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Education in Dubai: a guide to the schooling system

If you’re moving to the UAE with your family, ensure you become familiar with the education options in Dubai before you go

Education in Dubai: an introduction

The education system in Dubai includes both public and private schools, although 90%3 of education is provided by private schools (some of which offer American, British, French or other curricula, such as the French Baccalaureate). Education is compulsory4 for all children from the age of five to 15. Public education (both primary and secondary) is free for citizens.

International schools in Dubai

Until 20015, expat children couldn’t attend public schools in the UAE6, which in part explains why there are so many international schools in the country, most of which have high standards. As a global expat hub, Dubai has one of the highest concentrations of international schools in the world.

Top 10 international schools in Dubai

  1. Repton School (age 3+)
  2. King’s School, Al Barsha (age 3+)
  3. King’s School, Dubai (ages 3-9)
  4. Horizon English School Dubai (ages 3-9)
  5. Dubai College (ages 10+)
  6. Dubai English Speaking School (ages 3-9)
  7. Jumeirah English Speaking School (ages 3+)
  8. Dubai British School (ages 3+)
  9. GEMS Wellington International School (ages 3+)
  10. GEMS Dubai Academy (3+)

These schools were all rated ‘outstanding’ in 20207.

There are 209 private schools8 in Dubai. All students who are not of Arab heritage must9 take Arabic language classes until grade 9, or approximately age 13. There are options for national curriculums10 including Canada, US, UK, Russia, Japan, Iran and more.

Many of these schools include tertiary education — 15-18 years old — and the school week is from Sunday to Thursday, with school hours set by each school.

In 201911, there are:

  • 17 outstanding schools
  • 28 very good
  • 74 good
  • 52 acceptable
  • 5 weak.

School fees12 currently range from AED 12,723 ($3,463/£2,674) per year to AED 64,093 ($17,449/£13,475). The high cost13 of international education in the UAE has pushed many expat parents towards home schooling or leaving the country.

Most international schools have ‘rolling admissions’ so that families can apply at any time of year. Space can often be limited, especially in primary schools, so you should apply early to secure a spot at your preferred school.

Multi-ethnic female students talking and studying outdoors Multi-ethnic female students talking and studying outdoors

Public schools in Dubai

There are a number of government-owned schools in Dubai. The language of instruction14 in public schools is Arabic, while English is often taught as a second language. The state offers a comprehensive curriculum to both boys and girls.

While public schools often rank lower than international schools, the UAE government has made it a top priority to reform the emirate’s public education system.

Private schools in Dubai

Due to the high proportion of expats looking for schools that follow home-country national curricula, private schools in Dubai are synonymous with international schools.

Nursery in Dubai

Nursery provision in Dubai has many styles, locations and curricula to choose from.

Things to consider when choosing a nursery:


  • If you plan to return home and resume your child’s education at some stage, you may choose a nursery that offers your national curriculum. If you’re relocating long-term this may be less important


  • Check the nursery operates in your preferred language as many offer one or more languages

School affiliations

  • Many nurseries15 are affiliated with schools/school groups, so you may want to choose a nursery that offers your child priority for your preferred school


  • Is it near where you or your partner work or your home?


  • Do you want your children to attend only in term time or all year round?

The annual average fees for nurseries16 in Dubai are:


  • FS1 AED33,658 / $9,163 / £7,073
  • KG1 AED27,640 / $7,525 / £5,808
  • KG2 AED29,872 / $8,133 / £6,277

Be aware that opening hours will differ between each nursery, so although a school may be cheaper it may also be operating fewer hours during the week. You should also consider additional fees for medical checks and examinations.

The Edarabia17 website includes details on and reviews of various nurseries — a great place to start your search for a good nursery.

Female student raising hand to ask question in Dubai school Female student raising hand to ask question in Dubai school

Primary education in Dubai18

Primary education is mandatory in UAE. Most private schools offer both primary and secondary instruction at the same premises, so students do not need to transfer to a separate school location upon graduating from primary school.

Age / Grade

  • 6-8 – Grade 1/Year 2
  • 7-9 – Grade 2/Year 3
  • 8-10 – Grade 3/Year 4
  • 9-11 – Grade 4/Year 5
  • 10-12 – Grade 5/Year 6

Secondary education in Dubai19

Private schools follow the curricula of their homeland but operate under licence and supervision of the Ministry of Education and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). The Ministry of Education20 has a private education department to supervise, oversee and regulate private schools so that national policy is implemented. National syllabi must be approved by the appropriate departments at the ministry, and be supplemented by certain subjects, including Islamic education (for Arab and non-Arab Muslims), Arabic language (for Arab students and as an additional subject for non-Arab students) and Arabic social studies.

