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The Other Gap: Examining Low-Income Emiratis’ Educational Achievement

This working paper examines how low-income Emiratis are doing in secondary schools in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Using PISA 2015 data on Emiratis’ performance to assess academic performance in math, science, and reading, it disaggregates students’ performance by key student and school characteristics, including: family wealth, gender, school sector, and emirate. It finds strong evidence that low-income Emiratis are performing much worse than their middle and upper-income peers, and the gap between the top and bottom wealth quintiles is as large or larger than the gap between girls and boys. It argues that despite the significant attention paid to the male-female gender gap, this “other gap” – the wealth gap – also deserves attention. The findings also indicate that other student characteristics also shape performance: low-income boys are performing worse than low-income girls and private schools in general are serving low-income students better. However, there are also important differences in performance across emirates, with the Northern Emirates serving low-income students in the public sector better than Dubai, where low-income students seem to benefit more from being in the private sector. The second half of the paper examines low-income Emiratis’ home and school environments, and finds that low-income students are often uncomfortable in school and the recipients of negative attention from teachers and peers. The paper argues that low-income Emiratis are not being served well by the existing school system and policies must address the distinct needs of low-income Emiratis.


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