The Ultimate Checklist to Pick the Perfect School for Your Kid

The Ultimate Checklist to Pick the Perfect School for Your Kid

By Nohad

Expert Advice|Learn|Little Kid|Parenting|Teens|Toddler


By Nohad Mouawad


Ever since bringing your newborn baby home from the hospital, you’ve pictured the day when you would send them off to school, little backpack on their back, dressed in an adorable uniform and lunchbox swinging from their hand. But when it’s finally time to look for schools and enrol your kid, it can just be overwhelming. Your neighbors send your kids to the best Indian school in town, your colleagues say go British, and friends sing the praises of the IB program. When you Google “best schools in Dubai” you’re hit with hundreds of search results and even ads. Now any time you open up a web page you gets ads for school open days.

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Your own memories of school are mixed, between that awfully strict physics teacher, the torture of running laps during phys ed and the clique of “cool” kids that ruled your high school, school was an interesting experience. So, how can you help your kids look forward to going to school, find the right environment for them, and even offer them a solid academic foundation?

If you have a little kid who will just be going to school for the first time, are newly arrived in the UAE, or even thinking of switching schools for your kids, then there are a lot of things to think about when choosing a school.

Ranking: Probably the first thing that you might look at when choosing a school in the UAE is the KHDA ranking and evaluation of the school in Dubai, or the Irtiqaa evaluation in Abu Dhabi, done by each Emirate’s respective education authorities. These are, of course, a very useful resource as you can see how the school is doing, as well as read a detailed annual inspection report that will give you a good idea of how the school is doing academically and what the government feels the atmosphere at the school is like. However, even if you have the idea that you want your child to attend a “top ranking” school, I would take many other things into consideration before applying or at least making your decision. Being highly ranked does not guarantee that the school is the right fit for your child, kids or family.

Fees: One of the biggest factors when choosing a school in the UAE as an international family, is the cost. That is definitely a factor you cannot avoid, as you need to consider your budget and whether or not your employer provides any schooling allowance and how much. Once you know your budget per child, make a spreadsheet with the schools you have found that fit within that budget and note the annual tuition, as well as the bus and lunch fees if you will be using these services. The KHDA ranking along with the listed annual tuition fees can be found on EdArabia and the KHDA’s website, and the fees for Abu Dhabi private schools can also be found on the TAMM website.

School System or Approach: The next step in narrowing down the schools is to look at the schools you listed and see which ones offer a curriculum you are interested in. Some things to consider are: do you plan on returning to your home country eventually (or in a few years) and what type of educational system would your child attend at home? Is there a particular type of diploma you would like your child to graduate with (for example the IB diploma)? If you do plan on moving away from the UAE to more than one country, would your child be able to continue in the educational system of the schools you are looking at?

If you are unfamiliar with the British curriculum, International Baccalaureate program, or the American system then it would be a good idea to do some online research into these to get a general idea. In addition to considering the overall school curriculum, it’s also important to look into the educational approach at a particular school. Some schools offer a more play-based approach beginning in the early years, some focus on project-based learning during elementary and primary school, and others are more focused on academics. None of these approaches is right or wrong, but your family needs to decide which approach you like best, and maybe which might suit your child best.

Location: Living in the UAE, especially in an Emirate with as long distances and as much traffic as Dubai, location can really impact your kids’ school experience and also your ability to send them to a particular school. While you might not choose to send them to a school located in your exact neighborhood, do narrow down schools that will be accessible at peak times, whether by school bus, car or other modes of transport.

Languages: You might be thinking that most or all schools in the UAE teach only in English, but if you are interested in French, a high level of Arabic, or other offerings, it would be well worth it to look into this, as there are schools offering language programs throughout the Emirates. Schools catering to specific first or second languages might be in high demand amongst some parents, so look into whether they have places and apply ahead of time.

Campus Visits and School Tours: The next step in choosing a school, once you have your shortlist of schools (I recommend not more than 4 or 5 schools that meet the above criteria), is to plan your school tours or campus visits. Most schools in the UAE seem to have regular school tours on a daily or weekly basis, and some have specific “open house” dates so do email or call the school, and they will usually be willing or more than happy to schedule a visit when you can see their campus and classrooms.

The school tour is the perfect time to not only see the school’s facilities and have a look at what their classrooms are like, but to get an authentic “feel” for the school that you can’t get just by looking at their website or brochure. Many families really make their decision about which school to choose after they’ve visited the campuses and talked to the administration. Often, whether the staff are willing to answer their questions, the layout of the school, whether the school is big or small, can all really affect how you feel about the school. At the end of the day, you might ask: “can I see my kid going to this school?” and “did I like the atmosphere at the school?”

Extras: Some additional things to think about, are the extras that the school offers. Do they have an art or music program if that’s important to your family? Do they emphasize sports or physical activities and how much? Do they offer any after school activities or will you need to enrol your child outside school? Do they have extra facilities like a gym or swimming pool? You need to decide what is important and what isn’t for you and your kids.

Before You Enrol: Finally, before enrolling your kid or children in the school you like best, I would take some time to ask other parents from the school how they like it. You can do this by posting a question on an online forum (there are many parenting and schooling groups on Facebook) or by asking friends and family if they know any families who send their kids to your favorite schools. If they accept, you might even be able to meet some of these families face-to-face to talk about their experiences. If your kids end up going to the same school, you will already know some families there, which will make it easier for you!

When you’re looking for a school, it’s best to make a list, shortlist and spreadsheet and to compare the schools you’re interested in based on what you’re looking for. You may find that only 1 or 2 of your favorites have places available. At the end of the day, though, choosing a school can be very personal. When you visit, a school might just feel “right,” or not, and it’s always best to trust your gut feeling. At the end of the day, your child’s happiness and success is very personal, and only you and they can find out which school suits them best.



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