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Ontario International Canadian School, Mirdif – The Review

Ontario International Canadian School, Mirdif – The Review

by January 10, 2019
Details to consider
2017/18 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

Acceptable School with Good and Very Good features

2016/17 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

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.

2015/16 Overall KHDA / ADEC Rating


Rating FS


Rating Primary / Elementary

Acceptable with Good features

Rating Secondary / Middle

Acceptable with Good features

Rating Post 16 / High

NA - school currently in phased launch of Secondary and currently to Year 10 only.

Type of school

Private, for-profit

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

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: 75750
Grade 10: 75750
Grade 11: Phased launch TBA
Grade 12: Phased launch TBA


Canadian (Ontario)

External Exam Boards

(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.

Waiting list


Value Added

Not provided

Number of Students

Capacity: 600
Capped capacity: 480
215 (2019)
205 (2018)

Teacher to Student Ratio


Largest nationality teachers


Teacher turnover

10% (2018)
(1) 30% (2017)
(2) 47% (2016)

Year opened



Mirdif, Dubai

Student composition

(1) Emirati: 16
(2) SEND: 32
(3) Arab (largest nationality)
(4) 40% Canadian
(5) 32 nationalities


Mixed, co-educational

School canteen



HDS Group
(1) Hasnain Dar CEO

Admissions Telephone

+971 (0)4 2559899

Web Address
Attainment Nur SEM


Attainment Pri SEM


Attainment Sec SEM


Attainment Post-16 SEM

NA - Phased launch

Progress Nur SEM


Progress Pri SEM


Progress Sec SEM


Progress Post-16 SEM

NA - Phased launch

Arabic Native Primary Results (Native)


Arabic Secondary Results (Native)


Arabic Post-16 Results (Native)

NA - Phased launch

Arabic Primary Results (Add.)


Arabic Secondary Results (Add.)


Arabic Post-16 Results (Add.)

NA - Phased launch

Islamic St. Primary Results


Islamic St. Secondary Results


Islamic St. Post-16 Results

NA - Phased launch







Quality of teaching


Student personal responsibility


Quality of curriculum


School Governance


SEN Provision



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.

Our Rating
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Arts & Drama
SEND Provision
Scl Community
Scl Facilities

The first and currently only Canadian school education in Dubai is also one of Dubai's smallest schools with all the benefits of a highly personalised education for children and caring small school dynamics that follow from this.

Canadian education has outshone many of the best known international heavyweights in recent years across international benchmarks - including the UK and US.... and the Ontario International Canadian School represents on this basis something of a hidden gem.

Mid tier fees offer excellent ROI, notwithstanding some compromises like the absence of an on-site cafeteria which we would, ideally, like to see revisited as the school grows.

With gugely committed and principled school leadership, fabulous teaching faculty and owners grounded in education who are motivated by a wish to "give back" to the UAE, we believe that everything is in place to see the school ratchet up the KHDA rankings in the years to come.

The ambition is for KHDA Very Good school status within 3 years - and on the basis of the conviction and determination we witnessed on our 2019 visit we would not bet against the school delivering.

For us, the stand outs are a genuine belief in inclusive education and the belief that children should not be treated as robots, taught by rote and educated in little more than memorisation.

Too many schools forget what real learning is in the blinkered view that academic league tables are the be all and end all of a good education. This is a school that has not turned away a single child because it believes that all children have the right to an outstanding education and that every child can achieve on his or her own terms, their ambition and potential. The key word here is a belief in progress - of taking children beyond expectation. That really is leaving no child behind.....

It is early days, as with any new school in phased launch, but we think that the foundations are here for quite exceptional schooling in the years to come - and that includes whole child development and an education in which every child finds his or her voice.

Confidence, emotional intelligence, character, compassion, intellectual curiosity, innovation and ethics are here part of the integral mix of what makes an education fit for the 21st century.

Highly recommended.

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Exclusive first review – Ontario International Canadian School Dubai official visit January 2019


A concentration on developing reading skills using drama to inspire children takes centre stage at Ontario International Canadian School in Dubai

“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:

Map showing the location of Ontario International Canadian School in Mirdif Dubai. The school is based on the previous site occupied by Uptown School.

Small school care and dynamics

An image of the exterior of the Ontario International Canadian School in Dubai at night fall.

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

Students engaged in STEM and Science at Ontario International Canadian School in Dubai using a microscope in the dedicated labs facilities

“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
Canadian School.

“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
Canadian School.


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:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Creativity
  3. Critical thinking
  4. Citizenship; and,
  5. Communication

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:



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. 


School Leadership

The entrance reception area and atrium at Ontario International Canadian School in Dubai

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

A child engaged in on-line learning at Ontario International Canadian School

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 Verdict 2019

Photograph of a child engaged in 3 dimensional stem activities at the Ontario International Canadian School in Dubai

It is worth quoting our sister site “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.  

Highly recommended.

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About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Editor of and UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at]
  • Makar
    April 23, 2019 at 11:51 am

    OICS is our kids school for the last 4 years, and as any parent looking for the best education, we do recommend OICS. We notice the progress for our kids day by day in different areas:
    1- Academics: the school does’t only focus on memorizing but problem solving methodologies, the kids gain new skills every day, while we do not have to do repetitive home work.
    2- Personality: the next generation education methodology followed by OICS is making a major positive change to kids personality on taking responsibility, the ways of expressing their opinion and ideas, the way of communication with others.
    3- Social studies : the kids are fully aware of their surrounding culture and know the history , the culture , the currencies , the seasons , and much more.
    4- Physical studies : OICS Physical studies program helps the kids to discover their talent and progress on it.

    Overall OICS is getting our kids ready for a global, fast moving era, as we all notice that today universities and even the job markets are focusing more on the problem solving and soft skills.

    Thanks OICS

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