Dubai's only real home schooling option iCademy, fully accredited by the KHDA, has become a life saver for parents of children that do not quite fit into mainstream education.
ICademy – previously known as K12 whose programmes it offers – is a unique organisation in Dubai for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is the only non-school (in the regular bricks and mortar sense) that is accredited with the KHDA.
Families can register their child with the KHDA when he/she joins ICademy and this enables a transfer certificate to be issued to the child if parents subsequently choose to send him/her back to mainstream education or if they transfer overseas.
The Academy is not inspected by the KHDA in the way that mainstream schools in Dubai are, but the K12 programme is accredited and students receive credits in line with the US system. Accreditation comes from AdvancEd, and the New England Association of Colleges and Schools (NEASC), from which it has received candidacy status. NEASC accreditation has become a KHDA requirement, and iCademy is currently conducting the self-study process with the aim of being NEASC accredited by 2017.
K12 is known to most families for its Home Schooling programmes which are immensely popular in the US and growing in popularity here in the Gulf region. Within the GCC, approximately 800 families currently use the K12 US curriculum programme. Children are from a range of countries – predominantly Western, but also families from South Africa and Eastern Europe. The reasons are various – in some instances, it is the relative affordability of the programme compared with ever-increasing school fees that appeals; for others, the programme is a stop-gap for children waiting to get into their preferred mainstream school, or a means to allow children with additional learning needs to develop at their own pace.
Since the graduation age is 21 years, children can continue to study for an accredited High School Diploma well beyond the usual 18 years of age in mainstream education. And unlike other schools, children can start the K12 programme at any point in the academic year with approximately 12-14 different programme start dates per year. ICademy also offers a High School Summer programme to enable non-K12 students to recover credits that they may have missed at regular school during the normal academic year.
Families with children who are particularly gifted also benefit from not being constrained by an academic calendar and curriculum that may not suit their child’s needs. The programme is tailored to meet each child’s abilities, although less than 1% of children are able to follow an accelerated programme that is beyond their chronological age. Children who are particularly gifted at sports (tennis and soccer in particular) and who travel to compete are also able to maintain their education.
Increasingly, families with children who have special educational needs are turning to the K12 programme, particularly for children who are high-functioning on the Autism spectrum or where there are language issues which have caused academic delay.
iCademy itself told WSA it "works well" for many students with mild to moderate learning disabilities, health impairments and other special needs. "The academic program can be tailored up to two levels higher or lower than age-appropriate grade as necessary, in a single course or all courses."
Teachers provide additional support and recommendations for students with special education needs, including providing extra time for completion of certain assignments, one-on-one assistance, provision of recordings so students can review Class Connect sessions multiple times as necessary, and modification of some assignments as necessary for students with hearing, health or other impairments.
There is a separate programme for older children (between 16 and 21 years of age) with mild to moderate SEN or English Second Language requirements called ICad+ (based in Al Barsha) which is linked with the UK ASDAN programme (https://www.asdan.org.uk). This focuses on personal and social development (including employability) as well as enabling students to take 2 or 3 of the academic elements of the K12 programme. ICademy is also in the process of setting up a specialized programme in cooperation with the Child Learning and Enrichment Centre which will combine Individual Education Plans with specialized therapy. A total of 10 centres within the Gulf region will be partners in supporting students around the GCC.
ICademy is also introducing another UK on-line education programme for teenagers called NISAI (www.nisaiskills.com) which is not as academically challenging as K12 and has largely been offered to students in the UK with behavioural issues, as a means of enabling them to complete their Secondary education. This programme will allow children between the ages of 12 and 16, who wish to follow the UK curriculum to do so and is a real alternative to the US programme.
Arguably, though, the most interesting programme offered by ICademy is the blended learning programme that is offered through their Learning Centre in Knowledge Village. It is called Blended Learning because of the mix of on-line learning and face-to-face support provided through the Academy’s physical location. Located on the Ground (High School) and First floors (Elementary and Middle schools) of one of the Knowledge Visit buildings (and close to several universities operating in the same area), students work in large, open classrooms, each with their own personal desk space and computer.
