German International School Sharjah, known officially as Deutsche Internationale Schule Sharjah (DISS) is a Kindergarten to Grade 12 school with a curriculum based on the German state of Thuringia. DISS offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma for senior students, and teaches subjects in German, English, and Arabic.
Located in the Al Abar area of Sharjah, German International School Sharjah, or more accurately Deutsche Internationale Schule Sharjah (DISS), was established in 1976 as a non-profit school by Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah. While the school is certainly very German in ethos, DISS is designed to be an international, cross-cultural environment, where students are immersed in German, English, and Arabic.
DISS is officially recognised as a German school abroad by both the UAE’s Ministry of Education (MOE) and by the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs in Germany – this means that all certificates from DISS are considered equivalent to certificates from state schools in Germany, and will therefore confer the same authorisation and recognition. This also means that DISS is financially and personally supported by the Federal Republic of Germany (Central Agency for Schools Abroad) in Cologne.
DISS sees it as its mission and responsibility “to accompany the children entrusted to us in all their diversity on their way into life”. To help children on this journey, DISS has a clear vision of education that is about more than just providing equipped classrooms and school premises. Haisam Mansour, Chairman of the Board, explains:
“We need to create an environment in which children enjoy learning . . . Good cooperation between school and parents is necessary for the educational success of our children. We have to be open to one another and treat each other with respect and appreciation.”
To this end, DISS’ Mission Statement covers a wide range of aspirations and expectations on leadership and staff:
“We create a positive living and learning environment.
We are entitled to open feedback, information, and communication structures.
We work in partnership with all school and extracurricular bodies.
We live with tolerance and openness towards foreign cultures.
We value respectful and responsible interactions with one another.
We encourage each and every pupil individually.
We help our pupils to learn independently.
We give space for creativity.
We teach teamwork and conflict resolution skills.”
One interesting point to note about DISS is that it is possible for individuals to attend the school as guest students for a period of time. In order to do this, a written application must be submitted to the school management, along with the submission of a written exemption for the period of the visit by the school they are currently attending. It is even suggested that students can stay with a host family for the duration, something rarely seen in other UAE schools.
The main curriculum at DISS is based on the curriculum of the state of Thuringia in Germany, although the school also takes into account the context and requirements of the UAE. Lessons are taught in German, while English is considered the first foreign language. Because students begin Arabic in preschool (where it is differentiated between Second Language and Mother Tongue) and begin English in Grade 1, DISS students move through the school with frequent exposure to all three languages.
Multilingualism is central to DISS, so a key part of the curriculum is the offering of ‘Deutsch als Fremdsprache’, or the ‘German as a Foreign Language’ remedial course (DaF), which is designed for children who need support in acquiring the German language. It is expected that after three years in a German Kindergarten with the DaF course, children should be able to switch to the German school system and cope with the linguistic requirements of lessons.
Language lessons take place in small groups, which are divided according to age and language level – in Elementary School, for example, students take two hours of DaF per week. These lessons include regular testing for listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and text production, which means that students have a chance to change their level twice every six months, to match their growing competence.
Beginning in Kindergarten, speaking several languages becomes a part of everyday life as both students and teachers with different mother tongues come together. As the school website explains:
“The kindergarten offers the children space for meeting different languages and cultures. With us, the children have the opportunity to expand their German language skills and their communication skills, but also to learn the English and Arabic languages in a playful way.”
Play is at the heart of the Kindergarten environment and teaching approach. DISS notes that many children arriving at the Kindergarten are not only new to schooling, but may be new to the UAE as well – this makes these initial years a time of great transition and turbulence. To this end, the DISS Kindergarten is designed to be a space where different children can meet in order to pursue their needs and interests, and take the time to get to know each other. Both the indoor and outdoor areas are large and open, in order to offer a variety of play options and the chance to develop social relationships.
