In an industry that has been growing steadily over the last 10 years what would you say have been the biggest changes/challenges you’ve seen in the UAE?
It has been a long time since the UAE has been viewed as a “hardship” destination. Over the past ten years it has progressively generated more and more premium sector (particularly UK branded) schools. The marketplace has become overcrowded and as a result it’s raised competition. 10 years ago parents would’ve had to apply to a number of schools at once to find a place for their child, but with the range of choices that now exist, the balance has shifted and families are able to be more selective about which school they would like to send their children to.
One of the other biggest changes is the approach to teaching and the quality of institutions. Since the introduction of The Knowledge and Human Authority (KHDA) the quality of provision has significantly improved . The Bureau has been carrying out annual inspections across schools under a unified framework in order to assess the quality of all aspects of school management. . Better quality checks and a new directive in looking at education in a more holistic view, encompassing more than just classroom academia. Regulatory authorities have taken an interest in understanding the importance of mindfulness and monitoring a “Happiness Index”. Appreciating and prioritizing quality of life outside the classroom as well as the academic approach are being valued equally.
With so much competition how can one school stand out from the rest and attract students?
There is indeed a pressure now for schools to win over the families and hit student enrollment targets. My answer to that would be to ensure the school develops a USP. When launching a new school amongst the already crowded market it would be wise to find a fresh angle to present to parents and students.
A great example of this would be when Taaleem opened the Dubai British School Jumeirah Park. We collaborated with Michelin Star chef Gary Rhodes to create a healthy, fresh and where possible, organic lunch menu for the students. The children were asked for their input when it came to menu creation and there was a real dedication to making meal times an enjoyable part of the school day that the students looked forward to. The idea was to help the students respect meal time as a place to not only satisfy hunger but to learn about eating healthily and the nutritional value of eating well. It was also about learning and developing social skills and table manners.
By focusing on a key area that applies across life and wanting to dedicate real time and expertise to it – it proves to parents that the school is taking the child’s health seriously and looking at learning from a holistic view. It’s not enough anymore to just rely on an established school name or reputation, there needs to be attention to turning out well rounded students with life skills outside of the standard curriculum.
Apparently school fees in Dubai are set to rise again by 4.8%. Do you believe this is justified?
70% of the cost of a school is its staff. Whilst it is important to recompense great educators fairly to ensure that staff feel valued, we at Taaleem group have decided to freeze the school fees at this precise moment in time. We understand that families are feeling the pressure in a difficult financial climate and we want them to know that as a school group we understand that. We do not want to become a source of added anxiety or economic stress. Freezing teachers’ pay and only increasing following inflation rises seems the fairest way. We can incentivize our teacher’s through career development and through being honest from the beginning and managing their salary expectations at the start. We are able to offer a different type of stability through our benefits package which would include housing and flights, a nice set of lifestyle benefits and a dedication to helping those educators really flourish in their careers.
One final general question, what do you see as the key benefits/advantages for educators working in the UAE?
The UAE is one of the safest places to live in the world as crime rates are so low. It’s also an exciting and fast paced environment to live in. Career development is great, as are pay and conditions. Dubai is now on the map as a luxury destination and the lifestyle perks here can be bountiful. Weather is beautiful and it's a chance to live and work in a country that is embracing forward thinking initiatives . In 2010, the United Arab Emirates’ Government launched the UAE Vision 2021', which “sets the key themes for the Socio-economic development of the UAE” and calls for “a shift to a diversified and knowledge-based economy”. It's a chance to be a part of an environment actively promoting progress and learning.
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