Advice on choosing the right curricula for your child in the UAE

Know what options are available in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Advice on choosing the right curricula for your child in the UAE

The UAE is home to hundreds of private schools, providing curricula from all corners of the globe. The most popular options include the British curriculum – from early Foundation Stage to GCSE and A-Level – to American, Australian, French and Indian.

The major curricula offered in the UAE are British, American and IB, but there are plenty of other options so if the big three don’t feel right for you, look deeper.

Want to know more about curricula and how to choose the right one? You can avoid any confusion by doing your research thoroughly.

“There are many great resources online where parents can gather more information about the different curricula offered here in the UAE,” Asia Diaz of Clarion School says.

“It’s also important to know your children and how they learn. Do they need a structured environment? Are they more creative? Are they very academic? Knowing your kids will help you pinpoint a curriculum and school that best meet their needs. Yes, it’s hard to know your kids’ style at the young age of three or four, but something will stand out.”

Base your curriculum decision on how long you envisage yourself staying in the UAE. Your choice should enable your children to seamlessly go to a school in your home country in the sequential grade, not skipping or delaying a grade. Most importantly, look for your children to be challenged and positively engaged in their learning.

With all of that in mind, we have outlined the curricula choices available throughout the UAE to help you make an informed choice as to which one suits your child the best.


This curriculum doesn’t lock children into a system that they will need to follow up to Grade 10 or 11. Students are encouraged to study a broad range of subjects up to university level and the curriculum is less geared towards in-depth study.

Importance is given to the personal development of each child, so subjects that have not been mastered can be repeated.

However, there is no standardised core curriculum monitoring, because it is flexible and various states follow their own programmes. There are no “sudden death” exams as the curriculum is focused on constant assessment throughout the year instead.

As there are no set standards, though, the quality of education can vary, even among the few American curriculum schools  to be found in the UAE.

• Students can easily transfer into and out of US schools in Dubai.

• Students can repeat subjects if they fail.

• There is constant assessment, which helps to reduce stress from facing major exams.

• There is no standardised performance monitoring (US curricula vary widely from state to state).

• It is less geared towards in-depth study than some of the other curricula.


This curriculum is based on the assumption that every student can learn and that the needs of every student are equally important. This ethos enables high expectations to be set for each student as teachers account for the levels of learning of individual students. The approach aims to develop students’ key skills so they become successful and qualified individuals once they enter their professional lives.

Assessment is carried out on a project-by-project basis.

There is less emphasis on specific content and greater emphasis on process, particularly higher order thinking and enquiry.

The curriculum also provides students with a wide range of academic options.

The learning is holistic, with a strong academic element, and the qualifications gained through Australian schools are accepted at the majority of universities.

• The standards are high and the curriculum is holistic with a strong academic element that’s recognised worldwide.

• It’s a broad curriculum  with a wide selection of options.

• The choice of schools in Dubai is limited.


Students are encouraged to think for themselves, form opinions, relate to others and gain experience in taking responsibility for their own actions and decisions.

The British curriculum is divided into a number of year blocks, which are called Key Stages, as well as the Early Years Foundation Stage, which covers pre-schoolers.

The term “British School” does not necessarily mean the school is following the British curriculum. GCSE, IGCSE and A-Level qualifications are internationally recognised and respected, and are accepted at the vast majority of universities worldwide, because the British curriculum is a strictly regulated education system.

However, some reports suggest that overall marking standards have fallen in recent years.

• The curriculum is strictly regulated by the same British government standards that schools in the UK are subject to.

• Students study for qualifications that are widely recognised across the world.

• Recent reports have suggested marking standards may have fallen.


This curriculum follows the programme of study that has been established by the French Ministry of National Education and is officially recognised by the French government.

At Kindergarten level (ages two to six) the French école maternelle is more than just a play school; the curriculum includes reading and writing, numeracy and sometimes a foreign language, as well as creative activities.

Primary school consists of five classes for children aged six to 11. The French primary school curriculum includes literacy and numeracy, with classes in French, arithmetic, geography, history, the arts and English.

The college programme (ages 11 to 15) includes French, maths, history, geography, technical education, art or music, physical education, civic education and some science.

This is an excellent option for students of French origin who are looking to continue their education in France, but schools are limited if you wish to stay in the UAE.

• At Kindergarten level children are taught numeracy, literacy and sometimes a foreign language in addition to creative activities.

• The curriculum is assessed at the expense
of the French taxpayer, so the French government takes a keen interest in academic standards.

• Although French colleges are a good option for students aged 11 to 15, the options are limited in the UAE.


There are two choices of Indian curriculum in Dubai: the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE).

Both curriculum choices set high standards and are very challenging for students.

The CBSE is considered more scientific in its approach, with each syllabus divided into segments taught throughout the year. This approach allows students to balance the different elements of their studies.  considered to be very tough academically, with a lot of facts that need to be committed to memory.

For both systems, the academic standard is incredibly high, with the emphasis on core subjects such as maths, languages and science.

However, the traditional Indian system is sometimes criticised for its reliance on exam-based grading and rote learning, rather than allowing learners to develop their problem-solving skills through their studies.

• The academic standard is incredibly high.
• There is an emphasis on core subjects.

• The curricula are tough academically, with lots of factual information to be memorised.

• A reliance on exams means there is less focus on learning problem-solving and reasoning.


This programme runs from FS1 (three years old) through to sixth form. The Primary Years Programme, which is for students up to Grade 6, offers an integrated curriculum, enabling children to learn through guided exploration and structured inquiry.

Children take an active approach to learning, taking part in team projects that require them to use a number of skills from an early age, such as public speaking and putting together presentations.

The curriculum focuses on developing personal skills that students will require for life after school, rather than just academic achievement. However, students must prove they can keep up with the workload.

• The curriculum encourages students to take an active approach in learning, with teamwork and other personal skills included in studies.

• Pupils are marked by teachers and moderators, and standards are generally high.

• Students are given a challenging workload and many struggle to keep up with it, especially in the later years.

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