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The best and worst things about UAE education, according to Dubai parents. Introducing The SchoolsCompared Parents Panel.

The best and worst things about UAE education, according to Dubai parents. Introducing The SchoolsCompared Parents Panel.

by Tabitha BardaMay 18, 2022

What are the best and worst things about education, and sending your child to school, in the UAE? This is the question we posed as part of our search to find The SchoolsCompared Parent Panel – a network of UAE-based parents to whom we turn for insights, opinions and pearls of wisdom on all the topics that matter to UAE families.

After sifting through some fantastic nominations and answers from a diverse group of parents, we chose the best ones to be our panellists. Meet these fascinating, insightful and unique people, and read their thoughts below on the ups and downs of education in the UAE…

Meet the SchoolsCompared Parent Panel

The mum of twins
For Selina Salkeld (aka Ellie), education is a vital part of the tapestry that makes life in the UAE sparkle

Ellie Salkeld is the mum of twins, a children’s book writer and part-time teaching assistant

Selina Salkeld (aka Ellie) is a children’s book writer and part-time teaching assistant. She is also the mother of boy and girl twins, age 7, who are currently studying the British curriculum: “But I would vastly prefer IB if it weren’t for concerns over possible moves away from the UAE in future given the transient reality of many of our lives here, and question marks over university entrance in the UK/Australia, where my children are likely to want to go.”

The best thing about education in the UAE…

“Being obliged to pay for schooling encourages a much greater parental interest in it than I’ve observed in friends in the UK and Australia.”

“Here there is much more opportunity to be involved in your child’s education, whether that’s choosing your curriculum, educational focus, membership of school Governors, and also being part of the overall government educational areas of focus, via the KHDA (and  sites like SchoolsCompared), which I don’t think enough parents realise is possible.”

“I also think that the visibility of school ownership here is valuable, giving parents greater choice in how to approach their children’s education.”

“And being situated in a country that values innovation and entreprener-ship is a fabulous ‘norm’ from which schools can springboard, to teach many life-skills outside standard curriculum.”

The worst thing about education in the UAE…

“Undoubtedly the cost is a major impact, albeit the value-for-money angle is probably justified. Also, too much focus on academics, if it is purely to retain or increase fees via grade achievement, does not serve students, teachers or parents.”

Why we chose Ellie

Ellie is a fantastic writer and debater, and is both passionate and knowledgeable about education. She also brings some fascinating life experience to the parent panel that gives her a wonderfully fresh perspective. Ellie says:

“I’ve spent a lot of time in countries where education was a luxury, and I’ve seen first-hand what access to it can mean, for children and parents alike. So I try not to take my children’s education, and my part in that, for granted.”

“As an older mum, I really notice the progress in educational methods and practices commonplace today, and this fascinates me.”

“And also, perhaps because I am an older mum and am concerned not to be too distant from my children’s futures, I spend a lot of time monitoring the direction that our region and the world is heading in.”

“The skills that my children will need to navigate a path emotionally and economically in twenty years’ time, are likely to be radically different from my own experience, and their education plays a part in developing those.I love sharing and learning from others. I love debate – respectful argument that encourages diverse voices and opinions. And I also love to influence, where I think it’s beneficial! Having a voice is one of the best ways to get your views heard, and to play a part in shaping the future.”

Not everyone knows this about Ellie but…

“I spent 25 years responding to humanitarian emergencies around the world for the British Government and aid agencies such as Oxfam. Most people think that means you must be a kind and super-caring type of person. Which you do, but really, you need to be hard as nails. There’s never enough help available, and you’re literally having to make decisions that will affect people’s livelihoods and even lives. You need to be mentally and physically robust!”

“My greatest inspiration always came from the people whose country I was in, and their extraordinary resilience and humour. I hope my children grow up with a fraction of the resilience of any of them.”

The therapist mama

Shonali is the mother of a three-year-old and is pregnant with her second child

Shonali Lihala is the mother of a three-year-old currently in a Montessori nursery, who is set to start at an American curriculum school in September. Shonali is also a play specialist, trained behaviour therapist and psychologist.

Best things about Education in the UAE…

“The wealth of choice in terms of price and curriculums. There’s also lots of choice of activities.”

Worst things about Education…

“The retention of trained teachers, who are properly trained in the curriculum, can sometimes be a challenge. For some schools Parent communication and support for special needs could be improved also.”

Why we chose Shonali

Shonali brings a wealth of experience as a play specialist, which gives her an interesting angle on topics. With a masters in clinical psychology, she was previously a Behaviour Therapist in Dubai, working with non-verbal children and children with sensory difficulties. Before becoming a mum, Shonali ran the department for special needs in a mainstream American school in Dubai. She now runs her own company, Katie Jane Dubai, which is focused on child-led classes for babies and toddlers.

Shonali pictured blowing bubbles - education is so important she tells SchoolsCompared.

Shonali runs her own child-led play business, Katie Jane Dubai

Shonali says:

“I’m passionate about education as it can have a life changing impact on a child and a parent. It can change the trajectory of a child’s life. I’ve worked in nurseries and schools in Dubai and I’ve seen first-hand the difference a committed school can make.”

Not everyone knows this about Shonali but…

“I’m an avid book reader, love travel to remote places like Mongolia and do my best work at 2am when everyone is asleep!”

The army dad

Monty with his family

Monty Mavelian studied at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK alongside Prince Harry before commissioning as an Officer in the British Army, where he served for over 8 years. He is the father of a 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, both studying at a British-curriculum school in Dubai, as well as the founder of youth development and cadet club The Overlord Academy.

 Best things about education in the UAE…

“The UAE education sector is in a great place overall. The opportunities my children have in school and the quality of the teaching staff make this country a place where I would love my children to continue their educational journey.”

