Ontario International Canadian School, Mirdif – The Review
Acceptable School with Good and Very Good features
Acceptable School with weak and good features*
*Note: this was the school's first KHDA inspection and allowance should be made for all new school teething issues.
Acceptable with Good features
Acceptable with Good features
NA - school currently in phased launch of Secondary and currently to Year 10 only.
Pre primary: 40000
KG 1: 43000
KG 2: 47000
Grade 1: 5750
Grade 2: 57500
Grade 3: 57500
Grade 4: 62750
Grade 5: 64750
Grade 6: 66750
Grade 7: 68750
Grade 8: 68750
Grade 10: 75750
Grade 11: Phased launch TBA
Grade 12: Phased launch TBA
(1) Not accredited by Ministry of Education in Ontario because there is a moratorium on international school accreditation currently within Ontario globally. However, the school is speaking with the government on an ongoing basis with the ultimate goal of being accredited.
(2) In the interim the school is in the process of securing accreditation by the Council of International Schools (CIS).
(3) The school is currently exploring partnerships with Ontario School Boards so that every child will have an accredited Canadian Diploma at the end of Year 12 on graduation.
(4) Grade 12 specialised University/College U and M preparation courses will be offered from Grade 11
(5) Advanced Placement (for entrance to US universities) TBC
Fully, unambiguously inclusive. The school has never, and commits to never, refuse a child a place to study at the school.
Capped capacity: 480
(1) 30% (2017)
(2) 47% (2016)
(1) Emirati: 16
(2) SEND: 32
(3) Arab (largest nationality)
(4) 40% Canadian
(5) 32 nationalities
(1) Hasnain Dar CEO
+971 (0)4 2559899
NA - Phased launch
NA - Phased launch
NA - Phased launch
NA - Phased launch
NA - Phased launch
Stabilised teacher turnover at 10% (2018) - under half the current Dubai average - promising children continuity of teaching.
The only Canadian education on offer in Dubai
Exceptionally small school by Dubai standards where no child will be lost in the crowd and a school family ethos can naturally flourish.
Committed school leadership
Rapid turnaround of the school in 2018 with increasing KHDA scoring in 33 of a total 63 indicators - a genuine achievement.
Capacity for KHDA "Good School" status and beyond now in reach
Rapidly improved Acceptable rating with Good and Very Good features
Extremely high ratio of teacher provision to students offering effective individualised learning
Accomplished, driven leadership
Emphasis on data-driven, accountable progress measurement and responsiveness to the need of the individual child.
Creditable rejection of rote learning, hot house learning, memorisation and diktat in favour of child-centred, individualised learning and a curriculum built around the needs of children rather than itself.
High ROI, strong value mid-tier fees
Inevitable ongoing teething problems of any school in phased launch.
Some parents may be concerned about the current KHDA "Acceptable School" rating - although we think the headline rating does not capture the outstanding improvements in the school under new leadership and the very clear capacity for rapid school improvement above.
No school canteen and limited bells and whistles
School needs to shore up external accreditation of its Diploma for graduating students in 2021.
Web site information is poorly presented, does not adequately celebrate the achievements of children and does not highlight the strengths of the school or the otherwise high quality of its communication with parents at the school.
Exclusive first review – Ontario International Canadian School Dubai SchoolsCompared.com official visit January 2019
“In February 2018 we were inspected by the KHDA against its core 63 indicators across every aspect of school life, community, academics, education and care for children.
Ontario International Canadian School was awarded higher scoring in 33 of those 63 indicators.
For most schools to go up in just 10 areas would be counted as an outstanding achievement.
In just 5 months my view is that we have transformed Ontario International Canadian School. Today we offer an outstanding education for all our children.
I’m very proud of the school that we have here today, the outstanding Canadian education we have brought to Dubai – and what we achieved for our children and families at the time of my first inspection in February 2018.
In the next three years I aim to achieve for all our children and families KHDA Very Good School status. That is my ambition, my commitment – and I have the confidence in our extraordinary teaching staff and passionate owners that we will absolutely deliver on that promise.”
Ron Hodkinson. Principal. Ontario International Canadian School. 2019.
The first Canadian school in Dubai, the Ontario International Canadian School (OICS), now represents the only choice for parents seeking a Canadian education for their children in the emirate following the closure of The British Columbia Canadian School, reviewed here, in 2018. For parents in Abu Dhabi, our alternative review of the Canadian International School in Khalifa City A, can be found here.
