High levels of happiness and well-being have wide benefits for individuals, and more broadly for the performance of education systems, the economy and society. As a result, in recent years, there has been growing interest on how education systems can support students’, teachers’ and other non-teaching staff’s well-being. The COVID-19 crisis has further strengthened this trend. While this is in part because the pandemic has aggravated well-being challenges worldwide, it also reflects a better understanding and recognition of the broader value and role of education institutions and relationships. With institutional closures, education institutions have clearly emerged as more than a space for learning. Schools can also foster social relationships and nurturing environments that promote individuals’ well-being and help them reach their full potential.

As measures to monitor and strengthen well-being in education have emerged across the OECD and beyond, it has become possible to take a comparative perspective on the matter, benchmarking countries’ experiences with well-being policies, identifying key policy challenges and how they relate to countries and economies’ wider socio-economic context, as well as promising practices. At the national or local level, looking beyond one’s borders can help inform more effective policy design, implementation and monitoring, all of which can, in turn, ultimately, help strengthen well-being in education.

It was with this intention that the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) requested that the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills undertake an in-depth review of the Emirate of Dubai’s private school sector’s well-being policies and practices. In recent years, KHDA and Dubai’s private schools have pursued a number of initiatives to increase levels of happiness and well-being across the sector. Such efforts have helped raise awareness of the importance of well-being across the sector. More importantly, they have encouraged school leaders, teachers, parents and students to better understand the concept of well-being, not only in the form of daily habits but also as a long-term commitment for themselves and the system as a whole. However, in spite of their best efforts and intentions, stakeholders often lack the necessary guidance, information, skills or resources to implement meaningful and impactful well-being policies and practices.

This review argues that more is needed to translate stakeholders’ growing understanding and commitment into more effective change in Dubai’s classrooms and schools that supports improvements. The next steps in the Emirate’s well-being journey call for new strategies, and a re-examination of the organisation’s priorities, activities and stakeholder engagement methods. Our report provides suggestions on how KHDA, together with key stakeholders, can meet these challenges.

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