The National Identity Mark provides a comprehensive overview of the effectiveness of programmes enriching children’s understanding of and connection to Emirati culture and values. Image used for illustrative purpose only. Image Credit: File photo

Abu Dhabi: The National Identity Mark for private schools in Abu Dhabi empowers parents to make informed decisions when choosing a school, not only from an academic perspective but also in terms of fostering a connection to Emirati culture, a senior official has explained.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Dr Sarah Al Suwaidi, director of the Education Quality Assurance and Monitoring Office at the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK), said: “For parents, the National Identity Mark offers more than just a rating; it provides a comprehensive overview of the effectiveness and scope of national identity programmes within Abu Dhabi’s private schools. This tool empowers parents to make informed decisions when choosing a school that not only excels academically but also enriches their child’s understanding of and connection to Emirati culture and values.”

How schools are faring
Launched in 2022, the National Identity Mark aims to heighten students’ understanding of the UAE’s traditions, customs, and values.

Following a phased approach, 153 schools have been evaluated, with eight ‘Outstanding’, 33 ‘Good’, 79 ‘Acceptable’ and 33 ‘Weak’.

As many as six schools evaluated during the first phase of inspections requested to be reassessed. With the completion of the cycle, additional inspections will include 60 private schools before the end of the academic year.


number of schools evaluated under National Identity Mark

Incentive for schools

Dr Al Suwaidi added: “For educational institutions, the mark serves as a significant incentive. It encourages schools to integrate national identity into their curricula more robustly, thereby enhancing all students’— not just Emiratis’— understanding of our nation’s rich traditions, customs, and values.

"This alignment with the UAE leadership’s strategic priorities ensures that the fostering of a strong national identity is central to educational endeavours.”

Dr Sarah Al Suwaidi

“The National Identity Mark [NIM] specifically focuses on enhancing and promoting national identity within schools, covering three key domains: ‘Culture’, which includes history, heritage, and the Arabic language; ‘Values’, which encompass respect, compassion, and global understanding; and ‘Citizenship’, which involves aspects such as belonging, volunteering, and conservation.”

The National Identity Mark, which is “a first-of-its-kind”, represents a “pioneering approach” in school evaluation systems. Its annual assessments aim to foster an educational environment that is “pivotal in building a cohesive society that values national culture and identity as well as educational achievements”, the director said.

NIM and Irtiqaa

About the difference between the National Identity Mark and Irtiqaa, the main school inspections, Dr Sara explained: “The National Identity Mark [NIM] specifically focuses on enhancing and promoting national identity within schools, covering three key domains: ‘Culture’, which includes history, heritage, and the Arabic language; ‘Values’, which encompass respect, compassion, and global understanding; and ‘Citizenship’, which involves aspects such as belonging, volunteering, and conservation.”

The NIM provides a targeted approach to embedding these elements into the educational framework of schools in Abu Dhabi, aiming to strengthen the cultural and national fabric of the student body.

“On the other hand, Irtiqaa operates under the UAE Unified School Inspection Framework and is more comprehensive in scope, focusing on the overall performance standards of schools. This system evaluates six core standards: students’ achievement; students’ personal and social development along with their innovation skills; teaching and assessment; curriculum; protection, care, guidance, and support of students; and leadership and management. Each standard includes 17 performance indicators that collectively assess a school’s academic and administrative effectiveness.”

Academic excellence, cultural integrity

She pointed out: “While the National Identity Mark is evaluated independently and places a concentrated focus on culture and identity as its framework, it is just one factor among 70 in the Irtiqaa inspections. Nonetheless, both systems are designed to provide schools with detailed reports that highlight areas of strength and areas needing improvement.

“We support schools based on these findings, ensuring that both academic excellence and cultural integrity are fostered. Together, NIM and Irtiqaa offer a holistic approach to evaluating and improving educational environments, ensuring that schools not only meet high academic standards but also effectively instil a sense of national identity and cultural awareness in students.”

Dr Al Suwaidi advised all parents - Emiratis and expats - to appreciate the value of NIM.


“Abu Dhabi’s unique multicultural environment, where universal values are emphasised, makes the National Identity Mark relevant for every family. For Emirati students, this mark is more than a symbol; it connects them to the UAE’s rich heritage and enduring traditions. It instils a profound sense of belonging and pride, encouraging them to carry forward the legacy of the nation’s founding fathers and to actively participate in shaping the UAE’s future.

