Having led schools in the region for the past 11 years, Senior Associate Bill Turner traveled through the region in October, visiting 25 Search Associates schools. His view is that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) education landscape is one of ambition, growth and optimism.
The UAE wants its schools to support it in challenging the heavyweights of Finland, Shanghai, S. Korea etc., with the objective of making the top 15 of the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMMS) League results and the top 20 of the Pisa test results for Math and Reading. As a result of this, teachers feel the challenge of a tightly-focused inspection regime. Although this is now federalized, it is quite a difference experience in each of the seven Emirates present.
There is great confidence. Fifteen new schools opened in Dubai alone in August 2016. To keep up with present population patterns and student choice patterns, Dubai needs nearly three British schools a year to open between now and 2025; Abu Dhabi needs two American and two British schools per year.
A few years back, parents in Dubai were struggling to find places for their 3-6 year-olds in "good schools." Now there are plenty of schools, but they are frequently very expensive. The impact on school enrollment after the fall of oil prices is talked about less in Dubai than Abu Dhabi, and less in Abu Dhabi than Qatar. But many schools which have opened in the last year have low student numbers, perhaps because of their higher tuition fees. As a teacher, you could, in these cases, be enjoying class sizes of ten! Class size remains a popular topic of conversation for parents, and despite the inconclusive research, schools tend to promote a populist fact that they often keep classes at a maximum of 24 students, and lower in the early years.
The most popular international curricula are British and American (British in Dubai; American in Abu Dhabi), though there is growth in the popularity of the International Baccalaureate (IB) as well. Many schools have hybrid curricula, with the IGCSE/IB Diploma as one widely held combination. Some schools offer American APs, as well as the IB Diploma, to their top two-year groups. Other curricula include Australian, British Columbian, Indian, French, and many more. Principals say they are open minded about employing teachers trained and experienced in other curricula, claiming they simply want fantastic teachers and will train them to cover gaps.
Packages remain very good in the UAE, even though they can vary quite strongly from school to school. Teachers need to look closely at all parts of a package, not just the salary, but also gratuity, accommodation, medical insurance, flights for spouses/children, and tuition benefits for children. It is particularly important to make sure that the school prioritizes great professional development. The good news is that almost invariably, schools do prioritize this and are keen to point this out.
It's a great time to be considering teaching in the United Arab Emirates!