Ontario International Canadian School attracts students from more than 32 nationalities. Four out of 10 students are Canadian. Diversity is celebrated and the draw to the school is equally divided between Canadian families who want a Canadian experience for their children so that they can seamlessly re-enter Canadian education on their return to Canada and non-Canadian families seeking the simplest path to securing Canadian university places for their children on graduation.
Following our first visit to the school, we ask whether an education in this oasis of Canadian education in Dubai stacks up against the many alternative international schools in Dubai – and what makes the school stand out for children under its care.
Location and history
The Ontario International Canadian School is a new school established in September 2014. It offers a complete all-through education to children to Grade 12. The school is currently in phased launch with places available to Grade 10, with the subsequent final Secondary years, culminating in the awarding of the Ontario based Secondary School Certificate or Diploma, opening between 2020-21. Ontario International Canadian School is based on the site of the old Uptown School in Mirdif:
Small school care and dynamics
If a single benefit of the school stands out above any other, notwithstanding its unique provision of a Canadian school education in Dubai, it is the small scale dynamics on offer. This is one of the smallest schools in Dubai offering an education of this quality and breadth.
With a maximum capacity of just 600 students, a projected maximum role in practice of only 480 students – and a current role of less than 250 children, the Ontario International Canadian School offers an extremely rare chance for parents to access the sort of small school dynamics and care that simply cannot be delivered by the average 1800 – 2400 capacity school increasingly the norm in Dubai.
These figures are matched by a significant investment in teaching with 90% of all faculty Canadian nationals and all teaching faculty recruited internationally from Canada. There is no local recruitment such is the commitment to the Ontario curricular and the commitment that every child at the school will experience an education that has all the characteristics of an Ontario education.
With a teacher to student ratio of 1:7, the potential level of personalised learning available here is a benchmark for the sector.
Add to this an extremely bright and spacious school, and we have for many parents a school that represents the holy grail – one that their children are not going to disappear in as just another number on a seat.
With this clear feature of the school celebrated, it must also be balanced with the challenges that come from this. Large schools generate significant revenue. Even when profit is extracted, this leaves more available revenue to invest in the number of teaching staff (the highest cost faced by all schools) and so subject breadth.
Ontario International Canadian School is very transparent in addressing this – particularly when it becomes a greater issue at Secondary and Post-16 phases where subject specialisation and preparation for university requires, in the very best schools, just the sort of breadth of subject offer made difficult in smaller schools. We have a direct commitment that school is setting up breadth of subject provision through a balance of on-line and traditional subject teaching, both supported by teaching faculty. The aim is to deliver the breadth of subject choice of premium schools without compromising the small school dynamics that the school sees as integral to its ability to deliver individualised care and learning for its children:
“Ontario International Canadian School will offer enhanced course offerings for all secondary and post-16 students. We are partnering with a world class, Ontario-based, e-learning provider to build a globally competitive level of course provision rooted in the Ontario curriculum and education for our children.”
Student feedback 2019
“OICS is a school that feels like home and is so welcoming. Teachers
are very kind and have always stayed back late to help me with my work whenever I have asked, without question or making me worry. I would like to be an architect and study in Canada at University.”
Raina Tomwing. Grade 9 student. Ontario International
“The older children help younger children at the school. As a Year 9 student I am given responsibility to give-back to school life. We are given greater freedom as we grow through the school to take on responsibility and our teachers are very supportive. We are challenged and encouraged to follow our ambitions and supported in what we do to achieve them. I would like to be a bio-medical engineer which needs a strong grasp of Science – and my teachers have worked out a plan for me to ensure that I achieve this.”
Wathab Tawfik. Grade 9 student. Ontario International
Benefits of a Canadian (Ontario) Curriculum
The BBC has written that today Canada can count itself an “education superpower” based on its Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) PISA international rankings and achieving top-10 rankings for Mathematics, Science and reading. Canada too has the world’s highest proportion of working-age adults who have been through higher education – 55% compared with an average in OECD countries of 35%.
The Ontario curriculum achieves highly. In PISA and TIMS Ontario excels in scope and sequence in Science, Mathematics and language. In alternative Canadian curriculum approaches there can be a tendency for older styles of teaching focused on memorisation that are not based on the individual child but on pre-determined rules about where a child must be. This can, and often does, leave children behind. The Ontario approach is much more fluid and driven by the needs and progress of individual children throughout their education.
