What does KHDA stand for?
The 'Knowledge and Human Development Authority'
What does it do?
Basically it is Dubai's regulatory authority for education, responsible for the growth, direction and quality of private education and learning in Dubai.
How does it affect me?
If you are a parent, or student, probably the primary way you will come into contact with the KHDA is via its reports on each school in Dubai. The reports rank each school on a specific set of criteria, with an overall 5-level ranking: Outstanding, Very Good, Good, Acceptable and Weak. Schools use the reports, or more specifically their recommendations to improve their offering. It also forms the basis of fee rises. Higher performing schools can put up their prices at a higher percentage than poorer performers.
What are the criteria it uses to assess schools?
There are a wide variety of criteria - from academic attainment in core subjects, to quality of leadership at the school; from the attitudes of students, to the level of monitoring of results. It also heavily promotes Islamic and Arabic teaching by way of its criteria for success. The KHDA reports are actually very good - certainly the single most important official resource for assessing schools, and are a model other emirates should be adopting. Dubai is several steps ahead in the region in the transparency in which it (that is the KHDA) publicly publishes school performance - or lack thereof.
A recent XPress report noted that some schools abuse the notice period that the KHDA gives to present an unreal experience for the inspectors: Stories of equipment arriving before inspections and promptly disappearing afterwards; teachers being brought in specifically to boost qualified staff numbers; students drilled on how to put up their hands (left if they know the answer, right if they don't), etc. The tricks seem endless.
How prevalent this is, is unknown however and in any case the KHDA says it can see through the pretense. It is also mulling moving to spot checks.
The KHDA report itself is very good at looking at a school holistically in terms of management, balance, pastoral care and academics - which for many parents is exactly what they need.
However, we would also like to see the actual academic results of each school published as part of the report.
The KHDA could also go one step further, and also publish how many students achieve university places - and to which universities they go.
Why don't we have academic league tables?
At present schools are not required to publish the results. The only body that would have the power to make this happen would be the KHDA. While WSA acknowledges that looking at results in isolation would not necessarily reflect the value add that a school provides (selective schools will always perform better than non-selective), we do believe that external results are a key piece of information that parents themselves would like access to, and therefore should be available to them to be part of their decision making process.
That said, the UAE is host to a myriad of curricula, and clearly any such table could not compare Indian with UK results for example. However, there are enough Indian, US, UK and IB based schools to make four league tables worthwhile. Given that parents spend up to 125,000 AED per year on a school, this basic information should be made readily available for comparison - and would be more valuable if it included a value added context. If that formed part of the KHDA reports, even better still.
Note: The UK is moving away from league tables based on exam results, and to one based on Value Add. This is a measure of the difference a school actually makes. It measures what a child is expected to achieve on entrance, and what they actually get. A score above predicted results reflects positively. A score below suggests the schools is not doing all it could to help its students realise their potential.
This could be a model the UAE as a whole could embrace.
What else does the KHDA do?
The KHDA has a variety of agencies. These include: The Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau; Dubai School Agency (oversees the development of school-based educational services in the Emirate); EDAAD (a scholarship programme under KHDA offering opportunities to UAE nationals who have demonstrated leadership potential); Emirates Nationals Development Programme (aims to boost the presence of UAE nationals in the key sectors of the economy); the National Institute for Vocational Education (aims to develop a highly skilled, flexible, employable workforce); and Tamkeen (empowers individuals with visual-impairment through training, support, and counseling).
Where can I find more information?
The agency has an excellent Web site here.