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Emirates TravelUAE guide / UAE education

Education in the UAE

The UAE educational system consists of primary schools, middle schools, and high schools
In the United Arab Emirates, education is compulsory for ages 6 to 12, and the literacy rate among UAE citizens is estimated at somewhere between 80% and 91%. The UAE educational system consists of primary schools, middle schools, and high schools. The government funds public schools. Schools are taught in Arabic with emphasis on learning English as a second language. The UAE also has many accredited private schools. For UAE citizens, public schools are free.

Shortly after the establishment of the federation in 1971, provision of comprehensive education began. The first universities created were Al Ain University in Abu Dhabi, and United Arab Emirates University in Abu Dhabi. Over the past few decades, literacy rates have grown, modern programs have been added, and females have been given a better share in education. The UAE spends approximately 25% of its government budget on education.

Beginning with the 2006-2007 school year, expatriate students were allowed to attend government schools by paying tuition. With a pupil to teacher ratio of 15 to 1, the UAE has one of the lowest such ratios in the world. Though education is considered compulsory through ninth grade, the U.S. State Department has said that the requirement is not strictly enforced.

In primary schools, 85% of males and 82% of females of the corresponding ages were enrolled in 2006. In secondary schools, 62% of males and 66% of females of the corresponding ages were enrolled. The CIA World Fact Book gives the literacy rate for those under age 15 as 77.9%, and for ages 15-24 at 98% for males, and 96% for females.

The United Nations Programme on Governance in the Arab Region assigned the UAE a score of 0.79 on its Education Index, which is one of three indexes that go into the UN’s human development index. The highest ranking country internationally was Australia with 0.99, and the lowest was Burkina Faso at 0.27. In the Middle East region, the Occupied Palestinian Territories rated 0.89, Libya 0.87, Lebanon 0.87, Kuwait 0.87, Jordan 0.86, Bahrain 0.86, and Saudi Arabia 0.80.

While the UAE does not score the highest in the region on the UN Education Index, it has made significant gains in the education of females, reaching the goals set by the UN Development Program, and continuing to rise.

The UAE Ministry of Education adopted a series of 5-year plans called “Education 2020” in an attempt to modernize and advance education techniques, improve innovation, and allow students more use of self-learning abilities. In 2003, an enhanced math and science curriculum was introduced at the first grade level in all government primary schools.

One of the goals of the UAE Ministry of Education is more of a focus on learning of English, because it cites poor grasp of the English language as a main barrier to employment for UAE citizens. Enhanced elementary school programs for learning English have been initiated in recent years, as have provision of permanent classrooms and computer laboratories. The UAE Vice President/Prime Minister in April 2007 asked that the UAE implement comprehensive solutions for the areas where UAE education was weakest, such as modernization of classrooms and curricula.

In response, the UAE Ministry of Education in 2008 began a program that assigns a Western principal to 50 pilot schools in an effort to modernize instruction. One method of modernization has been turning away from the traditional passive memorization and rote learning methods used.

The UAE’s public higher education system is focused on the UAE University in Abu Dhabi, which consists of nine colleges. UAEU is considered the leading institution in the UAE. In the 2005-2006 school year, 15,000 men and women were enrolled. The UAEU also consists of a commercial branch, the Centre of Excellence for Applied Research and Training, which partners with international corporations to provide training and professional development courses.

Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV) began in 2003, located in Dubai Internet City, which is a base for companies that want to focus on emerging markets in the region extending from the Middle East to India to Africa. DKV has a 1-kilometer long modern campus that includes training centers for an information based economy. The campus is also picturesque, with landscaping, sports fields, a gym, and a food court. Nationalities in partnership with the DKV include Australians, Pakistanis, Indians, Iranians, Russians, Belgians, Irish, and British.

Partners at DKV are granted 100% foreign ownership, 100% freedom from taxes, and 100% repatriation of assets and profits. It is the world’s only Free Zone that focuses wholly on learning support and professional training.

The UAE is also home to a number of branches of foreign universities, including Tufts University, George Mason University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, and the Sorbonne, which in 2006 opened its very first campus abroad in the UAE. New York University plans to open a branch in Abu Dhabi in 2010.

See also: UAE work & study opportunities

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