Dubai, its schools, and the Common Core

Playing outside at the Nibras International School

Playing outside at the Nibras International School

I was in Dubai for a week at the start of November, presenting at a conference and visiting several private schools in that emirate, and before it gets too deeply lost in my memory, a few thoughts on that experience:

I presented at a conference – the MENA Common Core Conference – that was on the US’s Common Core State Standards. Yup, that’s right: A conference in Dubai on the Common Core. In the MENA region – Middle East and North Africa – there are many private schools that follow an American curriculum. In just Dubai there are 32 schools – see the list here – that align classroom practice to a set of American standards, and with the advent of the Common Core, these schools need to ensure they’re aligned to it, as the organization that inspects all Dubai schools – see here – wants to see that alignment.

The entrance to the Dubai Arab American Private School

The entrance to the Dubai Arab American Private School

The conference was incredibly invigorating – to present on some favorite topics of mine – you can see them and my materials here – and to meet many new school people and hear about schools in that part of the world. In many ways the challenges of those schools are no different than challenges here in the States. During a long and thoughtful conversation with the leaders of one Dubai school, for example, the four of us discussed the level of preparation that many of their students lack when they enter the school, making it hard for these students to meet the Common Core’s demands. We discussed uses of time to try and make up this deficit – summer school for those that are the most behind, a longer school day, etc. It all sounded very familiar, even 7000 miles away from home.

I stayed on for a few days after the conference and visited several schools that ranged from one end of Dubai to the other. (The Dubai metro is the bomb – a great and inexpensive way to get around.) All five schools were private schools that focus on American curriculum; there are national Emirati schools, like the US’s public school system, and I hope to visit some the next time I’m there. Interestingly, I heard a statistic that some 80% of Dubai youth attend private school, a higher percentage when compared with other Emirates. No doubt it speaks to the many non-Emirati in that part of the U.A.E., who want a school that reflects the curriculum of their homeland, and also to the money in that still growing economy, as people are able to pay private school tuition.

The view from the Jumeira Baccalaureate School

The view from the Jumeira Baccalaureate School

Overall, it was a professionally and personally exhilarating trip, the kind of travel that I’ve not done for a long time. The international school scene is diverse and growing and filled with thoughtful, passionate educators; a fairly wealthy, metropolitan place like Dubai is a hothouse for schools, with new ones starting every year. It’s believed that if Dubai is selected as the site for the 2020 World Expo, even more money and people will flood that region – and even more schools will start up.

It’s also good for me to get out of my basement office, to shake it up a little – to shake it up for big reasons, like meeting new people and seeing a new and very different place, and for smaller (but still kinda cool) reasons, like eating good food, figuring out a new metro system, strolling along the Dubai Creek, and hoping each flagged-down taxi takes me to the right school. (Taxi drivers in the U.A.E. do not use addresses when you tell ’em where you wanna go. They ask for landmarks, like, “It’s the school near the new Carrefour Market in the Dubai Investment Park.” For map-driven me, it was maddening – but I did get to my destinations.) Now, that I know the place, I need to get back – and find other cities in that region to explore.

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