K-12 Education

Teacher and StudentThe education system of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is relatively new. In 1952, there were few formal schools in the country. In the 1960s and 1970s, a school building program expanded the education system. Now, education at the primary and secondary level is universal. In 2006-2007, approximately 650,000 students were enrolled at 1,256 public and private schools. About 60% of all students attend public schools.

The public schools are government-funded and the curriculum is created to match the UAE development's goals and values. The medium of instruction in the public school is Arabic and English as a Second Language is emphasized. There are also many private schools which are internationally accredited. Public schools in the country are free for citizens of the UAE, while the fees for private schools vary.

Education reform focuses on better preparation, greater accountability, higher standards and improved professionalism. In addition, rote instruction is being replaced with more interactive forms of learning, and English-language education is being integrated into other subjects, such as math and science. The Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), the Dubai Education Council (DEC) and the UAE Ministry of Education (MOE) are each tasked with education reform, while preserving local traditions, principles and the cultural identity of the UAE.

Education at primary and secondary levels is universal and compulsory up to the ninth grade. This takes place in a four-tier process over 14 years:

  1. 4 to 5 year-olds attend kindergarten
  2. 6 to 11 year-olds attend primary schools
  3. the preparatory stage caters for children aged between 12 and 14 and
  4. 15 to 17 year-olds attend secondary schools.

About 40% of pupils attend private schools. Some of these offer foreign language education geared towards expatriate communities, usually preserving the culture and following the curricula of the students’ countries of origin.

A Cabinet decision issued in 2001 excluding expatriate students from government schools, was rescinded in mid-2006. Commencing in the academic year 2006/07, admission for expatriate students will be based on merit and fees will be levied.

UAE President H.H. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan established the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), an independent Abu Dhabi-based corporate body, in 2005 to develop education throughout the UAE.

ADEC will work closely with the Ministry of Education (MOE) in formulating the emirate’s education plan within the framework of the UAE’s general education policy.

ADEC takes an entrepreneurial approach to involve the private sector, improve and modernize facilities, reduce bureaucracy, update curricula and take advantage of information technology.

ADEC has already announced a new initiative to improve the quality of public education. The project entitled ‘Public-Private Partnership for Public School Management’ enables leading local and regional private education providers to manage selected public schools in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in conjunction with ADEC. Launched as a three-year pilot program commencing in September 2006, selected Abu Dhabi schools, including kindergarten and primary schools for boys and girls in the three educational zones of Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the Western Region, will be involved in the project.

ADEC has also entered into an agreement in which Zayed University (ZU) will assist in developing the English language skills of elementary level students at four model schools. Thirty faculty members from ZU will work with the first and fourth grade students at these schools, observing and evaluating English language teaching methods, and designing modern academic programs. The initiative will be extended to all schools at a later stage.

The Dubai Education Council (DEC) seeks to meet global standards, focusing on international accreditation and comprehensive quality assurance programs. A recent initiative is designed to attract world-class international primary and secondary schools to Dubai.

The education system through secondary level is monitored by the Ministry of Education (MOE). It consists of primary schools, middle schools and high schools. The MOE develops and monitors reform activities, with a focus on standards-based, student-centered education. These efforts include a partnership with National Association of Elementary School Principals in the United States. Activities include:

  • Audits of every public school in the UAE
  • Evaluations of the system, from individual schools up through the Ministry
  • Ongoing professional development of teachers and principals

The MOE is constantly honing its educational strategy to ensure that the programs developed in its schools comply with international standards, with particular focus on introducing the latest IT resources at all levels. For example, one of the goals is to provide a computer for every ten children in kindergarten, every five pupils in primary schools, every two students in preparatory schools.  

That IT education in the formative years has become a major priority for the UAE is underlined by the success of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid IT Education Project (ITEP), which was launched in 2000. As well as installing computer labs in all participating schools, and creating a comprehensive cutting-edge curriculum, ITEP also provides an invaluable online educational resource at www.itep.ae. ITEP now provides courses in 40 high schools in the UAE (20 in Dubai, 20 in Abu Dhabi) and over 13,000 students pass through the program every year. ITEP’s trainee pupils achieved 97% success rate in courses in the 2005/06 academic year.

Breakdown of the K-12 education system

Primary and secondary education is provided for all UAE citizens. The existing educational structure, which was established in the early 1970s, is a four-tier system covering 14 years of education.


Age level from: 4 to 5 years old


Length of program in years: 6
Age level from: 6 to 12 years old


Length of program in years: 3
Age level from: 12 to 15 years old


Length of program in years: 3
Age level from: 15 to 18 years old
Certificate/diploma awarded: Secondary School Leaving Certificate

Technical Secondary School

Length of program in years: 6
Age level from: 12 to 18 years old
Certificate/diploma awarded: Technical Secondary Diploma

Higher EducationTechnical EducationSpecial Education