Sharjah American International School Dubai is one of four schools under the same ownership. The Dubai school, located in Al Warqa'a was founded in 2005, offering a US curriculum from KG1 to Grade 12.
The story so far...
Sharjah American International School in Dubai (SAIS-D) is owned by Dr. Aysha Sayyar and Dr. Nawaf Fawaz. In total four branches of the school exist in four emirates: Sharjah, Dubai, Umm Al Qwain and Abu Dhabi. The Sharjah branch was established in 1997 followed by the Dubai school in 2005, opening as a KG –Grade 12 school with 60 students and a small team of staff. Today, the Principals and Assistant Principals of each branch of SAIS work closely together to form "a professional learning and collegiate network to support and nurture the development of each member and school".
Unusually, in our experience, an Advisory Board (based on earlier parent committees), which includes membership of parents, senior students and staff members, enables each branch to operate efficiently at a local level, whilst overseen by the governing body for all schools within the brand. The Advisory Board at SAIS Dubai meets monthly to oversee and monitor improvement plans and to support the diversity and achievements of the school community.
The school's Vision is "to establish and maintain a community that inspires passion for learning, where students dare to embark on challenging journeys to achieve their visions or to test available opportunities as innovators or future entrepreneurs".
The school's Mission Statement says that "SAIS-D strives for excellence and innovation in education and is committed to preparing students, both academically and socially, to be creative problem solvers and career and college ready. SAIS-D appreciates the cultural diversity of its multilingual community and instills a culture of mutual understanding and international mindedness that empowers students to be passionate, innovative,and productive citizens in an ever-changing global society while embracing the cultural values, beliefs and aspirations of the UAE".
According to the 2018-19 KHDA inspection report, SAIS-D has close to 1,800 students, of whom approximately 40% are Emirati. Students from a range of Arabic countries make up the majority overall. Staff are drawn from a range of nationalities, with Lebanese in the majority. However, a number of key positions in the leadership team, including the Director of Curriculum and Assessment, are held by US staff. Some 135 teachers and a further 32 teaching assistants support students with a teacher:student ratio of 1:13. This is on the low side, and should allow significant individual attention for students.
Staff turnover in the last academic year was 16%, on the low side for teachers in international schools in the UAE, where the average is around 20-22%. This is a good indication of staff who are satisfied with their employment, providing a stable environment. The KHDA report notes that the school is well staffed with suitably qualified teachers.
Principal Mr. Mohammed Sultan Ibrahim joined SAIS-D in early 2017, and has clearly had a very positive impact on the school. Having been rated Acceptable by the KHDA's Dubai Schools' Inspection Bureau for 10 years - since inspections began - Sharjah American International School achieved a Good rating for the first time in 2018-19. For more details, read What the Inspectors say here.
What about the curriculum?
The school's (rather lengthy and detailed ) Mission states that it aims "to provide an internationally recognized American curriculum based on Common Core State Standards within the framework of the California State standards, and New Generation Science Standards".
It is evident that SAIS-D has walked the talk in this context, having achieved full accreditation from NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) as required by the KHDA, in addition to accreditation through AdvancED (a US accrediting agency for international schools).
The KG curriculum is largely focused on a play-based approach to learning described as "rich in classroom experiences that promote higher level thinking skills while stimulating curiosity, experimentation, brainstorming, and problem solving". Child initiated play based activities and teacher-designed experiences are incorporated throughout the kindergartners’ school day.
The Elementary curriculum aligns with the Common Core State Initiative Standards in English and Mathematics and is said to parallel with the State of Michigan standards in Science, Physical Education and Performing Arts. SAIS-D has a very strong focus on technology-aided learning and this is particularly evident in the Elementary section.
In the Elementary Grades 1 to 3, each student has a subscription to Raz-Kids and Learning A-Z to help encourage and support students' Language Development skills integrated with technology. Students in Grades 1 to 5 have access to digital versions of Math, English and Science books and the learning platforms that are associated with them for review and additional work at home. In Grade 5, students have full digital versions of English, Maths and Science books and the school has incorporated learning platforms and resources to expand and develop students' learning through research.
The Elementary curriculum enables students to be involved in interactive and extra-curricular activities aimed at developing both a cross curricular activities and a connection to real life. Examples are The National Emirates Literature Festival Writing Competition, Professor Penguin, Edmodo virtual classrooms, UAE Sporting competitions, Robotics, Ballet, and Quran Recitation.
Students in the Middle school (Grades 6 to 8) take part in a 1:1 Tablet programme. Students each have a tablet device that allows them to have access to a range of resources and learning platforms and technological resources. English, Maths, Science and English Social Studies (Grades 7 to 8 only) all have interactive eBooks, and e-learning platforms that are associated with the books. Grades 6-8 students in Math and English classes have implemented Big Questions. These questions are in the style used in international bench-marking tests such as IBT, PISA, TIMSS or PIRLS, including a mixture of open-ended and multiple-choice questions that are organized in groups based on a passage setting out a real-life situation. This gives students the opportunity to assess and apply their knowledge to real-life situations and help them develop global citizenship.
