SABIS International School Yas Island is part of the global SABIS Network, although the first school in the UAE to carry the SABIS rather than Choueifat branding. It is one of 10 schools (including three others in Abu Dhabi Emirate) to operate in the UAE.
The story so far...
SABIS International School-Yas Island (SIS-Yas Island) is located in the Yas East residential area, 25 kilometers from the centre of Abu Dhabi. It is the third SABIS® Network school in Abu Dhabi and was opened - according to the school - in response to demand from parents and long waiting lists of students seeking places at the International School of Choueifat Abu Dhabi and its sister branch in Khalifa City.
What about the curriculum?
SIS-Yas Island opened in October 2015 to students in Kindergarten to Grade 8. The school offers a tri-lingual education (English, Arabic and French) for grades KG1 to Grade 11 inclusive, with Grade 12 due to be offered from September 2019. Like all SABIS® Network schools, SIS-Yas Island has implemented the SABIS® Educational System™ - an academic programme that has been developed for over a 130-year period from the group's roots in Lebanon.
The curriculum is said to offer a "balance of academics, self-development, and life preparation, [which] prepares its students for success in college, fosters a lifelong interest in learning, and develops responsible world-class citizens".
According to the school's website, "SABIS® International School –Yas Island will be recognized as a provider of top-quality education to a highly diverse student body. SABIS® Yas Island will strive to help all students achieve their full potential, prepare them for success in college, equip them with the ability and desire for lifelong learning, and strengthen their civic, ethical and moral values".
The curriculum is broadly based on the English National Curriculum (with many staff in the UAE schools coming from Ireland, in fact), and leads towards IGCSE and AS and A Levels. However, SIS-Yas Island also offers the US college entry qualification of AP, together with SAT and TOEFL examinations. Unfortunately, the school does not provide any information about the subjects available.
SABIS schools take great pride in their system of academic tracking - the SABIS® AMS, a computerised method of detecting gaps in knowledge - which allows the administration (not the teaching staff) to closely follow the progress of each individual. Students who fall behind in their work are "advised, motivated, helped, and coached until they catch up". The school states that "in general, any student willing to learn is accepted".
There are no academic requirements for acceptance into Kindergarten (4 to 5 years of age). Prospective students at these levels are interviewed; they must be toilet-trained and able to speak and follow simple instructions. The challenge comes later, if children are found not to be able to "keep up", where SABIS as a system, does not have a process for providing individual support or curriculum adjustment within the normal school day and within the child's class .
What options for additional support do exist, require students to attend summer school (a six-week summer course offered in June, July, and August, where students who are academically below the required standard may attend and often make up for academic gaps) or extra classes (for both of which the school charges additional fees). The final option is Full-Special Classes, where students are given accelerated programmes intended to prepare them to join the regular classes.
The fact that parents have very little direct access to teaching staff, instead being funneled by academic supervisors (Academic Quality Controllers) who are responsible for providing feedback on academic achievement of the students, means that parents are often disconnected from the triangle of the school, student, parent relationship which is deemed by most educationalists to be the most effective way of ensuring student progress. Instead, parents receive three reports per year, one at the end of each term, although there is apparently an option for parents who want to be updated about their children, to contact the school for an appointment. Regular parent conferences are certainly not on the SIS-Yas Island agenda.
Should they wish to discuss the report contents, parents may meet with Academic Quality Controllers - not class or subject teachers - or ask for a copy of the record of their children's performance and involvement in school life. Parents are given advice on guiding their children in their work at home. It seems that only "when teenage children fail to do their work", is an invitation to school provided - and then not only to the parents, but to their children, who are "invited to attend after-school study for a few weeks to be given remedial work and helped in study techniques". If students "neglect their responsibilities", parental involvement becomes necessary. When there is a need, parents are called in to the school.
The school says "it is highly academically-oriented without being highly selective". The criterion for acceptance in a grade level is academic attainment, not age, although age acts as a limiting factor. It is possible to find up to a three-year age range among students in the same class (it is generally felt by most educationalists and regulators that an age range greater than two years in the same class is socially unacceptable - particularly as students move towards Secondary school).
