Three and a half years after the announcement and ground-breaking ceremony for a long-awaited Australian school in Dubai, construction has been completed and the Australian International School Dubai will open in August 2021.
AIS Dubai had initially planned to offer KG1 to Grade 5/Year 6, prior to opening fully to Grade 12/Year 13. However, initial interest has been so high, that the school has applied for approval to open with an Early Learning Centre (including pre-KG equivalent), catering eventually for children from age 4 to 17 on entry, in line with the Australian system.
Construction of the sister school to the long-established Australian International School in Sharjah is now complete (the images included in this review were taken by our editorial team during a site visit to the school in May 2021). The second Australian International School under the same ownership in the UAE, will open its Dubai campus in time for the start of the 2021-22 academic year. The school is located in Al Barsha South, just of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Highway and close to Hessa Street.
The Dubai and Sharjah-based schools are not related to the Australian School of Abu Dhabi.
The Australian International School Sharjah (AISS) opened in 2005 through a partnership between the Al Sharif Investment Trading Group and the Government of Queensland, Australia. For years, Australian families in Dubai have been wondering when a branch would open to cater to the large population in the neighbouring emirate. Whilst Sharjah has two Australian-curriculum schools, AISS and Victoria International School, Dubai-based Aussies have tended to favour UK or US curriculum schools rather than face the journey to the neighbouring emirate.
AISS is the only learning institution in the Middle East that is recognised as an Australian school outside Australia. The Sharjah School offers both the International Baccalaureate and Queensland Certificate of Education, and the new Dubai-based school will follow suit with the aim of enrolling over 2,000 students when it reaches capacity. The school will open will class sizes of around 15 students, although this number may rise slightly as the school establishes itself.
The school currently has around 120 students enrolled, approximately 6% of eventual capacity.
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony last year, Sir Peter Cosgrove, Governor-General of Australia encouraged AIS Dubai to offer a safe, supportive, and disciplined school environment that nurtures positive relationships between all stakeholders. "This is yet another link between the nation of Australia and the UAE; yet another expression of the wonderful developing benign and very productive relationship between these two nations," he said.
The Principal of the school has been named as Karen McCord, an extremely popular and affable Australian citizen who has left her position as Principal at Bundaberg High School in Queensland to take up the position in Dubai.
Commenting on the Bundaberg school website. Ms. McCord said she had many goals to tick off as part of her Dubai placement.
“It is amazing how opportunities present themselves and one thing I talk with students and staff about constantly is that when these opportunities come along, particularly those out of the blue, if you think it may be a positive for you then you owe it to yourself to take on the challenge.”
She continued; “Naturally, I want to be part of creating a great school that becomes the school of choice in Dubai for those wishing to ensure their children have an education focused on delivery of 21st century skills. I will be working to ensure our curriculum pays homage not just to Australia but to Arab and the various cultures of the students who will be part of the school.”
“Also, many students from countries such as China and India may be non-English speaking, so it is imperative to provide them with opportunities to thrive as they develop their English skills.”
From the time she arrives in Dubai, Ms. McCord said she would have 16 weeks to staff, physically resource and market the new school to the expatriate population. All teachers will be Australian with the exception of those delivering the Ministry of Education Arabic, Islamic and Moral Education subjects.
“There are 300 Australian businesses in Dubai along with a high commissioner and ambassador in neighbouring Abu Dhabi, so a big focus in the first year will be to ensure Australians heading over post COVID have the opportunity to enrol their children in an Australian curriculum school,” she said.
There is also a substantial number of Australian families already resident in Dubai, for whom the option of a school offering the curriculum that would provide them with direct access to Australian universities is likely to be an attractive option.
Parents can also be assured that they will be fully involved in their children's education. The school says "We encourage our families to be active participants in their children’s learning and we pride ourselves on creating opportunities for our parents to support our staff across all aspects of our delivery of learning experiences."