DISS believes that children are active learners, who learn as “active observers, participants and creators of their world. They explore themselves and their environment using all the senses available to them. They ‘understand’ their environment through movement”. The school therefore sees its educational task as accompanying, supporting, and holistically promoting a child’s development and learning through the use of their creativity and their natural urge to research and exercise. The key methods for this are physical education, play, and project work, which allow children to experience the ten core areas of the Kindergarten program:
The Kindergarten is divided into four groups, each of which is supervised by two educators: Meadow Mice; Desert Mice; Wood Mice; and Preschool Mice. Meadow Mice is a group with only non-German speaking children; this group usually has around 12 children and offers intensive DaF training. Both the Desert Mice and Wood Mice groups have up to 18 German-speaking children, with the youngest students being three-years-old. Finally, Preschool Mice is a group of up to 20 children who speak German – they are prepared intensively for post-Kindergarten school enrolment according to a separate program.
Across all of the groups, DISS’ pedagogical work is based on the following focal points:
Education for Independence
DISS believes that both parents and teachers must ‘let go’ of the children in their care – this does not happen abruptly, but gradually and by offering a sense of free space, confidence, and independence: “Raising independence is a tightrope walk: you have to find the middle between overprotective clinging and sudden excessive demands. The demands on our kindergarten children grow over the course of their time in our facility”.
Development of Social Skills
The main everyday occupation of the DISS Kindergarten is playing, in as many different forms as possible. Through role-playing games, board games, free play, guided play, movement games, and more, students learn holistic social skills.
Language Development and Promotion
Many children who start at DISS’ Kindergarten have only a partial command of the German language, or even none at all. For these students, the DaF course enables regular child-friendly language experiences in small groups.
The academic year is enriched by festivals, seasonal topics, project work on unique topics, and excursions. At the end of each Kindergarten year, each child receives a portfolio folder filled with songs, handicrafts, poems etc., so that the developmental steps of the students can be recorded and viewed.
Aside from the usual topics covered in the first years of schooling, DISS also offers the children chances to take on more complex projects – some of these may include traffic education, farms, summer hits, or even children's etiquette.
One notable aspect of the Kindergarten is its use of a language training program developed by the University of Würzburg, to improve students’ sense of spoken language and prepare them for the acquisition of written language. This training centres on phonological awareness, the ability to recognise the sound structure of spoken language, such as hearing syllables, rhymes, and sounds in words.
Another benefit of the DISS Kindergarten is that both it and the Elementary School are located ‘under the same roof’ on the school campus. This means the preschool and Grade 1 students can have regular contact, through activities such as book lessons, picnics, or sports lessons. And in the second half of the year, preschool students get to visit Grade 1 classes in small groups, where they can attend lessons and take part in Grade 1 breaktime. This again works to help children adjust to the schooling experience, and makes progression into a new year group less daunting.
The DISS Kindergarten offers afternoon care, which is chargeable and takes place between 1.15pm and 3.30pm.
The next step for students is the DISS Elementary School, which is comprised of Grades 1 to 4. Students move to more formally-structured lessons at this stage, with six hours of lessons each day. The language of instruction is German (except for Arabic and English lessons), and differentiated learning is considered the key to success.
Subjects taken in Elementary School include German; Mathematics; Science; English; Arabic; Music; Art; Social Studies; Moral Education; Sports; and Islam/Ethics. Due to the requirements of the MOE, Islamic Studies is offered to Muslim students in every grade (for non-Muslim students, DISS offers Ethics rather than Christian religious instruction). Students in every class also attend a dedicated library lesson. Extra classes are available in the afternoon, which include remedial classes and homework assistance.
Once students reach Grade 5, they are considered part of the Lower Secondary School, which runs up to (and includes) Grade 10. Grade 5 is considered the ‘orientation level’, where English is taught as the first foreign language and teaching is based on the curriculum of German grammar schools (Gymnasium). The development methods learned from Elementary School are deepened and linked to the content of specialist teaching in the Secondary School.
At the end of this orientation level, students are recommended for placement in one of the three different types of Secondary School: Gymnasium, Realschule, and Hauptschule.
Recommendations at the end of Grade 5 are made based on the following aspects:
In preparation for this classification, three class conferences take place during the school year in which all teachers teaching Grade 5 can exchange and advice on students’ development. As a result, discussions with parents about which standard of school will suit each child most take place at an early stage; if parents do not agree with the school’s recommendation, they can raise a written objection at any time up until the end of Grade 5. While the parents' decision is binding for the first half of Grade 6, a final decision on the classification is made by the class conference at the end of that first half. Changes in school assignment are possible up to the end of Grade 8.
