangs on a scale.

The variables have changed and so the next question is one of preference. The determinants of preference vary between academic and social factors, which form the bulk of the rest of the discussion.

Social Factors

College preparation is a significant consideration for all parents. For parents with children in public schools, the decision they have to make when confronted with an unsuitably equipped school is on the pros and cons of relocation.

For parents that can afford private school, the next most convenient private school shall be the answer to questions of school reputation. Safety is another major consideration as whereas most public schools are safe enough, some fall below the parents’ expectations of safety for their children.

In addition, here the decision turns first on affordability, then on preferred convenience. As noted above, given that private schools select whom to enrol, they are much safer. Public schools on the other hand only have the geographic demarcation qualification to limit admission.

The location of the school is another factor that bears considerable weight as it has a connection with the issue of transportation. Public schools have back and forth transportation whereas private schools may or may not offer this service. Parents have to weigh their cost and convenience options when deciding on location.

Academic Factors

Public schools have a promising record for preparing children for college, but private schools have a more rigorous and more versatile system of education. The curriculum and language of instruction also weigh in on this decision. Private schools offer options such as IGCSE and CBSE, while public schools are limited to the national curriculum of 3-6-3-3.

The idea of eliminating non-Muslim teachers was received with much trepidation and this aspect underscores why some parents have transferred their children.

Parents that wish to have their children educated in a more flexible and diversified environment that is not likely to cause Islamic fundamentalism have their children attending private schools, where religion is not taught.

The final consideration under this section is the quality of education, specifically the class size and the student teacher ratio and teacher qualification.

Class size and student teacher ratio

This element is a two-pronged variable including the actual class size and then the ratio. Private schools have approximately 23 students per class whereas public schools have 24. The student-teacher ratio also varies with public schools having 13:1 and private schools having 16:1.

Consequently, it is apparent that in terms of size, the differences are not so pronounced. However, a better way of looking at this aspect is by asking the percentage of schools with a student teacher ration of 1:10 or less up to one.

In this case, private schools champion with 36 per cent of them boasting the 10:1 ratio when only 10 per cent of public schools can boast the same.

Quality of teachers

In public schools, teachers are certified by the state and they are simply required to have college degree and knowledge of the subject area and student teaching.

On the other hand, “private schools set their own qualifications, which may or may not include a degree in education” (Benjamin 92). Dismissal is also easier as they can hire and fire as they please so long as it is not wrongful termination.

Research Methodology

The research conducted for the purposes of this paper was through qualitative methods of surveying literature review. However, as seen in various parts of this paper, statistical references have also been made and that means that a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods have been applied to come up with the findings.

This methodology is referred to as mixed research and is advantageous as it takes advantage of the strengths of each of the individual (qualitative or quantitative) methods and keeps their shortcomings at a minimum.

Additionally, it makes the findings more interesting to go through because they are speckled with statistics as opposed to being either continuous prose or continuous jargon.

The literature review body used was from a myriad of sources including journals, books, magazines, website documents, periodicals, and reports. All these were surveyed for relevant information, which was then interpreted and reported in the present paper as a comparative analysis.


Future research could look into the issue of family relocation or migration amongst public schools in order to asses whether there is another variable in the public-private migration, such as a movement to the suburbs.


It is safe to conclude by stating that the matter of child migration from public to private school is dynamic; however, it is not so dynamic as to warrant excessive speculation or alarm.

The reasons for this phenomenon are clear and thus if the government wishes to stem it, all it needs do is to improve on public schools by responding positively to parents’ preferences in a better manner than private schools can.

For instance, the government should note that not all parents want their children to be instructed purely in Arabic or after Muslim dictates for some prefer a more diversified outlook to education and the world in general, thus avoiding any sort of fundamentalism.

Consequently, for the government to cater for education fully and properly, all these concerns would be laid to rest.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Roger. Education and the Arab world: Challenges of the next millennium, Abu Dhabi: The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, 1999. Print.

Chen, Grace. , 2007. Web.

Emirates Centre for Strategic studies and Research. Education in the UAE: Current Status and Future Developments, London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 2012. Print.

Gaad, Eman, Mohammed Arif, and Fentey Scott. “Systems analysis of the UAE education system.” International Journal of Educational Management 20.4 (2006): 291-303. Print.

Godwin, Stewart. “Globalisation, Education and Emiratisation: A Case Study of the United Arab Emirates.” The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries 27.1 (2006): 1-14. Print.

Kechichian, Joseph. “Democratisation in gulf monarchies a new challenge to the GCC.” Middle East Policy 11.4 (2004): 37-57. Print.

United Arab Emirates. The Emirates economist economic analysis of events in the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf, 2008. Web.

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"Capstone Project: Factors affecting the quality of public education in the UAE." IvyPanda, 8 July 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/capstone-project-factors-affecting-the-quality-of-public-education-in-the-uae/.

1. IvyPanda. "Capstone Project: Factors affecting the quality of public education in the UAE." July 8, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/capstone-project-factors-affecting-the-quality-of-public-education-in-the-uae/.


IvyPanda. "Capstone Project: Factors affecting the quality of public education in the UAE." July 8, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/capstone-project-factors-affecting-the-quality-of-public-education-in-the-uae/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Capstone Project: Factors affecting the quality of public education in the UAE." July 8, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/capstone-project-factors-affecting-the-quality-of-public-education-in-the-uae/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Capstone Project: Factors affecting the quality of public education in the UAE'. 8 July.

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