Reading Time: 5 minutes

Dubai’s international schools are undergoing a transformative period, marked by a significant influx of students with English as an Additional Language (EAL). This shift not only mirrors the city’s rich multicultural tapestry but also presents educators with a myriad of challenges and opportunities. What is driving this surge, and what evidence-based strategies can be used to address the unique needs of EAL students both academically and socially and emotionally? Why is the role of whole school buy-in so critical in fostering linguistic inclusivity? Let’s explore further.

Dubai’s Dynamic Population Growth and what it means for International schools:

Before delving into effective, evidence-based strategies for teaching English as an Additional Language (EAL), it’s crucial to recognize Dubai’s dynamic population growth post-Covid. Recent data ( reveals that Dubai’s population reached 3,604,030 in 2023, marking an impressive 5.65% increase from 2020’s 3,411,200. This demographic shift has highlighted the urgent need for adaptable and inclusive educational approaches to cater to the evolving needs of a diverse student body. What has led to this growth?

The surge in population can be attributed to a focus on global education and English as a universal language, drawing enrolment from non-English-speaking countries. Additionally, inclusive government policies in the United Arab Emirates contribute to increased enrolment of students from diverse linguistic backgrounds in mainstream schools. As millions face displacement due to conflict and persecution, ensuring access to quality education for children and young people remains a critical global priority.

Catering to the Needs of EAL Students: Evidence-Based Approaches

Academic Needs

To address the linguistic needs of EAL students amidst this demographic evolution, evidence-based approaches provide invaluable insights. Language-integrated content Instruction intertwines subject matter and language development for effective acquisition, recognizing that language proficiency flourishes when students engage meaningfully with academic content. Explicit Vocabulary Instruction proves beneficial, employing visuals, real-world examples, and repeated exposure to enhance both language proficiency and academic success.

Differentiated Instruction and assessment tailor teaching and assessment methods to individual needs, ensuring a supportive and inclusive learning environment for diverse language proficiency levels. As educators, let us think of alternative ways we can monitor progress. Can our students present verbally before being tasked with written work? How can we support them to demonstrate understanding? A school environment that fosters peer collaboration and language buddies promotes a collaborative environment for language development and cultural understanding. In addition, by pairing EAL students with proficient English speakers who model good examples of the English language, we can further support our EAL learners.

With this changing demographic professional development for teachers is crucial and correlates positively with the academic achievement of EAL students. Ongoing training in EAL pedagogy ensures educators remain equipped with the latest research-based strategies. Collaborative professional development can also prove beneficial and can help uncover and exchange language-learning supportive tech tools such as video captioning programmes or real-time translators for classroom use. It also creates a supportive community, allowing educators to feel connected and inspired by their peers.

  • Social Emotional Needs

Meeting the social-emotional needs of English as an Additional Language (EAL) students requires a careful and deliberate approach, highlighting the significance of cultural sensitivity and personalized support mechanisms. Essential to this is a shift in mindsets among both educators and students, emphasizing the value of all voices regardless of linguistic or cultural background. Researching and sharing information about the cultures of ELL students’ home countries can enhance instructional approaches and align them with students’ identities and background knowledge. Celebrating and encouraging the continued use of the home language is also proven to improve attainment in the additional language as cognitive connections can be made.

For EAL students, who may be navigating a new cultural and linguistic landscape, social-emotional learning provides a foundation for a positive and inclusive learning environment. EAL students often face challenges related to cultural adaptation and integration, and a curriculum with a focus on SEL helps them manage the emotional aspects of cultural transitions, fosters a sense of belonging and reduces feelings of isolation.

Furthermore, the development of strong teacher-student relationships is fundamental in helping EAL students integrate and feel confident and comfortable to experiment with language without fear of retribution and/or ridicule. In an international EAL context, where students may come from diverse backgrounds, establishing positive connections is essential for effective communication and learning. Improved communication fosters a supportive environment for language development. Creating a sense of community and inclusion is vital. EAL students thrive when they feel valued and respected, contributing positively to their self-esteem and sense of belonging in the school community.

Maslow Before Bloom in International EAL Teaching: A Holistic Approach

Bloom’s Taxonomy is often used as a framework for defining educational objectives. However, a more holistic approach of Maslow before Bloom emphasizes the importance of addressing students’ psychological and emotional needs before diving into cognitive processes and can have a significant impact on EAL students’ attainment. Before engaging in cognitive activities outlined in Bloom’s Taxonomy (such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation), students need to be emotionally ready. Addressing their social and emotional needs prepares them for more complex cognitive tasks. Furthermore, language acquisition research dictates that when learning a new language, the acquisition is heightened when the affective filter, i.e., negative feelings such as lack of motivation, lack of self-confidence and anxiety, is lowered. Therefore, a sense of safety, belonging and inclusion is essential before any meaningful learning can take place.

Shifting Mindsets, High Yet Realistic Expectations, Language Across the Curriculum- A Whole School Approach:

Shifting mindsets within the educational community involves fostering a collective understanding of the importance of linguistic diversity. Educators should view linguistic differences not as obstacles but as valuable assets that contribute to a richer learning environment. Our EAL students should have high yet realistic expectations which recognize their potential while acknowledging the diverse challenges they may face. It’s about creating an environment that encourages ambition and growth while providing the necessary support structures.

Embedding language across the curriculum is a fundamental aspect of promoting inclusivity. This means integrating language development into all subjects, ensuring that language is not treated as a separate entity but as an integral part of the learning process. It requires collaboration among subject teachers, language specialists, and support staff to create a cohesive approach that benefits all students.
As Dubai’s international schools continue to evolve, embracing linguistic diversity emerges not just as a challenge but as a transformative opportunity for educators to shape a more inclusive and globally aware generation.

In conclusion, addressing the needs of EAL students in Dubai’s international schools involves a multifaceted approach. Understanding the reasons behind the growth of EAL, implementing evidence-based strategies, securing whole-school buy-in, and navigating ethical considerations are key elements in creating inclusive and supportive learning environments. This comprehensive approach, complemented by shifting mindsets, maintaining high yet realistic expectations, and embedding language across the curriculum, empowers students for success in an ever-evolving, globalized world.