Age/ Grade

  • 11-13 – Grade 6/Year 6
  • 12-14 – Grade 7/Year 7
  • 13-15 – Grade 8/Year 8
  • 14-17 – Grade 9/Year 9
  • 15-18 – Grade 10/Year 10

Although it can vary from school to school, the standard grading system in the UAE is similar to the American grading system.

  • A – 100-90%
  • B – 89-80%
  • C – 79-70%
  • D – 69-60%
  • F – 59-0%

Tertiary education in Dubai (sixth form)

There are a number of Dubai-based institutions that mirror the British sixth form system of two school years (16-18 years old), for example the Dubai British School21. Other institutions offer the European equivalents.

Many American international schools22 in Dubai include 11th and 12th grades.

Arabic female college student walking across campus Arabic female college student walking across campus

Universities in Dubai

As well as the University of Dubai23, the emirate has 26 international branch campuses of universities from 12 different countries, including the UK, Australia, USA and Canada.

Factors to consider when choosing a university


  • Many institutions have gained accreditation from the Ministry of Education. Others may be accredited by overseas bodies or organisations


  • Has the university won any awards?


  • Make sure the location of the university is suitable for you in terms of transport and timings. While some are in the Knowledge Village or Dubai International Academic City, others are located all over the city

Campus size/facilities

  • As well as checking the website, you should visit classrooms, computer labs, sports venues, library etc.


  • While some universities don’t have their own accommodation, they can often organise or help with accommodation for international students


  • Most universities in the UAE should be able to process a student visa

Check how long the university has been established

  • WhichSchoolAdvisor24 says: “The longer the university has been established in the UAE, the better.” Choose a university that has a research tradition, has been actively conducting research and has contributed to academic publications

Who are the faculty members?

  • Research the university’s lecturers and tutors. What are their credentials and academic backgrounds? If this information isn’t readily available, be cautious as this information should be accessible. Pay attention to the university’s leadership — such as the Dean

Look at annual enrolment figures

  • Cross-reference enrolment figures with how many people graduated three years later. This will indicate the university’s dropout rate

University website

  • Is it up to date? A well-designed and informative website suggests an efficient and transparent institution. Also check their social media channels. Are they up to date?

Response times

  • A quick response to emails or live chat suggests a well-functioning institution

Branch campuses

  • Yes, the university may be a branch of a well-known university in your home country, but this doesn’t mean equal standards or quality. For example, some branch campuses have:
    • lower entry requirements compared to their parent universities
    • locally recruited faculty with no experience of working at the parent institution
    • different grading systems
    • different completion requirements
    • limited access to parent university resources

Alumni association

  • Active and involved alumni suggest a university that cares about its community and vice versa

Internships and work experience

  • Does the university organise internships? And, if so, does it have specific companies it works with?

Employment rate

  • Check to see how many graduates are being employed from which courses, with which companies and at what levels.

American schools in Dubai

There are plenty of schools which have adopted the American curriculum in Dubai.

American schools are sometimes confused with The American School of Dubai25 which is independent, not-for-profit and follows the US curriculum.

Examples of some of the best American schools in Dubai, their fees and KHDA rating:


Annual fees

KHDA rating

Dubai American Academy26

AED 59,949 – AED 84,511


Universal American School27

AED 37,330 – AED 76,670

Very good

American School of Dubai28

AED 59,255 – AED 93,844


School in Dubai FAQ

Is there free education in Dubai?

Yes. Primary and secondary education is free for all Emiratis and compulsory for boys and girls from age 5 until 15, but non-citizens have to pay fees for schooling, public and private.

Is education in Dubai good?

The education system in Dubai is divided into two: public and private. While the private/international schools offer good, high and exceptional quality education, the public schools are rated adequate or poor. This is, however, changing as the government invests more in its public education.

How much does school cost in Dubai?

While public schools are free to Emiratis, private/international schools for expats have a range of prices — examples of which can be found in the tables above.

If you’re considering moving to Dubai, don’t forget that you may require an international health insurance policy.

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