By Shainoor Khoja
The UAE is projected to require 81,500 seats in the Pre-K segment by 2020
The UAE leadership has always prioritised education as a crucial sector of development.
Reiterating this focus during the launch of a free educational platform for 50 million students across the Arab world at the World Government Summit 2017 in Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said: “The first priority is education, the second priority is education, and the third priority is education.”
While the country has made advances in the K-12 segment with an ever-increasing number of quality schools to meet rising enrollments, the Pre-kindergarten (pre-K) sector still offers much scope for further growth.
The participation rate for infants (aged two months to one year) and two-year-olds in the UAE is three percent. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), this is 30 points lower than the 33 percent rate among OECD member countries.
While several reasons contribute to this shortfall, chief among them is the belief, prevalent especially among Emiratis, that children at such a young age are reared better at home.
Some families may also lack awareness of the availability of Pre-K courses and the potential positive impact of attending these facilities. Furthermore, there seems to be an insufficient number of pre-K offering quality early-childhood education at an affordable price point.
That trend is changing as governments and parents are realising that a strong early foundation can translate into exponential benefits for a child’s later education. In this context, enrollments in the segment were expected to achieve a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.2 percent between 2008 and 2020.
To meet this demand, as well as match the OECD average, the UAE will require an additional 81,500 pre-K seats by 2020. The significant number indicates the size of the investment opportunity in this segment.
Top Pre-K chains from all over the world have started setting up base in the UAE with the hope of expanding into the rest of the region. However, the current market remains fragmented. There are only four major players in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and minimal to no presence in the rest of the country.
The pre-K segment is primed for progress through investment in facilities, curricula and training. It would also benefit from the consolidation of single units and small groups into one or two large operator models that can leverage economies of scale in curriculum enhancement, teacher pooling, centralised training, extracurricular activities and ancillary services, such as transportation and meals.
Larger networks would also be perfectly positioned to introduce unique offerings for different market segments in terms of pricing (affordable/premium), curriculum (national/international/English-language) and cultural environment (co-ed/gender-segregated).
In addition, such networks will cater to the varied requirements of the UAE’s diverse population as well as address the marked differences in cultural values and income levels.
For instance, UAE nationals prefer single-gender schools with adequate provisions for Arabic and religious studies, while expatriates tend to favour gender-balanced schools offering international curricula.
As the UAE continues to transition away from its erstwhile energy dependency towards shaping a knowledge and technology-based economy, the pre-K segment presents solid investment opportunities that align with the needs of a country set to surpass the expectations of its own population and that of the global community.
Education continues to be a top priority in the UAE, and the Abu Dhabi Education Council is continuing to make great strides. All levels including tertiary are free (including at a growing number of private institutions) and over 80 percent of secondary school leavers avail themselves of the opportunity.
The three years at preparatory school that follow are compulsory. This marks the end of the mandatory schooling period – students are now free to study on, or find work.
There are two kinds of secondary schools. Ordinary secondary schools teach academic subjects aimed at a secondary school leaving certificate (the qualification for university education) for three years. Technical secondary schools are more specific skill focused – following their three years most students leave with a technical secondary diploma.
The UAE is determined to become an industrial heartland. A national qualifications authority coordinates the efforts of vocational skills training centres to ensure quality outcomes.
The UAE’s leading state universities are the United Arab Emirates (UAE) University, Zayed University and Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT).