British or American Curriculum in the UAE: Which to Choose?

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British or American Curriculum in the UAE: Which to Choose?

by TheTuitionE - on

2024-06-07 02:54:00

British or American Curriculum in the UAE: Which to Choose?

British schools are the most popular choice for students in the UAE, with 36% of the students enrolled in British schools. However, a report by the ‘Knowledge and Human Development Authority’ reveals that 60% of students who are enrolled in private schools go to American schools and prefer the American curriculum. This is followed by a significantly smaller percentage of 24% of the students enrolled at British private schools.


How can we explain this disparity and how parents choose between the British or American curriculum in the UAE? This article will be a detailed guide to American and British curricula, the distinctions between the two, which one is better, and why. 

What is the British curriculum in the UAE?


The British curriculum is the national curriculum of England, which more than 160 countries have adopted. Internationally, schools implement the British curriculum through the Cambridge curriculum. The curriculum consists of distinctions in grades through early stages and key stages. 


Children start school from the age of 3 years, which is the early foundation years, up to the age of 5. After this, students evolve through Key Stages 1 to 4. The British curriculum has a unique system of assessments, especially for students who graduate from school. These exit examinations are called the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education). 


The IGCSE is an external examination that prepares students who want to study in England or abroad. Students exiting Grade 10 take the O-level IGCSE exam, while 11th and 12th-grade students take the subsidiary A and A-level exams. 


IGCSE is conducted by three bodies in the UAE: Cambridge, Edexcel, and Oxford AQA. There is little to no difference between the exams conducted by the three bodies, with similarities in the subjects offered and their contents. However, the patterns and styles of questions may differ since they are modified every year. 


Through this article, you will be able to decide if this is the right curriculum for children in the UAE

What is the American curriculum in the UAE?


The American curriculum in the UAE is based on the education system that is implemented in America. Children start formal education at the age of 5, unlike the British curriculum, where the foundation years start at age 3. Children in the US do attend preschool, but it’s not part of a formal education. 


The American curriculum in the UAE is structured into distinct stages or cycles. The initial stage covers kindergarten (KG1 and KG2). Following that, the first cycle encompasses grades 1 through 4, while the second cycle spans grades 5 to 8. The third and final cycle comprises grades 9 to 12, culminating in high school graduation. 


The American curriculum follows the U.S. Common Core State Standards for the core subjects. These new standards implemented in the US were meant to universalise the knowledge that was being provided in textbooks in different schools. Children under the American curriculum study a massive range of subjects. 

The core subjects include English, math, science, humanities, language and arts, and physical education. Elective subjects include design, drama and theatre, music, technology, etc. The American curriculum places equal importance on all academic subjects, recognising their collective value in a well-rounded education. 


Students under the American curriculum are assessed through an option of multiple exams such as the SAT, the AP, and the ACT. 


Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT): The culminating exam for American high school seniors is a gateway to university admissions. Recognised domestically and internationally, the SAT evaluates English reading and writing abilities. Mathematical aptitude across various areas is also thoroughly assessed. Success on this exam enhances the chances of higher education acceptance. SAT isn’t recognised by universities in Arab countries but is a gateway for universities abroad. 


Advanced Placement (AP): The College Board oversees and administers the SAT exams in the United States. AP exams, managed by the same organisation, are more comprehensive and demanding compared to the SAT, often necessitating rigorous preparation. These exams cover content equivalent to first-year university courses, making them more challenging. Students need to excel in only three AP subjects for their certificate to be recognised as a high school diploma.


ACT: The ACT exam, created by the American ACT organisation, is widely accepted for university admission in the US and several Arab nations. Unlike the SAT, the ACT assesses students across four core subjects: English language, reading, science, and mathematics. 


Through this article, you will be able to decide if this is the right curriculum for children in the UAE

American versus British Curriculum in the UAE


This comparison of British and American curriculum will help you understand which one is better for your child. Once you understand the differences between the two, you will be able to see the distinctions between the teaching patterns, philosophies, what to choose with the goal your child has for future education, etc. 


The comparison of British and American curriculum


  • Framework

The structure and organisation of curricula play a crucial role in shaping the educational journey. The American curriculum follows a four-tiered framework: kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and high school. These levels correspond to specific developmental stages and milestones, facilitating a smooth transition between phases.


In contrast, the British curriculum adopts a different approach, dividing the educational path into distinct stages known as the Early Foundation Years and Key Stages 1 through 4. Each stage is characterised by well-defined learning objectives and subject progressions, which are more linear. This contrasts with the American curriculum's greater flexibility and adaptability.

  • Philosophy


The American curriculum finds its foundation in the US National Common Core Standards, emphasising an integrative approach that blends practical skills with academic knowledge. This model values critical thinking, problem-solving, and real-world application alongside academic proficiency.


In contrast, the British curriculum, developed by the National Curriculum of England, embraces a more traditional and structured learning methodology. Its focus leans towards academic rigour and exam preparation, with a lesser emphasis on interdisciplinary learning compared to its American counterpart.

  • Assessments


Assessments play a pivotal role in the educational process, and understanding their mechanics and impact on future success is crucial. The American approach to assessment emphasises project-based assignments and feedback, with the grade point average (GPA) reflecting a student's overall academic achievement and skill development. Furthermore, standardised exit exams like the SAT, AP, and ACT significantly influence a student's prospects for university admission.


In contrast, the British curriculum places greater emphasis on standardised assessments, notably the IGCSE, O-Level, and A-Level examinations. These assessments are designed to measure academic proficiency and determine educational outcomes. These two approaches to learning and assessment are distinctly different, each serving its purpose within their respective educational systems, as detailed in the previous sections.


Through this section, you will be able to decide if this is the right curriculum for children in the UAE


Which curriculum should you choose for your child’s effective learning?


There is no single answer to this question because it wholly depends on your child’s learning abilities and their future plans for higher education.


Here are three factors to consider before choosing between the British or American curriculum in the UAE:


  1. The student’s learning style.
  2. The educational and assessment approach of the adopted curriculum.
  3. The future plans for university education (important for high school students only; if your child is in kindergarten, this is not a concern)

The advantage of choosing the American curriculum in the UAE: If your child does not like sticking to one subject or stream, then the American curriculum is a much better option, as it is less rigid in subject selection. Your child can explore their interest in different subjects through this curriculum. It is also a better choice if your child wants to go to the US for university. 


The advantage of choosing the British curriculum in the UAE is that if you want your child to start formal education sooner, then the British curriculum is designed for you. Students start their foundation years at the age of 3. It is also better to choose the British curriculum if your child is interested in activity-based learning. 




Parents should choose a curriculum for their children that suits their requirements. If your child is interested in studying in America, the American curriculum is beneficial. While the British curriculum is beneficial if your child wants to study in the UK, So before choosing between the British or American curriculum in the UAE, think through all the different factors. 


The best part is that even though the exit exams for both curricula are tough to crack, we have several resources available. At TuitionE, our expert tutors have helped thousands of students crack the IGCSE, the SAT, the AP, and the ACT. Contact us today to book a free demo class. 

Written by :- Debanjali Sarkar