Education has long been a top priority for Abu Dhabi, and the government is at work to provide an education system that fits individuals of all ages and addresses the future needs of the Emirate.
The Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) is Abu Dhabi’s education authority and oversees development initiatives. AEDK has several strategic partnerships with leading international education institutions to ensure not only that the Emirate can be at the same level as Western countries, but a leading hub for education innovation.
The government provides free education to all citizens up to grade 12 or age 18. While the language of instruction in public schools is Arabic, there is frequent use of English, especially for math, science, and other technical subjects. In 2009, the Department of Education launched its 10-year strategic plan, at the center of which was enhancing the English language skills of students, as well as increasing the English proficiency of teachers through specialized programs.
According to the Abu Dhabi Statistics Centre (SCAD), there has been a dramatic increase in the number of classrooms in recent years; the Emirate has seen a 23.5% increase in the number of class rooms since the 2010-2011 school year, with the current number of classrooms sitting at 16,712. Despite the government operating more schools than private institutions, government schools only account for just over 34% of the total number.
Between 2010 and 2016, the total number of enrolled students at all grades increased by 21.9%, with nearly 375,000 students. Abu Dhabi has approximately 191 private schools, which combined offer more than 14 different educational curricula. In the 2016-2017 school year, 10 new private schools opened, adding approximately 25,000 seats.
Abu Dhabi is pioneering in terms of integrating new technology into the classroom. TBY recently met with Dr. Kenneth Vedra, the Director General of Emirates National Schools, to gain a better understanding of how institutions are using new technology to prepare students for the future. “We are starting to look at some of the technology-based skills, though we do not have pure vocational education, and this is something we are discussing currently with the board,” Vedra said. “As for technology and innovation, in middle school we have design classes. This is a combination of art and technology for children to design different items. We are bringing different pieces in, looking at different things that people will be involved in.”
Regarding higher education in the Emirate, there are 23 established institutions. Three of them are federal universities, which include the country’s oldest higher education institution United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), established in 1976. These institutions are complemented by 10 Public-Non Federal HEIs, which include international renowned universities such as INSEAD and Paris Sorbonne University, Abu Dhabi (PSUAD). They also include technical centers such as the Petroleum Institute (PI), given the importance of this sector in the country’s economy and the critical role of education in advancing its level of sophistication. On top of that, the Emirate is home to another 10 private HEIs, bringing an even more international outlook for its education sector with institutions such as New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) and European International College.
According to data from the Ministry of Education, there were over 56,000 university students in Abu Dhabi during the 2015-2016 academic year, making up for 40% of all enrolled students in the UAE’s HEIs. The Ministry of Education currently has underway a strategic plan for 2017-2021 to develop an innovative education system for building a knowledgeable and globally competitive society, which sets up very specific targets such as positioning the UAE among the top-20 countries on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranking by the OECD. The UAE’s federal budget for 2018 provided an investment in education of AED10.4 billion, accounting for 20% of the total budget, which shows the country’s support in meeting and exceeding educational needs to advance the UAE’s future.