Once a school type has been decided, students are assigned to their classes and begin differentiated lessons – some lessons will be joint between students from different school types, but will have their own graded performance assessments. At this point, French is made a compulsory foreign language for High School and Junior High School students; Arabic lessons also continue, in accordance with MOE requirements. Students in Grade 9 must complete a two-week internship, which provides insight into the professional world.
Once students reach Grade 10, final exams take place (depending on their classification) in the subjects of German, Mathematics, and/or English. They also take an oral exam in another subject, and complete a presentation exam at the beginning of the year.
Depending on which type of schooling they are recommended to, DISS pupils can acquire the following qualifications:
DISS recognises that the “work process is no longer singular like it was around 70 years ago” and that flexibility and process orientation are the keys for students to be successful in any field they may choose to pursue or find themselves in. As innovations in science and technology progress, new pathways may open up, so the broad, comprehensive IB Diploma is well-suited to the shifting, transferrable skills-based job industry that exists today and continues to develop.
DISS has been running the IB Diploma Program since 2012, and strives to represent the IB philosophy of international thinking, curiosity, the urge to research, and critical questioning. Students are accepted into the IB Diploma Program if they:
This also applies to students who are coming in from a school in Germany or a recognised German school abroad, and pupils coming from schools in other countries must prove sufficient language skills in both German and English.
The admissions process for students wishing to undertake the IB Diploma Program is stringent – full details can be found here.
IB subjects offered by DISS include German; English; Mathematics (with English as the language of instruction); Biology (with German as the language of instruction); History (with German as the language of instruction); and Spanish Ab Initio (for language beginners).
In addition to these six subjects (three of which are taught at Standard Level and three at Higher Level) students must also take three IB-specific subjects: Theory of Knowledge (known as TOK, which teaches students about critical thinking and questioning); Creativity, Activity, Service (known as CAS, where students become active and start/support social and creative projects); and the Extended Essay (a 4000-word essay on a topic of the student’s choice, which teaches and practices research, literature work, and structured writing).
The curriculum at DISS is certainly enough to keep any student busy, but the school also makes sure that students are frequently involved in fun and enriching extra-curricular experiences as well. DISS offers a range of both academic and non-academic activities which include project weeks, inter-school competitions, school trips, and events like the Federal Youth Games and the Kangaroo Competition, as well as Thuringian Competence Tests and partnerships with German schools abroad.
Special highlights include the German and Arabic festivals “which always put a smile on everyone's face” and are celebrated extensively: Christmas Market; National Day; Flag Day; Saint Martin’s Day; Halloween; Carnival; Germany Day; and Oktoberfest. Other notable events include the Reading Competition, in which Grade 6 students from the three German schools in Sharjah, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi meet and compete for the title of the best reader.
Other projects run throughout the school year and inspire numerous campaigns and events, such as the Health Promotion initiative (run by the school clinic), and Project Green. Project Green in particular, whose motto is ‘Against the Plastic Age’, has already produced a Beach Clean event, an update to the school logo, and changes within the school such as the removal of plastics in the cafeteria, the limiting of plastic bottles, increased recycling, and the institution of a gardening group.
While the DISS website does not include a dedicated section on Special Educational Needs (SEN) provisions, the school does note that individual help is available: “In cooperation with the parents we will create an individual plan for special education to advance your children. For this there might be additional fees.” The school should be contacted directly about what kind of services it can offer.
In addition to the use of tailored education, DISS also offers a general Psychological Advice Service, recognising that school is “not only a place of learning, but also a place of personal development, social interaction and communication, which can therefore lead to learning stress, private differences, and challenges on other levels of communication and coexistence”. DISS employs a Trusted Teacher program, where specific members of staff are trained to provide advice to students in a manner that is open, confidential, impartial, and solution-orientated, as well as geared towards prevention, mediation, and reflection.
Two teachers are usually available to students, one for individual counselling and another for class, partner, and group counselling.
Unfortunately, like many schools in the UAE, DISS has not made any of its students’ exam results available to the public.
