Dubai, UAE

Linda Garner
Laurie Sealy
Fatima Buali
Luke Naismith
Mariam Al Ali
Mohammed Mazheruddin
Knowledge and Human Development Authority

Language and Literacy

The national language in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is Arabic. Standard Arabic is used for printed matter and for official and formal purposes, although English and several Asian languages also are used widely, particularly in commerce. Statistics from 2015 estimate the population of Dubai at 2.44 million with an annual growth rate of more than 5 percent.1 National Emirati citizens account for approximately 10 percent of the population, with the remainder originating from the rest of the Arab world, the Indian subcontinent, the Far East, Europe, and elsewhere. In public schools, mathematics and science are taught in Arabic; in private schools, these subjects are taught in the school’s language of instruction, which primarily is English. The multicultural nature of Dubai means that students in some international schools will be taught in English, though more than 50 languages serve as students’ first languages.

In 2007 to 2008, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, an independent educational board, launched the first phase of its My Language My Identity project to encourage the habit of reading in Arabic among elementary school students. Every public elementary school was issued a library of approximately 40 book titles. A group of Arab education specialists, Arabic language teachers, and Arabic language supervisors translated into Arabic selected books that have since been approved by education ministries in numerous Arab countries. The project was aimed at reviving the culture of reading in Arabic among students. Events such as the Dubai Literary Festival, the Million Book Challenge, and the Year of Reading in 2015–2016 also promote a culture of reading among students in public and private schools.

While overall literacy rates in Dubai are comparable to the average of those of developed countries, literacy rates of the emirate’s citizens—more specifically, of boys—still are a priority. The Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau reported that students in public and private schools in Dubai have weaker skills in Arabic reading and writing than in speaking and listening. This was corroborated by the performance of 15‑year‑old students in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2009 and 2012.2 Most students in public schools scored below those in private schools in reading, and well below the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average. Private schools, including Indian and United Kingdom curriculum schools, showed an improvement in the average reading score from 2012 to 2015.3 Girls outperformed boys in reading in almost all curricular schools.