School is compulsory for all children aged 6 to 12. For Emiratis, schooling is free up to university level. Non-UAE citizens, however, have to pay a fee for their children to attend government schools. Education is taken very seriously in Abu Dhabi, with 25% of government expenditure directed towards education.
Recent reforms of the education system in Abu Dhabi have been driven by attempts to improve English language skills and the use of new technologies. In the course of these reforms, new mathematics and science programs have been introduced, a measure strongly influenced by foreign English-language educational systems.
All schools and universities that are run by the government are gender-segregated, offering individual instruction to boys and girls. For expat children, however, private international schools, which are co-educational, may better fit their needs. There are schools catering to various expat communities in Abu Dhabi, including Brits, Canadians, Chinese, French, Germans, Japanese, US Americans, and others.
The Ministry of Education is responsible for all kinds of government schooling, as well as the supervision of the private school sector. Private schools of all levels, including international schools, have to acquire a license from the Ministry making sure their educational program is accredited. In order for the Ministry of Education to approve a private school, this school has to offer certain core subjects such as Arabic language studies, Islamic studies, and social studies.
Abu Dhabi has quite a few universities, which are run by the government and overseen by the Ministry of Education as well. While these public universities have a very good reputation, they are only open to UAE nationals, and it is virtually impossible for expatriates to be admitted to one of them.
Abu Dhabi’s private universities, however, are open to all students. They have to be licensed by the Commission of Academic Accreditation. The language of instruction in most universities and schools is Arabic, with some science and technical subjects being taught in English.
Some institutions are beginning to introduce an English syllabus and offer a greater variety of academic programs. At UAE University and Zayed University, English is the primary language of instruction. The universities do not offer additional English or Arabic language courses to help their students keep up in lectures and seminars. Instead, students are expected to be fluent in the language of instruction. Furthermore, New York University Abu Dhabi is planning a second campus in the Marina district.
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