Which School Curriculum Should I Choose?
Curriculum choice is one of the factors that seems to cause more hardship and confusion for parents than most others related to choice of school! In reality, when children start school at the age of 3 or 4, there is very little difference between what takes place in a UK curriculum Foundation classroom versus a US curriculum, IB curriculum or Indian curriculum school at this level.
The first year of school is very much about children learning to adapt to the “big school” environment, learning to socialise, to cooperate, and work together, about refining fine and gross motor skills and so on. It is definitely not the norm for children to spend long periods sitting on chairs at tables and listening to the teacher.
Much of Early Years education, in whichever curriculum, is about learning through play and developing the key social skills. The major differences relate to whether these activities are more teacher-led (with the activities set up and designed to achieve a specific outcome across a range of criteria) or where children are left to discover the activities that appeal to them more independently, so that if they wish to focus on the same or a similar activity each day, they are largely permitted to do so.
However, as children proceed through school, curriculum does become a more significant issue and it does, therefore, make sense to consider the longer terms plans for your family and your child when looking at curriculum options. Find out more about the different curriculum options here.
For families from the UK, US and India, the choice is often simple. Since their curricula are widely on offer in the UAE, they are inevitably drawn towards the “home option”. However, for those families who have to make a choice, it makes sense to look at all options and to consider which seems to be the most suitable – based not only on your future plans, but also location and fees.
Among the main questions you should ask are:
1. How long do I plan to be in the UAE?
If you plan to be in the UAE for only a relatively short period, consider where you are likely to move to in the future and whether a specific curriculum is likely to be the obvious choice. If you are likely to send your child away from the UAE for school, where is this likely to be and which curriculum is likely to be the best fit? If your child is likely to complete school here and possibly go on to overseas study, consider where that might be.
2. Which curriculum is likely to be the easiest for my child to transition to?
If you expect to move to the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or Canada, the UK curriculum is likely to be the more obvious choice. It is also the curriculum most widely found internationally. Indian families invariably seek Indian curriculum schools, but given the historical links between the Subcontinent and the UK, and the limited availability in Indian curriculum schools in the UAE, the UK curriculum is widely preferred as the second option. With many students from the Sub-continent going to university in the UK and US, both curricula are good alternatives.
If you think North America is an option – particularly for the longer term – then the US curriculum makes sense. However, given that the US curriculum varies widely from State to State, be sure to look at schools that have accreditation.
There does generally seem to be a perception that the US curriculum is not as academically challenging as the other well-known international curricula. However, the US system, which requires students to sit standardized tests for College entry (such as SAT and AP) means that there is certainly academic rigour for students with University ambitions.
In the UAE, a number of US curriculum schools have chosen to offer the IB Diploma programme in addition to a High School Diploma, as a means of ensuring that students leave with a highly respected, internationally recognised University entry qualification.
If you think Europe or South America are options, consider the International Baccalaureate programmes. Taught in English, French and Spanish using a common teaching methodology globally, the IB programmes are increasingly becoming more popular globally and are highly regarded by major Universities worldwide.
There are schools in the UAE teaching their own hybrid curriculum (notably the SABIS schools) and these have particular appeal to expat Arab families with its strong connection to the Levant. There are also a growing number of schools offering International curricula, but with a strong Arabic and Islamic focus which appeal to many expat Arab families.
Deciding on the curriculum will help you to narrow your options and enable you to start to identify other key factors in the decision towards your choice of school. Although it is an important decision, do bear in mind that if you find it is not the right one after all, you will have the option to potentially change at a later date.
For more information in changing schools in the UAE, this is our guide. For changing schools at post-16, go here.
In this series:
MY CHILD DID NOT GET A SCHOOL PLACE. WHAT CAN I DO?
APPLICATION AND ASSESSMENT – WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
CHOOSING A SCHOOL – WHAT MAKES A SCHOOL THE RIGHT ONE FOR MY CHILD?
MOVING TO THE UAE WITH CHILDREN: RULES AND REGULATIONS YOU SHOULD KNOW
THE SCHOOL VISIT CHECKLIST – WHAT YOU NEED TO LOOK FOR…
THE CHOICE BETWEEN NEW AND ESTABLISHED SCHOOLS
UAE SCHOOL ACCREDITATION: WHAT TO LOOK FOR, AND WHY?
WHEN DO I START TO LOOK FOR A SCHOOL?
WHICH SCHOOL CURRICULUM SHOULD I CHOOSE?
hi ! we are maybe moving to Dubai from Italy next year, my children currently attend italian public schools, wich means that they don’t speak any English, for the little one I will not be worried because he is only 2 years an a half, but the sister is 6 and is attending the primary 1 here in Italy (she will turn 7 on 20 dec 2018)….what kind of school/curricula should you suggest? sould you suggest to have here repeat the 1 year so that she has time to be familiar with English language? Or may she will have to in any case because she will be 6,8 months by 31 August? We are not used to pushy and competitive schools, I dream for a good education with variaty of subjects but open minded and funny as well that focuses on curiosity
Congratulations on your move to Dubai. You are right to be unconcerned about your son; he will learn the language very quickly. You don’t mention whether you are moving at the start of the year or whether you are planning to arrive for the new academic year which begins in September. If your move is early next year, your daughter will join the same grade as she is currently studying in at home. In the UK curriculum, this would be Year 2. If she joins another international curriculum (US or IB), then she would join Grade 1. The general approach in the UAE is that children join the age-appropriate grade or year group and that they are supported in terms of their language learning but study the same curriculum as the other children in their grade. Most (but not all) schools are very supportive of children with EAL (English Additional Learner) requirements.
In terms of which curriculum, this is somewhat dependent on your future plans. If you intend to return to Italy at some point, we would probably suggest you consider an IB curriculum as this is closer to the curricula in most European countries. The curriculum is broad and does not focus so much on content but on skills – children are encouraged to become Enquirers and study is based on Units of Enquiry (so topic-based) rather than individual silos of subjects. The IB programmes are becoming increasingly popular around the world, so if you plan to move on to a different country after Dubai, you would potentially find another IB school in your next post.
Many European families also choose the UK curriculum for the similar reasons – it is very widespread around the world,and the curriculum itself is highly regarded, but does inevitably, to some degree, have a more UK-focus. The other option is US curriculum. This tends to be less frequently chosen unless you have specific connections to the US or unless children are older and possibly looking at the US as a College destination.
Most international curricula schools are not competitive at Primary School level. As children move to Secondary school, there are some that are definitely more academically focused, but good schools are able to teach a range of children of different abilities, and this is what most strive to do.
My suggestion would be that you consider each of the different curricula (using the curriculum guides on SchoolsCompared.com and also our sister site WhichSchoolAdvisor.com) and take a view on which you think would be the best option. You may well also want to consider where you are likely to be living and what budget for education you will have available – these will be important factors in your decision. If you can use these 3 criteria (curriculum, location and budget) these will enable you to narrow down your choices. The other question you may want to consider is whether you would prefer your daughter to attend a Primary-only school (which are becoming rarer) or an all-through school (students from 3-18 years). Some children adapt better to a smaller environment.