AIS Dubai students will graduate at the end of Grade12/Year 13 with either a Queensland Certificate of Education or an International Baccalaureate Diploma and go on to universities both in the UAE and around the world. The school has entered an agreement with Education Queensland International to deliver the Australian Curriculum, and is recognized as a result as providers of the New QCE. On national assessments of literacy and numeracy the school states that it is meeting and exceeding Australian standards.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com understands that the same curriculum arrangements will likely apply to the Dubai school - including the delivery of the IB Diploma programme in Senior School.
According to the Dubai school, "Twenty First Century skills are critical if our students are to be successful socially, emotionally and academically for a world they are still to create. Research shows in the Western world that students at school now don’t even know what types of roles they may have once they leave school, so it is imperative that we develop adaptable young people who can succeed in their life choices.
The Australian Curriculum challenges students to excel and be creative, active and respected citizens in our evolving global society. We ensure our children have the skills to develop meaningful relationships within a positive and warm learning environment and enable them to learn in a culture promoting mutual respect and personal accountability. We find our curriculum delivery develops motivated and high achieving independent lifelong learners when they are engaged in a rigorous and relevant curriculum. Flexible delivery of curriculum delivered by experienced teachers ensures our students excel because they love learning in our classrooms and sharing their community responsibility".
The style of education focuses on
The pedagogical model is inquiry-based, very much in keeping with the model of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. Students are encouraged to ask complex questions and then work out how they might find the answers to these questions. Technology plays an increasing role in this. Students have access to as much information as they could ever need, but the real skill is in learning how to sort through this vast array of data and apply this information to creating novel solutions.
In addition, there will be a full range of extra-curricular activities which will include sport, cultural and academic opportunities. Sports such as soccer, netball, touch football and swimming will be available. Extra curricular cultural activities will include art and drama, and music lessons can be arranged for students if parents wish to encourage music early. Academic programmes will include robotics, and chess.
The new AED 150 million Dubai campus has been developed across 350,000 sqft and the four storey building features 85 classrooms, a 600-seat indoor auditorium, and an outdoor amphitheatre, a multi-purpose hall, multi-use court, and a football pitch. Other facilities include fully equipped libraries, modern art and music rooms, science and ICT labs, and learning centres. The classrooms are among the most spacious to be found in a Dubai school.
Whilst the delay to the opening of AIS Dubai may not have been desired or intended, it has allowed the owners to think through their needs in great detail and to complete the construction to a very high standard.
The auditorium, two swimming pools, soccer field and volleyball courts have already been completed, along with various playgrounds, music rooms, theatre, library, café, state of the art science labs, technology suites and indoor sports courts which will all be available to Primary students when the school opens on 29th August.
Unfortunately, AIS Sharjah does not publish its academic results, and it is therefore not possible to say how academically successful its IB students, in particular, are. This is something the school will likely need to address if it is to attract IBDP students to the new school, since transparency among Dubai schools (particularly those offering the IB Diploma) is growing rapidly.
However, the Dubai school has informed WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that AIS graduates have gained admission and attended universities in the UK, Canada, Australia, USA, Europe, Asia, and the UAE. Previous graduates studied medicine, engineering, computer science, law, international relations, architecture, history, business, sociology, economics, finance, biology, maths to name a few.
University destinations include the University of Cambridge, Kings College London, University College London, University of Edinburgh, University of Amsterdam, University of New South Wales, University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, New York University Abu Dhabi, University of Maryland, Penn State University, McGill University Bond University and Griffith and the University of Toronto.
The school anticipates that its new ATAR senior curriculum will enable students to gain admission to many of the top universities worldwide.
For Australian families, seeking a high quality domestic curriculum with the promise of entry to universities across Australia, the Queensland curriculum is highly regarded and may well be considered sufficient to meet their needs.
Fees have been set for the launch of the school at 25% below the KHDA approved amount for the first three years of operations - that is from 2021-22 to 2023-24 inclusive. KHDA approved fees range from AED 52,000 for KG to AED 90,000 for Grades 11 and 12. (Note, the school is currently only open until Grade 6.) The reduced fees range from AED 39,000 for KG to AED 67,500. These are premium fees as opposed to Premium plus which might have been expected.
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