The most recent inspection of DISS by the Sharjah Education Zone was carried out in 2014. The school was rated as “highly effective” in its approach to learning (both the quality of teachers and the teaching itself) and the classroom climate (the feel of classes, such as how effective and engaging they are). The report further noted strong and highly effective leadership, a strategic direction, and very good management systems. The three streams for key subjects in Secondary School was particularly highlighted, with differentiation based on abilities resulting in improving grades year on year.
One interesting point to note is that DISS follows an official German framework that does not permit school leaders to make direct comments to teachers about their choice of teaching methods. This is in direct contrast to the UK system where teaching plans are regularly assessed, to a point where some teachers claim micro-management. German institutions seem to place a significant amount of trust in teachers and prize the “German principle of academic freedom, especially among teachers qualified to teach at secondary level”. Where teaching at an institution is strong, this German system makes considerable sense, while the UK system is likely to even out qualitative differences in schools where teaching standards are variable.
Unlike schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sharjah schools have not participated in regulatory inspections on a regular basis; while there were a few instances of inspections being undertaken by the Ministry of Education, schools did not generally publish the outcomes (the 2014 DISS report is an exception rather than the rule). With the initiation of SPEA (Sharjah Private Education Authority), the intention is that schools will be inspected using the common framework already in place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
However, SPEA has decided to seek a collaborative approach with the schools for this process, and although we understand that initial inspections did take place prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, results of these inspections have not been published.
As a result of the pandemic, Sharjah schools have participated in Distance Learning Evaluations (DLE), implemented by the Ministry of Education throughout the UAE (these results have been published). In its most recent Distance Learning Review Report (2020), DISS’ implementation of distance learning was rated as Developed.
Inspectors noted that DISS “is successful in encouraging students’ attendance and participation in distance learning lessons. It ensures all students’ full engagement in both academic and non-academic activities to sustain the continuity and momentum in their learning”. They found that teachers planned lessons with an appropriate balance of different methods and approaches for online learning, as well as carefully monitored students’ learning and engagement. Staff were praised for making the most of small class groups and providing constructive feedback to individuals during lessons.
In terms of school leadership, the evaluation found DISS’ short-term planning to be “responsive, with appropriate adjustments made to ensure the ongoing development of distance learning approaches”. School leaders were commended for providing clear long-term plans, and for working in close partnership with Governors to continually refine distance learning processes.
In terms of areas for potential development, the report suggested DISS work to further strengthen students’ understanding of who to contact and what to do if online safeguarding issues arose. This was especially aimed at younger students, who should continue to work on fully developing their IT skills so they could get the most out of distance learning materials. The evaluation also suggested that DISS reinforce the systems that ensure students have manageable workloads and plenty of opportunities to interact with each other in lessons. Finally, it was advised that parents continue to be regularly updated their children’s learning.
If you would like to read the full inspection report – which we strongly advise you to do in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings – you will find it here.
DISS boasts attractive school grounds and a wide range of facilities for students of all ages. There are four separate buildings on the campus: the Kindergarten building; the Primary School building (built in 2013); the Secondary School building (built in 2001); and the IB building (completed in 2016).
The Kindergarten has its own dedicated outdoor area to facilitate play, and the IB building has an attached laboratory. There is a well-equipped subject room for the sciences, a music room, an art room, and a well-stocked student library. DISS also offers outdoor facilities, including a sports field, a swimming pool, numerous sets of play equipment, and a chess field, along with plenty of shady areas.
Classes are provided with 40 iPads and laptops, and computers can be used in any subject, ensuring students are well-connected. Work computers are also available in the school library, where students are taught by library staff about information literacy, digital media, reliable sources, and database research.
Finally, DISS has a licensed school clinic run by a certified nurse. The staff at the school clinic are available to all students and teachers, and can offer emergency first aid or hospital referrals.
There are currently no reviews on the WhichSchoolAdvisor website for DISS.
For parents who wish to get directly involved with the school, DISS has a Parents Advisory Board, whose central task is “to maintain the relationships between school and home with the aim of supporting the school in its educational work”. In practice of this goal, the Parents Advisory Board focuses on two areas: 1) the organisation or support of various social events and 2) the initiation of or involvement in meetings with the wider school leadership.