For Ron Hodkinson, Principal, Ontario International Canadian School the Ontario approach stands up against international competition in its celebration and nurturing of the whole child and the broader gifts identified by companies like Google that are required outside simple exam performance. For Google, examination results are simply no longer enough for a successful career in the 21st century:
“Why is the Canadian curriculum better than the British, or the American or other alternatives?
At a simple level in all successful schools the basics are the same – all good schools provide children with the foundations of an education in reading, writing and arithmetic.
In outstanding schools, every child will meet their potential, and over achieve against it, in these core areas.
However, what sets a Canadian education apart goes beyond simple academics. The difference is in how the Canadian education is delivered. What separates us is the community feel of our schooling – and that we teach the whole child not just the academic child.
You must prepare children for the jobs that do not exist today. That is where we shine in comparison with other schools and curricular.
I believe that the real test of an outstanding school is progress – how much you achieve for every child from the point they join our school to when they leave. Exam results on their own tell you so little about a school. A school with straight A students may well get the results – but will it have enabled children to make progress and achieve above and beyond that which they would have achieved anyway, regardless of the school? So many schools do not deliver on progress – and rest on their laurels with exam results that were a given almost before the children even came to the school.
Our whole child approach is rooted in the “5 Cs” that underpin an Ontario curriculum Canadian education, these providing every child skills in:
- Critical thinking
- Citizenship; and,
This whole child philosophy, and the skills and character traits that flow from it, underpin a Canadian education rather than being an afterthought or bolt on.”
Ron Hodkinson, Principal, Ontario International Canadian School.
The current vision statement for Ontario schools follows:renewedvision
Our Curriculum Guide to the Canadian High School diploma can be found here. It should be noted that the school will be offering dedicate University and College preparation courses to access Ontario (and broader Canadian) university entrance when Grade 11 opens in 2020.
In post for around 18 months, school Principal Ron Hodkinson brings with him a rare combination of business and educational experience, the latter rooted in direct experience in leading Canadian schools:
“My background is in banking – over ten years my ambition was to conquer the business world.
But one memory never left me.
On the day I graduated High School the teacher that inspired
me the most asked me whether I had thought about becoming a teacher. She said that the opportunity to transform the lives of children was a profound one and that she saw something in me that she believed would allow me to make an impact in education.
After ten years in banking I realised I wanted to make that difference in the world.
I left banking and returned to university to study at Buffalo in the United States for my education degree. On graduation I fast-tracked to management in schools, teaching Intermediate for five years, before becoming Vice Principal, then Principal for a school in Ontario where I went on to lead schools for the Ontario School Board over 11 years.
In 2017 I joined the Ontario International Canadian School in Dubai, driven by my belief that the stand out features of a Canadian education should be brought to a wider overseas audience of families and children.”
Ron Hodkinson. Principal. Ontario International Canadian School. 2019.
Facilities, Sport and ECAs
Facilities include libraries by phase; swimming pool, soccer and cricket pitches; Labs by science specialism; Google Classroom and Chrome Book provision; outdoor shaded areas for reading and break-out; tennis court; basketball courts; central sports hall; SEND Centre; prayer room; cricket nets and extensive reading areas. Post 16, pre-university phases will open in 2020.
Core school sports include cricket, soccer; dance, tennis, basketball, gymnastics, athletics and swimming.
ECAs include: Student Council; Peer Mediation; Arts and crafts; Club Yoga and mindfulness; Zumba; Kids Environmental club; STEM Challenge Club; Robotics Club; Mathematics Study Sessions; Science Study Sessions; Yoga and mindfulness; Books and Blankets in the Park; Recorder Club; Band; World Scholar Cup; Board; Game Club; Cricket Club; Soccer Club; Dance Club; Ukulele Club; Drama Club; Additional Mathematics; Tutoring; Readers’ Cup Competition; Newsletters; Arabic Club; Islamic Club; Innovation Month; Arabic Poems; and, Arabic Innovation Month.