The most striking aspect of this is the quiet! Since almost all of the tuition takes place on-line, students work with headphones to listen to tutorials or work quietly if responding to assignments on-line. It is very much more akin to a studious office environment rather than a regular classroom. However, students are able to socialize during break and lunch periods in the common rooms that are provided. Teachers are available to guide and support the students as they work.
The school itself has 43 teachers which allows a teacher:student ratio and classroom sizes of up to 1:50 - however this is in terms of online, virtual classrooms and even online 30 is closer to the norm.
Around 110 students currently attend the centre at Knowledge Village. Approximately 10% of High School students, 30% of Middle school and 50% of Elementary school students have some requirement for Special Educational Needs provision, be this language learning or a more specific additional learning requirement. Within this banding, ICademy provides a staffing level of 1:7, 1:8 and 1:10.
Children at the Centre are required to attend from 8.30am to 3pm, as though they are at a regular school. Some students attend on a daily basis; others study for 3 days and the remaining two days at home which enables are more flexible approach to learning. The Academy also organises regular social events, educational visits and sports days in order to ensure that children have the opportunity to socialize and have practical learning experiences.
The school claims a teacher turnover of less than 10% per annum, however over the last year US based online teachers have slowly been replaced with those based in the GCC, and/or those within one to three time zones of the UAE to give students a better experience. Teachers come from the US, UK, Australia, and GCC-area teachers for whom English is their first language. All teaching staff are required to have a teaching degree, plus a valid teacher license or certificate in their home country.
The system is rigorous. Each time a child logs into the system, they are provided with a list of tasks and assignments are set for a 28 day period. There is a process of continuous assessment and students may lose marks if they do not complete assignments on time. The assignments are all carried out on-line, with support staff at the centre to assist children who need it. Virtual classroom sessions take place between different centres in the same time zone, so students may be tutored by a teacher located anywhere in the Gulf. During our visit, we found children of a range of ages, all working industriously. The layout of the office means that children are not able to “disappear” among a large group – they are all clearly visible and staff are able to keep a close eye on their activities. High School students are required to undertake 30 minutes of physical activity per day and to log this activity. The focus is not just on the academic.
As well as the core curriculum iCademy has a course catalog of over 200 course offerings within the American curriculum program.
It can also tailor course offerings by ability and attainment level - at Core Level, Comprehensive Level, Honors and AP. A variety of World Languages including Japanese, Chinese, Latin, Spanish, German and French is offered, while electives for High School students include such diverse offerings as Forensic Science, Computer Programming, Web Design, Culinary Arts, Agriscience, Journalism, Sports Marketing, and many more.
"We believe High School is an excellent time for students to begin thinking about various careers, and these electives are a great way to try out various paths prior to University."
The school does not publish results from external examinations but in information released to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com it did reveal university destinations. "Most of our students attend university in the United States, Europe, Canada or private universities in the UAE." Recent destinations for graduates include the University of Wollongong, Murdoch University, Middlesex University, Herriot Watt, RIT, Canadian University, Adelphi University, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Western Wyoming College, University of the Balearic Island, University of Louisville, Arkansas State University, University of Queensland, Middlesex University, SAE Institute Dubai, University of New York in Prague, and Colorado State University
There is no doubt that the set-up at Knowledge Village is not the usual school situation that families in Dubai are used to. There is no school uniform, large external sports facilities or auditoria and children do seem to work on a more individual rather than group basis, but for the families utilizing the K12 programme for whatever reason they choose, this is clearly working for them and well worth consideration if main-stream schooling does not seem right for your child.
Fees vary significantly depending upon whether a student is online or "blended" spending time at one of the iCademy centres (and if so, how much time). For online fee details go here. For learning centre tuition fees, contact iCademy directly.
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