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United Arab Emirates

Educational System—overview

Most histories of the Gulf region focus on political and military developments and are oriented toward a readership of Western specialists. The written record of the history of education in the region is very thin. Archaeological excavations in several locations in the UAE are, however, providing new information about many aspects of the region's ancient past, including life in complex urban settlements that existed thousands of years before the coming of Christianity and Islam to the area. More information is becoming available as well about the period of Islamic expansion before significant contact was made with Europeans. Islamic Instruction in the Koran through traditional schools and tutors was common in many places in what is now the UAE hundreds of years before European states became a presence in the late 1400s.

"Western" or "modern" education can be traced to the early 1900s when prosperous pearl merchants in the coastal cities of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah established three schools. Foreign teachers from other parts of the Arab world, who taught reading, writing, and Islamic studies, staffed the schools. The economic crises of the 1920s and 1930s and the decline in the pearl industry from Japanese competition forced these schools to close, but others reopened when the economy improved.

The British government, controllers of the military and external affairs the Trucial States (the forerunner of the UAE), built the first school offering a comprehensive Western-type curriculum in Sharjah in 1953. Staffed by teachers from other Arab countries, the school had 450 boys between the ages of six and 17 during its first year. Soon after the first modern primary school for girls was established in Sharjah. The British government also built schools in Abu Dhabi, Ras al Khaymah, and Khawr Fakkan. It established an agricultural school in Ras al Khaymah in 1955 and a technical school in Sharjah in 1958.

In 1958 Kuwait started to build schools in the emirates, including facilities in Ajman and Umm al Qaywayn. Kuwait also provided teacher-training programs in the UAE and funded teacher trainees from the emirates to go abroad for training. Until the emirates could afford to pay teachers, Bahrain, Qatar, and Egypt paid teachers to work in the emirates.

After Abu Dhabi Emirate began earning great oil revenues in the early 1960s, it developed and funded its own educational system, while the other emirates that were to become part of the UAE continued to rely on outside assistance. By the 1964-1965 academic year, Abu Dhabi had six schools attended by 390 boys and 138 girls, taught by 33 teachers. In the same year, there were 31 schools outside Abu Dhabi, 12 of which were for girls. Dubai had 3,572 students in 10 schools and 137 teachers. A basic feature of the UAE educational system is its astounding growth since 1964. During the 2000-2001 academic year, 314,217 students were in UAE schools, which numbered 710 institutions with 27,493 teachers and administrators.

One of the consequences of the continuing investments in public education is that the standard of living for UAE citizens has improved greatly since 1971. The UAE was ranked forty-fifth in the United Nations Human Development Index for the year 2000. This index assesses the quality of life based on income, educational standards, life expectancy, and health care in 174 countries worldwide. A comparable measure in the early 1960s would have placed the UAE in the low bottom quartile.

The existing educational structure, which was established in the early 1970s, is a four-tier system covering 14 years of education. The tiers include kindergarten (4-5 years old), primary (6-11 years), intermediate (12-14 years) and secondary (15-17 years) levels.

Instruction is in Arabic. Introductory English is given in the early grades with advanced courses being offered at all of the intermediate and secondary levels. Some technical and scientific courses in English are offered at the secondary level. Instruction by native speakers of English is rare. No other foreign languages are being taught in the public sector. Some private schools, however, offer instruction in European and Asian languages.

The school year starts in September and ends in early June. As in many other Arab and Islamic countries, the government workweek is from Saturday to Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday constituting the "weekend." Islamic and UAE national holidays are observed and a shortened school day is followed during the holy month of Ramadan when it falls during the school year. Summer courses are rare because of the intense heat of that season. A large minority of Emirati families spends part of the summer abroad.

Student, teacher, staff, and school numbers have steadily increased in the private educational sector, in addition to great growth in the public schools. In a recent five-year period the number of private schools increased to 398 in the 1998-1999 school year, from 365 in the 1994-1995 school year, with male and female students increasing by 19 percent from 189,830 to 225,898, and teaching staff from 12,659 to 16,416. UAE national students registered with private schools accounted for 11 percent of their total enrollment in 1995.

The total number of students at primary and secondary level in public and private schools in the UAE has steadily grown each year and reached 563,461 in 1998, up from 480,973 in 1995, an increase of 4 percent per annum. Teaching and administrative staff increased to 43,510 in 1999, up from 37,425 in 1995, while the number of schools increased to 1085 from 901 for the same period.

A large minority of students in the federal school system are the sons and daughters of foreign nationals working in the UAE. The percentage of UAE national students in government schools stood at 66.6 percent in 1998-1999, compared with 33.7 percent for expatriate students. The number of female students increased by 3 percent, while the figure was 2.6 percent for male students.

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Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferenceUnited Arab Emirates - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education