Dubai's only accredited online schooling option, iCademy, has become a life saver for parents of children who want a more flexible approach to their children's education. Fully accredited by the KHDA and NEASC, it ensures that students can complete their education with a High School Diploma that will be recognised globally.
The story so far...
iCademy Middle East 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.
iCademy is not inspected by the KHDA's DSIB inspection team in the way that mainstream schools in Dubai are, but the iCademy program is accredited and students receive credits in line with the US system.
Accreditation comes from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). NEASC accreditation has become a KHDA requirement for all US curriculum schools in the Emirate of Dubai.
Currently, approximately 600 students use the iCademy Middle East program. Enrolment numbers are projected to grow substantially for the 2020-21 school year. Students are from a wide range of countries, but many are university-bound in the US, Canada or Europe. Children are from a range of countries – predominantly Western, but also families from South Africa and Eastern Europe.
The reasons behind their choice of on-line education are many. In some instances, it is the relative affordability of the program compared with ever-increasing school fees that appeals. For others, the program is flexible enough to allow gifted and talented students time to participate in sports, music or arts training; or a means to allow children with additional learning needs to develop at their own pace.
One very successful program offered by iCademy is the blended learning program through their Learning Center in Dubai Knowledge Park. It is called “blended learning” because of the mix of online learning and face-to-face support and instruction provided through iCademy’s physical location.
Located on the Ground (High School) and First floors (Elementary and Middle schools) of one of the Knowledge Park 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.
Around 125 students currently attend the Learning Center at Dubai Knowledge Park. 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.
Children at the Learning Center are required to attend from 8.30am to 2:30 or 3pm, depending on grade level, as though they are at a regular school. Some students attend on a daily basis; others study for three days at the Center and the remaining two days at home, which enables are more flexible approach to learning.
Most teachers come from the US, UK, Ireland, and GCC; 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. Teacher:student ratios within the Learning Center are comparatively very low compared with mainstream education, ranging from 1:6 to 1:12, compared with norms of 1:11 to 1:30 in mainstream schools.
The online school itself has approximately 60 teachers which allows a teacher:student ratio and online “classroom” size of up to 1:50 – however, within the online courses, class sizes between 5-30 are closer to the norm.
iCademy claims a teacher turnover of less than 10% per annum - compared with a UAE average of 20-22% in international schools. This is always a very positive sign - ensuring stability for both students and the organisation.
What about the curriculum?
iCademy has a course catalogue of 160 course offerings within the American curriculum program. The online school can also tailor course offerings by ability and attainment level - at Core Level, Honors and AP for High School. Electives for High School students include such diverse offerings as Forensic Science, Medicine, Computer Programming, Web Design, Agriscience, Journalism, Theatre Studies, and many more.
For high-achieving students in grades 10-12, who are seeking university placement - particularly in the US - iCademy offers AP (Advanced Placement) courses.
The AP offering includes Biology, Calculus, Chemistry, English Language, French Language and Culture, Spanish Language, US Government, US History and World History; these courses are approved by the AP College Board.
"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."
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 iCademy program at any point in the academic year with approximately 8 different program start dates annually.
iCademy also offers a High School Summer program to enable non-iCademy 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 program is tailored to meet each child’s abilities, although less than 1% of children are able to follow an accelerated program that is beyond their chronological age. Children who are particularly gifted at sports (golf, 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 iCademy, 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 WhichSchoolAdvisor.com 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."
The system is rigorous. Each time a child logs into the system, they are provided with a pacing guide or calendar with the day’s assignments. The online curriculum is enriched with a variety of learning opportunities and interactive media. There is a process of continuous assessment and students may lose marks if they do not complete assignments on time in Middle School and High School. However, there is also a degree of flexibility built in, with additional time before a zero grade actually becomes permanent within the grade book.
For students in grades K-5, all assignments have flexible due dates, provided that the courses are completed by the term end date. The assignments are all carried out on-line, but there are also many hands-on learning opportunities such as labs and art projects within the curriculum. Virtual live teaching sessions take place regularly for each course, along with virtual live help or teacher office hours where students who need additional instruction or one-on-one help can drop in to a virtual classroom.
Teachers provide additional support and recommendations for students with special educational needs, including providing extra time for completion of certain assignments, one-on-one assistance, provision of recordings so students can review live teaching sessions multiple times as necessary, and modification of some assignments as necessary for students with hearing, health or other impairments.
There is a separate program for older children (between 16 and 21 years of age) with mild to moderate SEN or English Second Language requirements called iCad+ (based in Dubai Knowledge Park) which is linked with the UK ASDAN programme. 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 iCademy programme.
For students involved in the blended learning program, the iCademy Learning Center is the equivalent of regular school. The most striking aspect of the Dubai Knowledge Park environment is the quiet! Since almost all of the tuition takes place on-line, older 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.
For all UAE-based students, iCademy also organises regular social events, educational visits and Sports Day in order to ensure that children have the opportunity to socialize and have practical learning experiences.
During our visit, we found children of a range of ages, all working industriously. The layout of the center 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 take a semester of PE, where they undertake at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day and to log this activity. The Learning Center also offers opportunities for older students to attend CrossFit, along with other activities such as sailing with Dubai Offshore Sailing Club for iCad+ students. The focus is not just on the academic.
iCademy does not publish results from external examinations, but in information released to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, it did reveal university destinations. Most 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, Canadian University, Adelphi University, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, 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 Dubai Knowledge Park is not the usual school situation that families in Dubai are used to. There is no school uniform, large external sports facilities or auditorium, and children do seem to work on a more individual rather than group basis.
For the families utilizing the iCademy Middle East programs for whatever reasons they choose, this is clearly working for them and well worth consideration as an alternative to main-stream schooling, with security in the knowledge that both KHDA and NEASC accreditation are provided.
Fees vary significantly depending upon whether a student is strictly online or is enrolled at the iCademy Learning Center (and if so, whether full time or part time). Online fees range from AED 18,332 from KG2 to Grade 8 inclusive, rising to AED 25,672 for Grades 9 to 12. For online fee details, please see Fees and payments. For Learning Center tuition fees, contact iCademy directly.
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