In the High school (Grades 9 to 12), students have access to a plethora of resources and learning platforms including English, Maths, Science and English Social Studies (grades 9-12) which all have interactive eBooks, and e-learning platforms that are associated with the books. Students are required to take the SAT Maths Examination in order to ensure that their High School Diploma is equalized and attested by the Ministry of Education upon Graduation. Students are also expected to take the SAT English examination since it is a requirement for the majority of colleges and universities throughout the world. Unfortunately, SAIS-D provides little detailed information about the curriculum for High School beyond the core subjects. Nor does the school provide details of university destinations.
In addition to the more academic subjects, students participate in regular PE classes, and enjoy a wide range of sporting opportunities – in school break time competitions and games, University Challenge Days, Dubai Sports events and inter-school events. Many students take advantage of the excellent coaching provided by the PE staff and external coaches out of school time.
Students at SAIS Dubai also participate in classes in The Arts – both performing and visual arts - as well as opportunities to demonstrate and practice their skills in community events and competitions. Visual Arts students exhibit their art work in an annual exhibition at the end of each academic year and enter their works into local and UAE competitions. Performing Arts students perform at school events and in the annual SAIS’s Got Talent Show.
What about the facilities?
Little information is provided about the school's facilities other than the very strong focus on technology. The building itself is located just off the main Sharjah to Dubai Highway - Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road - to the east of the city in the Mirdiff/Al Warqa'a area and is well-maintained according to the KHDA. Most learning spaces are said to provide high-quality learning environments. The school is set on a large site with good outside space for sports.
SAIS-D has made a significant commitment both financially and technically through upgrading the IT infrastructure to support a total of 3,000 devices. Smart Boards have been installed in every classroom to replace the previously installed projectors. A 1:1 tablet initiative is now available from Grades 6 to 12.
After ten years of achieving an Acceptable rating from the KHDA's inspection teams, Sharjah American International School Dubai's achievement of the improvement to Good in the 2018-19 inspection round should not be underestimated. Demands from the inspection teams have become greater each year, and through maintenance of the Acceptable rating (the minimum expected by the KHDA), standards at SAIS-D have continued to improve albeit slowly. However, the step up to Good - the rating that the KHDA wishes every Dubai school to achieve - is a significant one.
The inspection rated SAIS-D Good across all six Key Performance Standards, but summarised Student Outcomes, Provision for Learners and Leadership and Management for comment in their introduction to the report.
Progress of students was found to be Good in all subjects across the school. KG children acquire effective learning skills and achieve well across all subjects. Attainment in Science and Islamic Education is Good across the school and mostly Good in Arabic as a first language. Standards in Arabic as a Second language, English and Maths, although mostly Acceptable, are improving.
Students are well-behaved and have positive attitudes to learning. Most are self-disciplined, keen to learn and willing to take on responsibilities, contributing to the school's harmonious atmosphere. Consistently good teaching allows most students to make good progress in all subjects and the addition of well-being and guidance counsellors has enhanced the care and support of students. The curriculum in KG allows children to make good progress in the development of basic skills - particularly in the acquisition of English, whilst the curriculum through the rest of the school provides students with a suitable range of learning experiences. Parents are successfully engaged in their children's learning.
Notably, the report states that the Principal and senior leaders are successfully developing a culture within which all strive to do their best.
The inspectors determined that the strengths of SAIS-D are:
In terms of key recommendations for the school, SAIS-D should:
This is really a very good outcome for SAIS-D. It seems that the building blocks are essentially in place for the school to continue on its road to improvement after a long period of slower progress. The new leadership has clearly made a significant impact, and evidently has the ambition to take the school much further. There have been notable improvements in the curriculum - including the introduction of STEM classes to which students have responded enthusiastically - and a range of innovative ideas (including a Student Government that replicates that of the UAE) have been introduced.
There are still a number of US curriculum schools in Dubai that really are American in name only, and that are not yet of a standard that is necessary for them to deliver the quality of education their students deserve. High quality US curriculum schools are marked out by innovation, their teaching and curriculum quality and breadth - schools such as the American School of Dubai and GEMS Dubai American Academy are long-standing examples. However, with fees that are at least double those of Sharjah American International School-Dubai, this is to be expected.
SAIS-D is now one of eighteen US curriculum schools that are rated Good by the KHDA. There are only two schools rated above this - Universal American School is rated Very Good and GEMS Dubai American Academy is rated Outstanding. Conversely, there are thirteen rated Acceptable.
We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com are impressed to see that Sharjah American International School in Dubai is moving in the direction of the higher-rated US curriculum schools and are looking forward to seeing how much further the school progresses in the coming year. The move to Good has taken too long; we hope the next step on the rating ladder - and more importantly - on the road to improvement will come along sooner for both the staff who are leading it, and the students who stand to benefit.
What about fees?
Fees at Sharjah American International School start at AED 16,619 in KG1 rising to AED 41,547 in Grade 12 for 2018-19. In addition, the school does charge a range of additional fees for books, stationery, computer and labs, portal access and tablet and STEM fees. Whilst books and uniforms are mandatory, many other are in theory optional. However, we do not see how students would be able to participate in many classes and activities without these fees being paid. Fees for 2019-20 have not yet been released.
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