A further core element of the school - beyond the academic in theory, at least, and probably somewhat akin to the Personal, Social and Health Education of the UK curriculum - is the SABIS Student Life Organization - described as "the students’ mini-society". The organisation works hand in hand with staff. Members of the SLO are appointed by the administration for their competence, rather than elected by the students - very much the reverse of the process of appointing student leadership in most forward-thinking schools nowadays.
According to the school, the SLO seeks to raise academic standards, promote high social and moral values, develop personality, develop communication and management skills, and involve students in organising sports and aesthetic activities. The organisation is designed to give students the opportunity to develop life skills that "empower them to make a difference".
All students are encouraged to join the SLO, with the aim for appointed prefects of adding "even more value to themselves" through working in cooperation with, and complementing the efforts of, the administrative and academic staff. They are also expected to help to raise the general standards, through prompting high social and moral values and encouraging participation in a wide range of additional experiences. Student Life Coordinators allocate “real-life” tasks to students and advise and support them in all their efforts.
SIS-Yas Island also encourages students to participate in a range of Extra-curricular activities including physical, academic, scientific and artistic pursuits. These take place during lunch-breaks, after school and on Saturday mornings. No details are provided.
What about academic achievement?
As a group, the SABIS network of schools does not publish any exam results. They do publish a list of university acceptances, which include Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and Stanford, to name a few. However, there is no quantification of the numbers from the 70,000 students being educated by SABIS schools globally that achieve such acceptances.
What about the facilities?
The SIS-Yas Island purpose-built campus offers 60,000 square-meter of educational facilities. These include spacious classrooms, science and computer laboratories, an auditorium, and extensive sports facilities including a semi-Olympic pool, an indoor basketball/tennis court, an Olympic soccer field and an athletic track.
The KG Department is an independent unit with its own indoor swimming pool, play area, special KG car track and an indoor multipurpose hall. The school is said to benefit from many IT features including a computerised learning and testing centre, and interactive SMART TVs.
What the inspectors say
Somewhat curiously, we could find no sign of an ADEK Irtiqaa Inspection report - or indeed the ADEK approved fees - for SIS-Yas Island. However, based on the SABIS system and the results of inspections at the Choueifat schools in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, we can draw some conclusions.
That the school seeks to be highly academic without being highly selective lies at the heart of the concerns felt by many - and notably by the KHDA and ADEK. SABIS does not recognise the requirement for students to be taught at an individual pace, and to adapt the curriculum accordingly. There is not a single child in any SABIS UAE school that is deemed to have Special Educational Needs. This is completely at odds with the UAE policy, which aims to offer an inclusive educational environment at every school and, at a minimum, to have processes and policies in place to support children with SEND requirements.
It is the approach of SABIS, either to refuse to accept children with additional learning needs - or the refusal to accept that any of their students do have such requirements - that has led to the downgrading of their schools during recent inspections. It will be interesting to see how SIS-Yas Island compares to the Choueifat Abu Dhabi schools and to identify if there has been a change of approach to this issue.
There is no doubt that SABIS, and its Choueifat brand, is a contentious subject among parents of students at the schools - and, indeed, it seems that many children studying at Choueifat schools today, are former students. Many laud the discipline and structure of the school curriculum and its staff. Others - including the regulators in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi - would suggest that the "one size fits all" approach towards teaching, and the reinforcement of learning through frequent testing - based around rote learning, rather the development of independent learning skills - (with the inevitable stress associated with this), puts the SABIS system seriously out of touch with modern educational practice.
The school states that "students are supported and reminded of the need to achieve the highest possible standard. Intense follow-up ensures no one slips through the cracks". The worry for many is that the intense follow up may result in such pressure, that the student may. indeed, crack.
Fees: as mentioned previously, SIS-Yas Island does not publish its fees and no details are available through ADEK's approved fees database. However, approved fees for the International School of Choueifat Khalifa City (the newer of the two existing schools) range from AED 20,600 in KG1 to AED 34,600 in Grade 12 for the current academic year. Additional fees for books range from AED 564 in KG1 to AED 4,249 in Grade 12.
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