The Ontario International Canadian School events programme includes: Yearbook Committee; Social Committee; Environmental Events; Eid Al Adha Presentation; World Teacher’s Day; Intermediate Residential Camp; Halloween; Flag Day; STEAM Week; Remembrance Day; Yogathon; Quran Competition; Fibonacci Day; Anti-Bullying Week; Hour of Code; Secret Santa; Holiday Concert; Sports Day; Terry Fox Run; Dubai Cares; STEM Challenge Presentation; Literacy Week; Pi Day; International Day; Earth Day; Teacher Appreciation Week; Eid Al Fitr; OICS Has Talent!; Grade 8 Grad Trips; Awards Assembly; Grade 8 Graduation; and, SK Graduation.
Technology and Innovation
All students receive their own Chrome Book from Grade 4 and up and access to Chrome Books is provided throughout the school. Google classroom is used throughout the school backed by a spectrum of supporting applications.
Gifted and Talented programmes were introduced in 2018, led by content specialists in Mathematics, Science and language. Activities are rolled into STEAM based programmes that are both individual and team based.
Supplemental post-16 on-line course breadth of provision is discussed above, but probably provides the single most powerful example of the ways technology is integrated.
KHDA school highlights identified in 2018
Strengths of the Ontario International Canadian school highlighted by the KHDA in their 2018 report include:
- Good attainment and progress in English, Mathematics and Science
in the Kindergarten (KG) phase;
- “Particularly good” student personal development in both the KG and the middle phases;
- Enthusiastic participation and engagement of children at KG phase in socially responsible activities including protecting the environment;
- A good standard of curriculum adaptation and implementation to meet the needs of different groups of learners;
- “Particularly effective” care of KG children with a good standard of care across all school phases;
- Clear vision and direction for improvement outlined and driven by the principal and the leadership team;
- Students’ strong sense of social responsibility which reaches a “Very Good” standard at KG and Middle School phases;
- Clear understanding of innovation shared across school leadership resulting in a culture of innovation being developed across school life;
- School wide use of Information Technology in Mathematics is resulting in improving students’ critical thinking and reasoning
- Students’ relationships reflect the whole child ethos of the school and there is clear sensitivity of all children to the needs and differences of others;
- Student-teacher relationships are of a “Very Good” standard;
- The identification of students with additional learning needs is a “strength of the school.” The programme to support students with SEND is “strong”;
- Parents are well informed about their children’s learning and development; and,
- 95% of parents and 100% of teachers in confidential feedback to the KHDA reported that they strongly agreed that the school provides a quality education for children.
Bottom line? The SchoolCompared.com Verdict 2019
It is worth quoting our sister site WhichSchoolAdvisor.com: “This is truly an Ontario school, one shipped to Dubai completely, pure and simple, with the ethos, belief system and educational principles the province proudly upholds.” For parents seeking a genuine Canadian education in the heart of Dubai there is no question that the school delivers.
It is beyond this, however, that we think the real value lies in the Ontario International Canadian School. You would be hard pressed to find an all-through school with a capped capacity of less than 500 children operating at this quality of provision in Dubai currently. Ask many parents (and teachers) what their biggest frustration is in our UAE schools – and it is likely to be that the price you pay for an outstanding education are schools that are large by any standard. 2000-plus capacity schools have become the norm rather than exception.
In distinction, Ontario International Canadian School places a premium on small school dynamics and the attention that its scale allows it to shower on children under its care. Its aim is to be a community school with the very closest links to families and the staff ratios to deliver truly individualised learning – and it certainly has the scale to deliver this.
On our 2019 visit we came away impressed after interviewing school leadership, teachers and children. Yes, there are frustrations – including the lack of a cafeteria (which we believe adds something to a school community beyond simple provision of lunch) and a web site that really does not capture the potential and performance of what for us is a very special school in the making.
So too, the school does need to ensure that it finds a way to independently accredit children leaving school, but it has two years to do this and CIS accreditation is more than sufficient in the interim.
These issues aside, this is a school brimming with inspiration in which child-led learning, a commitment to the whole child and intellectual curiosity are the genuine drivers of education. School leadership is accomplished and driven. The strong commitment to data provides accountability to parents and enables the school to genuinely meet the needs of children.
We also like the school’s genuine respect for the KHDA and recognition of the important ways the Dubai Schools Inspectorate is driving up standards for children. Too many schools seek to hide real practice during KHDA inspections to the detriment of a school growing and improving for its children. This is not one of those.
Warm, inspiring and unique, for parents seeking a Canadian education in Dubai this school deserves shortlisting not because it is the only option, but because it is an extremely good one – and one with the promise and potential to deliver an outstanding education for children.