In terms of contributing to social events, the Parents Advisory Board may provide food or fundraise money for school projects – notable events for volunteers include Christmas, St. Martin’s Day, and the annual sports festival. And in terms of arranging or participating in meetings, the Parents Advisory Board provides a space for parents to bring up and discuss issues, which can then be raised with the school board or the quality group.
DISS also has a Festival Committee, which is elected every year and is made up of volunteer parents. This committee is specifically responsible for organising the celebration of cultural festivals. Members meet ahead of the festival in question, and then organise the event into sub-tasks to ensure it goes forward successfully. The Parents Advisory Board organises this committee, and should be contacted about available roles and involvement.
If you are a parent, teacher, or senior student at DISS, please share your experience with other potential members of your school community by taking part in our survey.
Fees at DISS reflect the high standard of education and facilities provided, starting at AED 20,450 for Kindergarten and reaching AED 48,500 for IB. In the neighbouring emirate of Dubai, these prices would be considered mid-range, but in Sharjah these are certainly premium. However, they are unsurprising considering the quality of the school, and both parents and students certainly get everything they are paying for.
These fees include tuition and school books, while transportation fees, uniform, exam fees, food, stationery, and class trips are not included. There is also an additional fee of AED 250 per month/AED 2,500 per academic year if a child requires DaF lessons. If there is a need for intensive DaF lessons, charges increase to AED 350 per month/AED 3,500 per year.
Bus fees costs AED 7,500 per year for students living in and around Sharjah, while students coming from Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain, and Ajman can expect to pay AED 8,500 per year. For students who only need one-way trips on the afternoon bus, the total fee is reduced to 70%, and students can purchase single journeys for AED 20 (in Sharjah) or AED 30 (for Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain, and Ajman). It should be noted though that no seats can be guaranteed for single journeys.
Exercise books are considered consumables, and must be purchased as a package for each grade. Prices are AED 575 for Grades 1 to 5, AED 400 for Grades 6 to 10, and AED 125 for Grades 11 and 12. Unusually, the deposit that parents pay upon their child’s enrolment is tied in with the student’s school books – upon leaving DISS and returning the school books, the deposit is returned. The deposit amount for the Primary School is AED 400, while the deposit amount for the Secondary School and for IB students is AED 800.
DISS does offer discounts for families with three or more children enrolled: the third is entitled to a 10% discount on bus fees. There is also a 3% early payment discount that will be applied to all full payments received before the end of June.
With regards to admission, students in every grade are tested by the school before being offered places. Admission to the Kindergarten can take place all year round, provided there are free places. However, only a limited number of children who do not speak German can be accepted, and they must not be older than 3 years.
Parents should also be aware that children are tested in the second half of the Kindergarten via a ‘school game’, to determine whether they are fit to move on to Grade 1. All non-German speaking children are also tested in the German language, and any child who fails either the school game or the language test must submit an application to repeat preschool.
Attending the Kindergarten alone does not entitle a child to attend the school, and children can be put on waiting lists by an admissions committee if there are not enough free places available at the desired time of admission. This same committee then decides on the allocation of free places and informs parents.
At the age of 5, in consultation with the Kindergarten management, children can be admitted to the preschool for a trial period of six weeks. In these cases, a school readiness test and a language test can be carried out to determine their ability to go to school, as occurs in the second half of Kindergarten. While there are numerous requirements, the majority of Primary School children have made the successful transition from the Kindergarten.
Outside of the Kindergarten, admission to DISS can only take place at the beginning or during the first half of the school year. For new students coming either from Germany or from a German school abroad, relevant documentation is usually sufficient; students coming from different curricula, however, must undertake assessments in Mathematics, German, and English, which form the basis of their admission. In cases where classes of a certain grade are oversubscribed, children can be put on a waiting list or be advised on interim solutions by the admissions team.
For those students transferring into Grades 11 and 12 from another IB school, acceptance can occur at any time throughout the school year. However, if a prospective student has not attended a dual-language (German/English) IB school previously, they must take a language test for English and/or German, which is usually carried out as a conversation with IB Leader.
Senior pupils transferring from other school systems can only be admitted into Grade 11; those with a Hauptschule qualification can transfer directly. For Realschule students, a certain grade point average must have been achieved (currently a 3.0). However, an exemption from this requirement can be made through a conversation with the IB Director and school management, as well as a test.
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