In Search of Bilingual Education in Dubai’s Private K-12 Education Sector

  • Ziad Azzam

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


UAE nationals (‘Emiratis’) constitute less than 10% of the resident population of Dubai. Despite having access to free education in the public sector, where Arabic is the medium of instruction, more Emirati families in Dubai choose to enrol their children in private schools, specifically English-medium schools, than public ones, believing that they offer better teaching and learning, better English instruction, and better school leadership. There is growing concern among policy makers and Emirati parents that young Emiratis are in danger of becoming detached from their national language and culture. The regulatory authority for private schools, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), is encouraging the private sector to explore bilingual educational models. This enquiry seeks to establish the type of Arabic-English bilingual educational model that would suit the needs of Emirati families and to explore the circumstances by which it can take root in Dubai’s private K-12 sector. The design follows a mixed methods sequential two-phased design utilising multiple sources of data generated through: written arguments by a sample of 12 Emirati students selected from two schools (the qualitative phase), and a questionnaire directed at a broader set of Emirati students (the quantitative phase). The findings suggest a model built on four core principles: (1) explicit mention of bilingualism as a stated goal; (2) the use of Arabic and English as mediums of instruction, with subjects divided more or less equally between them; (3) the deployment of Arabic and English teachers in equal measure, or, alternatively, the utilisation of bilingual teachers; and (4) the promotion and use of Arabic in everyday tasks, both at home and in school. The findings also advocate that the model could assume any of Baker’s (2011) four strong forms: immersion, maintenance, dual language, or mainstream. To bring the model to fruition the government of Dubai should consider investing in the initial training and retraining of Emirati teachers with the end goal that these teachers would populate Dubai’s Arabic-English bilingual schools, while also partially funding scholarship programmes that would encourage Emirati parents to select bilingual schools over other types.
Date of Award19 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorNicola Savvides (Supervisor) & Robin Shields (Supervisor)


  • Bilingual education
  • Dubai
  • Private sector

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