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Dubai kindergarten sector shows strong potential

Enrolment in Dubai kindergartens has risen 15% in a year Unsplash/Hossein Azarbad
Enrolment in Dubai kindergartens has risen 15% in a year
  • 27 new kindergartens in 2023
  • 15% rise in past year
  • Growth beats primary and secondary

The number of children enrolled at nurseries, or kindergartens, in Dubai has risen 15 percent over the past year, the government said, pointing to increased investment opportunities in the early years education sector. 

The figures from Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) show that 250 “early childhood centres” operate in the emirate, 27 of which opened within the past 12 months. 

The centres care for more than 23,500 children, up 3,000 compared with last year. Two-thirds of children enrolled are between two and four years old, and nearly 80 percent of the total attend nursery five days a week.

The 15 percent annual growth in kindergarten enrolment in Dubai comes after 12 percent growth in 2022, the KHDA said. 

“The growth we have seen in the past year is a clear indication of the effort centres have made to improve quality, and of the trust parents have placed in them to provide children with a safe and happy start to their education journey,” said the KHDA’s director-general, Abdulla Al Karam. 

Policy experts said the figures reflect Dubai’s expanding private sector for early years education, as awareness of its importance deepens. A report by Alpen Capital in August projected that the the GCC pre-primary sector would grow at a faster rate than other education segments, at 2.2 percent between 2022 and 2027, against 1.5 percent growth for primary and secondary. 

Experts told AGBI there are opportunities to invest further in the sector, while maintaining levels of quality and care. 

Stéphanie Jamet, senior analyst in early childhood education and care at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), said: “Research over the last decades has shown the critical importance of the early childhood period, especially between 0 and three years, in the human development cycle. 

“Overall, the economic, social and educational returns from investing in early childhood services are high.”

As in many other OECD countries, the private sector has played an important role in the provision in Dubai of kindergartens and early years care to meet rising demand, Jamet said.

However, “major concerns” have emerged over the quality, accessibility and affordability of such services, she said. 

“As the private sector expands, the government needs to develop strong institutional and funding mechanisms to steer the sector towards quality and equity,” Jamet said. 

“This involves setting learning environment standards such as optimal staff-to-child ratios, an overall quality framework and mechanisms for monitoring centres and helping them improve.” 

Dirk Hastedt, executive director of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, said international studies such as its Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) “have repeatedly shown an early start is crucial for a successful schooling career.  

“Increasing participation in pre-primary education is therefore a great step in improving the overall education system.” 

Nonetheless, he said, “pre-primary programmes should not be a substitute for parents’ engaging with their children in early literacy activities, like telling stories or singing songs, which supports language learning tremendously.”

In the most recent Pirls, which collected data in 2021, the 48 percent of students who participated in early childhood education programmes before the age of three outperformed their peers who did not by more than 10 points by the end of the fourth grade, Hastedt said. 

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