Education in the UAE

One of the most important issues for families planning to relocate to the UAE is to choose an appropriate school for their children. The educational programme, the language and cultural specifics of teaching, cost of education and future perspectives for graduates — everything is worth taking into account. The education system in the United Arab Emirates differs from the Russian one in terms of standards and the duration of study. Here we will describe the opportunities, perspectives and potential challenges of a secondary education in the UAE.

Secondary Education in the UAE

Over the past 50 years, the educational system in the UAE has achieved significant progress. While in the 1970’s only 31% of women and 54% of men were literate, today this indicator has reached 95%. In 2015, UAE school students took 1st place among GCC students and 45th place in the global test of the International Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

All residents of the United Arab Emirates, regardless of their citizenship, are obliged to obtain a secondary education. There are both private and public schools in the country. In public educational institutions the curriculum is divided into three blocks, in private there are two blocks. Studies begin in September and end in June. Vacations are scheduled in December, at the end of March and during all summer months. Lessons usually start between 7 am and 8 am and last until 2pm to 3 pm on average.

The enrollment rules, graduation requirements and educational programmes are established by the UAE Ministry of Education at a national level. Each Emirate has its own regulatory authorities such as Dubai Knowledge and Human Development Authority, KHDA which control the private educational institutions.

Local authorities support the inclusive education principles enabling children with special needs to receive knowledge and education. Future students can choose from a regular school with specific classes and a specialized institution in the public or private sector.

Regardless of the school chosen, all students should pass routine tests and exams at the end of each academic year, including graduate tests. Since 2017 all graduates of the national educational programme of the UAE must pass The Emirates Standardized Test (EmSAT). The results of the test are required for enrollment in the majority of local universities and colleges.

Should your child attend one of the private schools with the IB (International Baccalaureate) programme or GCSE (British Programme) it is necessary to pass international exams in order to obtain the school certificate.

Important! Parents and students of local schools can call the UAE Ministry of Education hotline by dialing 800-51115 and ask any question they may have regarding enrollment and the operation of the educational institutions within the country. Consultations are given in Arabic and English languages.

Public sector

There are normally four stages of education in public institutions: 

  • Preschool education (for children from 3 to 5 years old)
  • Primary school: 1-5 grades (6-11 years old)
  • Lower secondary school: 6-9 grades (12-15 years old)
  • Upper secondary high school: 10-12 grades (16-18 years old)

All children residing in the United Arab Emirates must attend school from the age of 6. It is possible to start school at an earlier age upon the parents' initiative. Many preschools also serve as educational centers providing children with basic writing, reading and arithmetic skills. This type of knowledge background allows future first graders to enroll in primary school easily and adapt to the learning process quicker.

Full secondary education in the United Arab Emirates is based on the K-12 system and lasts 12 years. One of the distinctive features of local public schools is a separate education for boys and girls starting from the 7th grade. Most of the subjects are given in Arabic and the rest are in English. Note that the fundamentals of the Islamic religion is a mandatory part of the programme in the UAE public educational institutions.

Citizens of the United Arab Emirates and GCC countries can study in local schools and universities for free. The average cost per year at a local public school is about AED 6,000 (USD 1,630). Foreigners may attend only private schools where all lessons are given in English.

The primary school programme includes mathematics, natural sciences, social studies, English and Arabic. The list of subjects is gradually expanded in the lower grades. When enrolling in upper grades, public school students may continue their academic programme or obtain a secondary technical education. If the latter is chosen, the basic subjects will be supplemented by profile disciplines such as IT, finance, tourism, etc.

Upon successful examination, graduates are awarded a school certificate by the Ministry of Education. About 95% of girls and 80% of boys enroll in local universities each year. This fact confirms the high quality of secondary education in the public schools of the United Arab Emirates.

Important! In 2020 the UAE took 20th place in the ranking of the best countries in the world in terms of education. The country's education quality index reached 64 and its opportunity index was 52.94.

Private schools

As previously mentioned, all public schools in the UAE follow the programme of the Ministry of Education. Meanwhile, private schools may follow around 15 different curriculums. These can correspond to both international and national standards of secondary education from a particular country. For example, the British curriculum is scheduled for 13 years of study and the number of subjects may vary from 40 to 50. But despite the comparative independence of educational institutions and the ability to choose the appropriate educational programme, all private schools in Dubai are controlled by the UAE Ministry of Education and the KHDA.

