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Abu Dhabi schools are going all out to ensure safe return for students Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: The choice of school for a child is an important decision for every parent. And apart from looking at teaching standards, academic record and extracurricular activities on offer, the curriculum a school has is an essential part of the consideration.

Schools in the UAE offer a range of curricula to cater to the needs of a multicultural society. In Abu Dhabi emirate, all public schools offer the UAE Ministry of Education (MoE) curriculum. Private and charter schools, of which there are 222 institutions, offer one or more of 14 different curriculums.

The emirate’s education regulator, the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), has released a guide to assist parents looking to choose a curriculum for their children, or switch schools for them based on the system of education on offer. The deadline to switch schools is mid-October every year.

Here is a snapshot of all that you need to know about curriculum choices.

What is a curriculum?

Curriculum typically refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn, including learning standards and objectives, lessons, assignments, projects, learning materials like books, and assessment styles used to evaluate learning.

The curriculum chosen sets the tone of children’s learning experience, and determines the assessments they undertake and the qualifications they receive. However, not all schools that offer a particular curriculum are the same, and can differ in terms of fees, facilities, teaching methods and extracurriculars.

What curriculums are available in Abu Dhabi?

-American: Most schools follow the US Common Core Standards for English and Mathematics, and the Next Generation Science Standards for Science. Students are three years of age and onwards, and must pursue 12 years of learning beyond kindergarten. Students choose between a range of elective subjects in high school (Grade 9 to 12), and graduate with a high school diploma. There is no external exam or qualification. However, students can take standardised tests such as SAT or ACT, which are required to attend most universities in the US.

-Bangladeshi: Schools follow a curriculum approved by Bangladesh’s National Curriculum and Textbook Board. The language of instruction is English, and students are enrolled from fours of age. Beyond kindergarten, students complete 10 years of schooling to obtain the Secondary School Certificate, and 12 years of schooling for the Higher Secondary School Certificate. Students can also choose between ‘tracks’ - Science or Commerce - after Grade 8. The academic year begins in January.

-British: The English National Curriculum includes compulsory subjects and elective subjects. Secondary school qualifications like the IGCSE, GCSE and A-levels are widely accepted across the world. Children must be aged three years old on September 1 of the year of admission to be accepted into a Foundation Stage 1, the first year of learning. There are 13 years of schooling beyond the Foundation Stages, and it is important to understand that Year 2 in a British curriculum school corresponds to Grade 1.

-Canadian: Schools follow either the Alberta or the Nova Scotia Curriculum Framework. There are mandatory subjects and electives, and students are enrolled from four years of age onwards. There are then 12 years of schooling, culminating in a high school diploma.

-French: Schools follow the Common Foundation of Knowledge, Skills and Culture developed by the French Department of Education. Students are enrolled from three years onwards, and there are 15 years of learning in total, but the last two years are only compulsory for those who wish to continue on an academic route. Graduates receive a Baccalureat General certificate upon passing Grade 12.

-German: The German school in Abu Dhabi offers the Thuringia curriculum, with German as the language of instruction. Students are accepted into kindergarten at three years of age, and can choose to leave school in Grade 10, or continue until Grade 12 to pursue the school leaving exam and proceed on to university.

-Indian: Schools offer either the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), or the Kerala State Education Board (KSEB). The academic year runs from April to March. Compulsory education begins from six years of age, but schools enroll students at kindergarten level. Students learn compulsory subjects until Grade 10, and can choose between certain subjects or streams in Grades 11 and 12. They obtain a Secondary School Certificate on passing an external exam in Grade 10, and a Higher Secondary School Certificate in Grade 12.

-International Baccalaureate (IB): As a curriculum framework, IB schools offer similar teaching and learning frameworks with the curriculum content of their choice. Enrollment begins at four years onwards, with 12 years of learning beyond kindergarten level that culminates in a diploma. Students study from eight subject groups until Grade 10, and from six subject groups in Grade 11 and 12.

-Japanese: Schools offer a curriculum developed by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, with Japanese as the language of instruction for most subjects. There are 12 years of schooling beyond kindergarten level, which accepts students aged at least three years old, but students in Abu Dhabi graduate at the end of Grade 9.