Worst thing about education in the UAE…

“Where it can improve is within the outdoor education sector. The lessons I learnt outside of the classroom in amazing establishments like the Army Cadets, Combined Cadet Force (CCF), and the Scouts have really shaped who I am today, and I feel my children are missing out on these same experiences I had at home.”

“I started up The Overlord Academy youth club to try to fill this void, but right now parents need to pay for this service and if the schools would adopt an approach that includes this type of activity within the curriculum, it would put our children on the same level playing field as many others around the world. More than ever, we now need to teach them resilience, life lessons, and how to adopt a determined attitude who are not afraid to fail. In short, it’s not going to be just the academic grades our children get that will help them succeed in later life, but it will come down to how well they can work in a team, solve problems, overcome adversity and display the ‘grit’ of someone who truly wants to succeed. The UAE education sector still has some work to do on this part.”

“In this ever-changing digital world, we still need to teach our children how to be human again.”

Why we chose Monty

Monty’s passion for outdoor, practical learning highlights an often-overlooked issue, and emphasises that education is not just about academic attainment:

“I am passionate about education because quite simply the youths of today are the leaders of tomorrow. That’s how important it is!  I wholeheartedly believe that education is not just about academic success, but also about how we mould, shape, and develop our children to be more than just their grades at school. We all have a part to play in how we shape our future generations and it starts with the education they receive at school.”

Monty standing guard outside Buckingham Palace

Not everyone knows this about Monty, but…

“I served for 8 years in the British Army and had the privilege to guard the Queen at Buckingham Palace on ceremonial duties in London.”

The Homeschooler

Michaela is the founder of Duneha, the UAE’s homeschooling association

Michaela (Aminah) Cooper is Co-Founder of DUNEHA (Dubai Northern Emirates Homeschool Association). She is an Educational Consultant/Law Clerk, and the mother of five children – now aged 33,27,25,22,19. She is a passionate writer and editor, and hopes to one day publish children’s books. A mentor to both parents & educators, Aminah is also a veteran homeschooler, having homeschooled her own 5 children over the past 30+ years.

The best thing about education in the UAE…

“The dedication and commitment the UAE Ministry of Education has made to ensure inclusive, quality education.”

The worst thing about education in the UAE…

“Ironically, the worst thing about education in the UAE is the pace in which homeschooling has (not) progressed. I have been here since 2004, came here as a homeschooler from the US. I co-founded a social/support group for families interested in home educating their children (DUNEHA) in 2006.”

“I have seen slow, yet positive changes over the years for homeschoolers, and look forward to homeschooling being put ‘on the map’ here in the UAE as it is in many countries worldwide.”

Why we chose Michaela

It’s clear that Michaela has a deep interest in and passion for education, and her significant knowledge and influence as the founder of the UAE’s biggest homeschooling network makes her an extremely valuable contributor on many topics. She says:

“What makes me passionate about education is simple – I love lighting the spark! Making a positive difference in the lives of the children I’ve been blessed to encounter has always been my driving force. Education on every level plays a significant part in a child’s life-journey. Being the one who lights the spark in a child brings me sheer joy!”

Not everyone knows this about Michaela, but…

“My passion for education began in my teens, when I volunteered at a day care center and fell in love with the children. From there, I spent four years working after school in the day care center on the premises of my high school. Studying Early Childhood in university sealed the deal on my passion to teach.”

The solo parent

Alison Rego and her daughter

Alison Rego is a plant-based, solo parent of a nine-year-old daughter. She is a parenting influencer and blogger – check out her parenting lifestyle handle Pinksmyink – and works in the sales and networking field.

The best thing about education in the UAE…

“The amazing choice of different curricula available to choose from.”

The worst thing about education in the UAE…

“How expensive it can be to secure the best education for your child.”

Why we chose Alison

Alison’s experience as a solo parent adds a new layer to her perspective, and she has also worked in the children’s-activities industry, giving her a unique insight and a passion for instilling entrepreneurship in children:

“As a parent I believe children are the future, hence they must be invested in, nurtured and steered towards the world that awaits them.”

“I believe there is a gap in the education system, and this is the old method of teaching and focusing on academics only. No curriculum to date teaches children to be confident, or how to develop into entrepreneurs. Schools need to focus more on inclusion and shaping minds to accept DIFFERENT is NORMAL, and that SUCCESS means developing in a holistic way.”

Alison and her little girl both practice a plant-based lifestyle

Not everyone knows this about Alison, but…

“Whenever I am presented with a new opportunity or situation , I do not reject it even if I do not feel 100% sure ; but instead tell myself I will give it my best try and in the process have learnt so many things in my life.”

“I have also learnt over time that what we feed breeds, and in this process consciously bring myself and attention to things that matter only.”

© 2022. All rights reserved.


About The Author
Tabitha Barda
Tabitha Barda is the Senior Editor of Oxbridge educated and an award winning journalist in the UAE for more than a decade, Tabitha is one of the region's shining lights in all that is education in the emirates. A mum herself, she is passionate about helping parents - and finding the stories in education that deserve telling. She is responsible for the busy 24x7 News Desk, our Advisory Boards and Specialist Panels - and's The School's Report - the global weekly round up of what matters in education for parents which is published every Friday, reviewing schools across the UAE - and features on issues that really matter. You can often find Tabitha on Parents United - our Facebook community board, discussing the latest schools and education issues with our parent community in the UAE - and beyond.
  • Janet
    May 23, 2022 at 9:43 am

    This is an excellent article with a wide array of different opinions presented by professionals.
    Parents would love to hear though more about comparing curriculums in schools and nurseries as well.

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