The majority of private schools apply the British (IGCSE), American or Indian education systems, as well as the MoE programme. They are used in the educational process of about 90% of students in private schools. The International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes are also very popular. Foreign citizens can also choose the educational standards of France, Germany, Ireland, Canada, etc.

Lessons are mostly given in English or in the language of the country to which the particular school belongs to.

Important! Even if the name of an educational institution mentions the words "International", "English", etc. it does not mean lessons will be provided according to British standards or the IB programme. Sometimes Indian schools use such tricks to attract potential students. Make sure you understand all the peculiarities of the school you have chosen, including the curriculum and teaching staff, to avoid possible confusion. All the necessary information can be found on the official website of the school or during an introductory tour.

The most prestigious institutions, in addition to their high-quality education, offer an environment that encourages students' creativity and scientific potential, like   laboratories, design studios, and workshops. There are also boarding schools in Dubai allowing students to live on campus during the study week and come home at weekends or just for vacations. The most popular boarding schools are the Swiss International Scientific School and Repton School.

The duration of education and the date of the academic year beginning in private schools may differ from UAE standards and depend on the traditions of a particular country.

Important! One of the UAE government's strategic objectives is to encourage foreign citizens to learn the local language. For this reason, Arabic language lessons will be mandatory regardless of the chosen educational programme. The fundamentals of the Islamic religion and Koran can be studied on an optional basis.

To ensure the high quality of educational services, the KHDA conducts an annual review and creates a national ranking of high schools and institutions. The assessment takes into account the students' academic success and achievements, the efficiency of teaching, organizational specifics, etc. Based on the results of the review the school is awarded one of the following categories:

  • Outstanding
  • Very good
  • Good
  • Acceptable
  • Weak

Important! The ranking of private schools in Dubai is published annually on the KHDA website. This platform can be used to choose an educational institution according to specific requirements: curriculum, grade, price, location, etc.

The cost of education in private schools

In general, education in UAE schools is quite expensive, as the average price ranges from AED 6,000 to AED 130,000 per year (USD 817- 35,400) per student. The cost of education depends on a number of factors:

  • Educational programme ( the cost of education in a British or American school is significantly higher than in an Indian or German one)
  • Position in the KHDA ranking (schools with high ranks will be more expensive)
  • The age of the student: the older the child, the more expensive the education will be (the cost of one academic year in a graduating class can be twice as high than for a first grader).

Besides payment for education, some private schools charge additional fees for enrollment, school uniforms, school buses and other necessities.

Private school enrollment — requirements, deadlines and application documents

Generally the enrollment in Dubai's private schools follows a sliding schedule allowing applicants to begin their studies at any time during the academic year. Even so, we recommend submitting your application in advance. This especially concerns popular schools with a limited number of vacant positions. These institutions often keep a waiting list and in case there is a vacant place in a class, the parents of a student from this list will receive a notification via email.

It is possible to apply online or by visiting the school in person. There is often a pre-test to determine the level of knowledge and skills of the child. This can be held in the form of an interview or a group meeting — the exact conditions should be clarified with the enrollment committee representatives. For example, British schools often require the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) when enrolling a student in upper secondary school. This includes standardized questions on key subjects and is similar to the Russian Unified State Exam.

If you relocate to the UAE in the middle of the academic year, note that students may be enrolled during the 1st and 2nd semester and in the beginning of the 3rd one. It is recommended to apply for enrollment at the early stage of planning your relocation. There may be no vacant positions in the class in the middle of the semester meaning that you will have to consider other schools or sign up to a waiting list. Besides, verification of documents and other organizational aspects may also take a long period of time.

Most educational institutions can offer online entrance examinations for students living abroad. Arranging these issues in advance will allow your child to start classes straight after relocation. Some schools are ready to enroll students even during the process of obtaining an Emirates ID or resident visa. These aspects can be negotiated with the enrollment committee.

The following set of documents is required to enroll your child in an educational institution in Dubai (the list may vary):

  • Enrollment application form (a sample form can be found on the school's website)
  • Emirates IDs of both the child and parents (original and copies)
  • The child's birth certificate (the document must be translated into English and legalized)
  • A copy of the student's resident visa
  • A copy of the resident visa of the sponsoring parent
  • 4 photos of the student in the 3x4 size
  • A legalized report card with grades for the past year
  • The child's vaccination certificate translated into English

All required documents can be translated and legalized by a legal agency. An experienced specialist will help you to avoid any potential complications and delays.

Important! Many schools require an admission fee of AED 500 (USD 136).

More information about educational institutions is available here:

The information is subject to change and is provided for reference purposes only.