In 1968, the first public Kindergarten was established in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). By 1973, there were seven kindergartens throughout the UAE. The number of students in kindergarten has increased dramatically since 1973, from 11 schools in 1973, to 82 in 1993. Today there are 1 092 kindergarten classrooms serving the needs of 22 506 children. This paper provides an historical overview of kindergarten education in the UAE as it has transitioned from an informal to a formal system. The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the development of kindergarten within the UAE as well as provide a description of the kindergarten system today and future directions as proposed by the UAE Ministry of Education.
Over the centuries, there have been different series of goals, aims and purposes for educating children, with each society shaping the goals of educating its' citizens (Lascarides & Hinitz, 2000). The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has followed this same path in shaping public kindergarten education (Academy for Educational Development, 2002). Public kindergartens in the UAE follow the originating philosophy embedded within the name kindergarten, referring to children needing nurturance and the right environment in order to grow and flourish. Viewing young children as active, curious and learning about their environment through active inquiry provides a foundation for curriculum development (Badri, 1995; Coppie & Bredekamp, 2009). Factors that have greatly influenced UAE education policy are embedded in Article 17 of the UAE's constitution (2003-2005), which states education is fundamental to the progress of the country. The overarching objective of the education system follows the directives of federal government leaders who put great emphasis on the development of human potential.
The federation of seven sheikhdoms withdrew from the United Kingdom, forming the United Arab Emirates, in 1971. At that time, the Ministry of Education was founded and schools were formed in order to teach students basic skills and develop literacy skills. Historically, the UAE was a country of Bedouins and small villages and was dependent on fishing and trade. Today the UAE remains a relatively small country with a population of a little more than 5.66 million (UAE Ministry of Information and Culture, 2009). The most recent figures indicate that non-Nationals (or expatriates) comprise the largest segment of the population, 81.7 percent (UAE Ministry of Information and Culture, 2009). By definition, Nationals are UAE citizens and Non-nationals is the term used to refer to expatriates who reside in the UAE and work through temporary resident visa status.
The story of education in the UAE started when early communities were created within the current UAE region. It was between 1900 and 1912 that informal educational activities were presented by Islamic scholars, or people in local communities who had the most knowledge. This informal teaching was open to all ages, especially children. They learned the Qur'an, writing the alphabet, math and whatever knowledge the Mutawwa (teacher) decided to teach (Al Taboor, 2009). This was the first form of education that was available in these early years. These early teachings took place in the scholar's home or the mosque. It is interesting to note that the Mutawwa would refrain from taking the young children to the mosque so that they would not make a mess in the mosque and disturb the studies of older children. Therefore, education for young children took place in the scholar's home. In addition, all children from both genders were in the same classroom. Today, segregating male and female students begins in 4th grade.
The parents and the teachers negotiated fees based on the financial status of the parents. However, on average fees were roughly 50 FiIs (100 fils = 1 Dirham, which is similar to 100 cents = $1). …