-Pakistani: Schools follow the Pakistani National curriculum, and sit exams developed by the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education at the high school level. Students are enrolled from four years of age onwards, with 12 years of learning beyond kindergarten level. The academic year runs from April to March until Grade 12, and from September to June in Grades 11 and 12. In high school, students study mandatory subjects and choose between available electives, obtaining the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) in Grade 10 and the Higher Secondary School Certificate in Grade 12.

-Philippine: Schools follow a curriculum developed by the Philippines Department of Education, and children are enrolled from four years of age. Students complete 12 years of schooling after kindergarten to receive a Senior High School Diploma and Seondary Leaving Certificate. There are mandatory and elective subjects, and high school students choose a career track that defines the content of their courses.

-SABIS: The SABIS curriculum was originally developed in Lebanon, and includes 12 years of learning beyond kindergarten. Schools are either English-French-Arabic trilingual schools, or offer Arabic and French as second and third languages to students based on their nationality. There are both core and additional courses at the secondary levels, with students opting between external board assessments in high school, such as the GCSEs, A-levels and SATs.

-Spanish: Schools follow the Spanish National Curriclum, which Spanish as the language of instruction. The school in Abu Dhabi offers six years of schooling beyond kindergarten level, with core and specific subjects. Non-Spanish speaking students can enter directly into the Spanish Immersion programme to avail of linguistic support.

-UAE Ministry of Education (MoE): This curriculum was developed by the UAE Ministry of Education, and includes Arabic as the medium of instruction. All public schools in the UAE offer this curriculum, as do a few private schools in Abu Dhabi. There are 12 years of learning beyond kindergarten level. All subjects are compulsory up to Grade 8, and students choose between General and Advanced tracks in Grade 9 and upwards, with the Advanced track subjects placing more emphasis on high-level Math and Science. Passing the school-leaving examination – Thanawiya Al Amma – in Grade 12 allows students to enroll in the UAE’s federal universities.

What should you consider before choosing a curriculum?

-Future plans: Is the curriculum recognised by the school or university where your child will continue their learning?

-Recognition in home country: Is the degree provided recognised in your home country, in case you are planning to move back?

-Prior school history: If your children is moving from another school, can all their credits and learning hours be seamlessly transferred?

-High-school equivalency in the UAE: Will your child meet all the minimum requirements to obtain a high school equivalency certificate in the UAE? This is a requirement to attest degrees later provided by UAE universities.

-Personal preferences: What kind of teaching instruction would you like your child to receive – teacher-led or self-directed? What subjects would you like your child to learn?

What subjects are mandatory for all children in the UAE?

Based on their nationality and faith, children will be required to learn the following mandatory subjects:

-Islamic education: This is mandatory for Muslim children, and optional for others. It is taught in Arabic to Arab students, and in English or another language of instruction to expat students.

-Arabic: Arab students study Arabic as a first language. Expat students study Arabic as an additional language until Grade 9, and can choose to study it until Grade 12.

-UAE Social Studies: This is a mandatory subject between Grade 1 and 9. The language of instruction can vary based on the school.

-Moral Education: This is a mandatory subject from Grade 1 to 12, but the language of instruction depends on the school.

What should you consider when transferring your child from one to school to another with a different curriculum?

-Are you well within the transfer deadline in mid-October?

-Schools recommend not to switch curriculums after a child had begun Grade 9 (or its equivalent), in order to minimise disruptions to academic success and wellbeing in the years leading up to university.

-What grade will your child be accepted into?

-How will the academic transition be managed, and does your child need to build any background knowledge before switching schools?

-What core and elective subjects are taught at the new school?

-Is the language of instruction the same at the new school?

-Can your child adapt to the new environment and manage anxiety? What about other aspects of their social and mental wellbeing?

What other aspects should I look into before switching schools?

Curriculums are obviously not the only consideration when changing schools. Other factors you should look into include:

-Teaching standards

-Adek inspection rating

-Class size

-Fees, including tuition and other expenses

-Assessments and their frequency

-Discipline record

-Access to extracurricular activities

And before you make the switch, check the following:-

-Documents required for the transfer

-Important admission dates to enroll your child