Primary Education in Dubai: What’s It Like?

I constantly receive emails from readers, parents who are thinking about relocating to Dubai but concerned with the issue of the school system in Dubai. This is our experience with Pristine going to school in Dubai. This is no way applicable for all but only based on our personal experience. Reference links included to help parents find more information.

WHICH SCHOOL TO CHOOSE
Dubai is a cultural melting pot with more than 100 nationalities living as expatriates in this busy city. Unlike most countries where education is free in public schools, there is no free education in Dubai (unless you’re from a local family). Sorry to break the bad news to you.

Pristine Grade 1

There are plenty of schools to choose from depending on which curriculum you want your child to be in. Dubai’s private schools offer 15 different curricula. You can search the KHDA (Knowledge and Human Development Authority) schools directory by curriculum to find a suitable school for you.

Then there are nationality specific schools offering a curriculum exactly like back home, just to name a few:

Expat families who are here on work assignments and bound to go back to their home countries after a few years tend to put their children to schools with the same curriculum as back home so the transition is smooth for children coming here and going back home.

We enrolled Pristine in a school offering British Curriculum in 2007 without thinking about anything seriously. Going to a Japanese school wasn’t an option as one of the main reasons for relocating to Dubai was for her to learn and be fluent in English from a young age.

WHAT ARE THE COSTS?

School costCosts vary from school to school but any Dubai parent would be tilting their heads and tell you: it is not cheap! Some lucky expats are well, lucky enough to have school fees part of their what’s called the “expat package”. If school fees aren’t part of your salary package (ours aren’t), you might want to study how much the school fee will take up chunk of your monthly family budget.

A note on payment of tuition fees: schools do not ask for monthly payment but instead demand payment PER TERM. There are 3 terms in a school year: Term 1 is September to December, Term 2 is January – March and Term 3 is April to June. Payments can either be cash or cheque.

There is a separate fee for school buses, varies from distance of the child’s school to home.

TIP: When you’ve narrowed down the list of schools you prefer, it’s great to pay the school a visit, take a look at the classroom, see the number of children in each class, etc. Trust your gut feelings.

HOW LONG IS A SCHOOL DAY?
Kids go to school five days a week from Sunday to Thursday.

Yes, sir, we have a weird schedule over here. Being an Islamic country, Sunday in the Western world is Friday here so school “weekend” is Friday and Saturday. We resume offices and schools on Sunday.

Pristine KG2 2008

Pristine’s classes start from 7:45am to 2:30pm. She is now in Year 4. The timings were much shorter when she was younger.

Schools offering British curriculum opens in the month of September (other schools like The Japanese School start their school year in April.) There are a few days off every end of school term and half term breaks as well. July and August are the hottest months in the UAE so school is out. Most of the expat children go back home to their home countries with their moms (the annual Dubai summer exodus) so it’s a challenge to entertain them when their friends are away and with zero outdoor life during these months, summer in Dubai is tough for kids.

Pristine is always ecstatic for summer break to end and always look forward when school starts again.

SCHOOL LUNCH
Dubai being a city with so many different people from different cultural and ethnic background – there’s always that adjustment with food and it’s difficult to cater to everyone’s individual needs: some can’t eat pork, some don’t eat beef, some are purely vegetarian, etc.

The result? It is difficult to operate a school canteen.

There are so many schools without a canteen and children have to bring their own snacks and lunch box from home.

Japanese bento

Photo credit

This has been a struggle for me as a working mother. Her bus picks her up at around 6:45 am so that means everything has to be ready and packed before that. I looked forward to the “bento” days at her daycare in Japan where I get to flex my mommy muscles and make some nice lunch, like spend longer time in the kitchen. Here where I have to do it everyday? I would be lying if I say I am looking forward to it every morning. :(

NO JUNK

Recently, Pristine’s school has banned bringing in of softdrinks and other fizzy drinks, junk foods and sweets. The UAE has one of the highest rates of Diabetes II and obesity in the world so they’re trying to make things right, starting at a young age.

General Questions:

1. What if my child don’t speak English?

Spot on question – our daughter didn’t speak English at all too when we first came here in 2007 but we weren’t that concerned. Well, not much because guess what? Children pick up languages double (or triple) the speed than adults. They learn by play, by interacting and just being children.

National Day at Dubai school

Pristine during the UAE National Day celebrations at their school in 2010. Children come to school dressed in their respective country’s national costumes. She is photographed here with a classmate from the UAE.

Even if your child don’t speak English at all at first, it is guaranteed that he/she will be speaking fluently before the end of the school term! Our daughter is a living proof of this!

2. What languages do they teach at school?

Unless it’s in a country-specific school like The Japanese School where they teach in Japanese language only, the medium of instruction is English so your child will learn that language (if he/she is not capable of that yet like in our case).

A second foreign language is taught as well. Pristine has French. Then being in the UAE, it is mandatory to learn Arabic.

Worried that all these multiple language learning may be too much for your little ones? Don’t fret moms, children are like sponges. They absorb everything hurled to them. Prepare to be surprised (we were!)!

Any other things you want to know about going to school in Dubai?

Comments

comments

Comments

  1. says

    Hey! Thanks for this info!!! We’re going to be moving in three weeks and living in Sharjah! We’re American (I’m of Indian descent and hubby is African-American) and we want to send our daughters (3yr old & 2yr old) to Sharjah American International School. I’ve pretty much done my research but your blog post really helped me understand that I’m going in the right direction! Have you heard of this school by the way?

    PS: I’ve been following your blog for two years now, you’re awesome!

    • Grace says

      Thanks for your comment! I’m glad this post made you come out from ‘hiding’ to say hello :)
      Glad the post is useful for you.

  2. says

    I wanted so badly to be a Japanese bento mom too. :( We should sit in the naughty corner together. Imagine if our kids went to Dubai Japanese School. We would either be peer-pressured into doing it or have our kids be the only one’s with “regular” lunches. LOL

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