“For expatriate students, the National Identity Mark offers a vital exchange of cultural knowledge and experiences. This engagement deepens their understanding of Emirati history, culture, values, and societal perspectives, fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect, social harmony, and cooperation. The experiences these students gain during their time in Abu Dhabi enrich their lives, providing a foundation of respect and appreciation for the UAE, values they are likely to carry with them into the future.”

“In essence, the National Identity Mark serves as a bridge that connects all students, local and expatriate, to the UAE’s cultural roots and its aspirational future. It encourages every student to contribute to the preservation and growth of the country’s legacy, ensuring its continuity for future generations.”

Student development

Dr Al Suwaidi also advised students to care about the NIM because it will help in their overall development.

“National identity plays an important role in a student’s development as it links their personal growth with the cultural and ethical values of their country. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founding Father of the UAE, left a lasting legacy that continues to influence our identity. His commitment to values such as compassion, tolerance, and sustainability are not only central to Emirati culture but are also universally recognized virtues that have a profound impact on students from all backgrounds.”

She added: “Integrating these values into students’ educational experience helps them develop a well-rounded perspective, fostering their growth as global citizens capable of understanding and navigating diverse cultural landscapes. This approach encourages students to embody these values in their everyday lives, enhancing their ability to contribute positively to their communities and the wider world.

“In that sense, the relevance of national identity in education is twofold: It anchors students in their sense of self and collective identity, while also equipping them with the universal values needed to engage and collaborate across cultures. By embracing these principles, students are better prepared to face global challenges with empathy, integrity and a deep sense of responsibility.” She added.

Significant findings

Given the benefits of NIM to learners, how can schools improve their rating?

“A key finding has been the importance of ensuring that students not only participate in activities but fully grasp the purpose and significance of various projects, field trips, and initiatives aimed at promoting the UAE’s national identity. This deep understanding fosters a more authentic and meaningful engagement with the culture and values of the UAE.”

Dr Al Suwaidi also pointed out: “Schools should invest time in thoroughly understanding the criteria and framework of the National Identity Mark. This foundation will enable them to align their strategies effectively. Additionally, learning from schools that have achieved ‘Outstanding’ ratings can provide valuable insights into successful practices and initiatives. Identifying specific areas of improvement or gaps in their current approach is essential.

Collective involvement

“Engagement with the entire school community, including parents, is important. This collective involvement helps create a supportive and enriched learning environment that extends beyond the classroom. Schools should also focus on delivering programs and initiatives that are deeply embedded in the UAE context, ensuring that these activities are relevant and resonate with students’ everyday experiences.

“Finally, schools should avoid superficial measures, such as increasing the number of school trips to cultural sites without integrating these experiences into a broader, coherent educational objective. Genuine improvement in their National Identity Mark requires a committed, thoughtful approach that integrates the UAE’s heritage and values into all aspects of school life.”


Regarding the six schools that asked to be re-evaluated this year, Dr Al Suwaidi said:

“We were pleased to see improved results in four of the six schools who reflected their commitment to enhancing their national identity programmes.

A standout example is Al Yasmina School, which achieved an impressive leap, advancing two grades on the scale. This improvement was primarily due to the proactive involvement of the parents who took it upon themselves to fully understand the National Identity Mark Framework. They partnered with the school to effectively spearhead improvements that significantly enhanced the school’s national identity programs.

“This collective effort not only bolstered their standing but also fostered a robust sense of cultural pride and belonging among the students.

“This case highlights how critical the engagement of the entire school community is in driving substantial improvements in national identity programs and their impact. The success of Al Yasmina School should act as a compelling example for other institutions aiming to enhance their own programs and demonstrates the transformative impact of community involvement in educational development.”

Wider societal goals

Dr Al Suwaidi said: “Overall, not prioritising the National Identity Mark can have an impact on students’ social outcomes. Schools that bypass this focus may inadvertently hinder their students’ holistic development and their ability to excel as well-rounded members of society.

“Schools that overlook the importance of the National Identity Mark might find themselves at a disadvantage in fostering an environment of social cohesion. The mark’s emphasis on values such as respect, tolerance, and mutual understanding creates a harmonious educational setting where diverse backgrounds are not only recognized but celebrated. Neglecting these aspects could lead to a lack of these critical social skills among students, which are essential for their future roles as active, responsible citizens.

“Without the emphasis on cultivating national pride and belonging through this framework, students may not develop a deep connection to their cultural heritage and values. This lack of connection can extend beyond the classroom, potentially diminishing students’ ability to engage with and contribute positively to their communities.”