Stefan Pauli: Leading GESS into the Future

As he enters his second year in the role of principal at GESS, Stefan Pauli talks about the achievements, the strengths and the future for Singapore’s only German European school.
Stefan Pauli: Leading GESS into the Future
By Carli Allan
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When Stefan Pauli was appointed Principal at GESS in August 2021, he inherited the reigns of a not-for-profit international school that offers a choice of the German curriculum or IB programme under one roof. Home to 1,800 students, GESS is a German school abroad for some, an internationally-focused IB school for others.

Formerly principal for a vocational school in Germany (Walter-Eucken-Schule), Mr Pauli brought with him the experience of working within an education sector he describes as being “very organised regarding curriculum and exams, with a very clear definition of expectation and what teachers and students have to achieve”. 

In his first year, Mr Pauli has continued to build GESS’ reputation for being a very inclusive, international and non-selective school. He has further developed the school’s unique European connections to bring in science and engineering expertise from Europe to GESS. And he remains focused on helping to produce more students who are ready for tomorrow’s world.

Read our full review of GESS here.

As Mr Pauli settles into his second academic year at GESS, he talks to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com about what makes a truly international school, the future of education, and the importance of learning beyond the classroom.

A school of two halves?

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GESS is very much a European school and there is a 50:50 split between the fully English-speaking IB stream (IB) and German stream, a student body of more than 65 nationalities, and a wide choice of European language programmes. 

While GESS may be a school of two halves, it has a wonderfully united community and celebrates all nationalities. The general feedback from parents in our WhichSchoolAdvisor survey is that GESS’s strengths are its very international, European and close-knit community. And that’s something that Mr Pauli is fully behind. 

He arrived at the school in 2021 promising to spend the first 100 days learning more about the school rather than coming in with pre-planned changes. As he enters his second year, Mr Pauli remains focused on leading a very united a school where mixed groups work together for events such as project weeks, sports days or drama performances; and learning pods are shared in every grade between classrooms in both streams.

As Mr Pauli says:

“GESS is one school – we are a German European school. I am the principal of the whole school, not only the German stream.

“No other Singapore school can offer this unique combination of German and European pathways. There’s a huge advantage for our teachers, students and parents as both sections have a different culture, and they can learn from each other. We bring both the IB and German streams together while keeping the special culture in each one. 

“I do not want to make everything the same for everyone as that would be a disadvantage for the school. Instead, our teachers learn so much from each other, and the students learn from the differences within our school – and that is a big advantage of attending GESS.”

Giving students roots and wings

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While GESS was founded in 1971 as a German School in Singapore, since the addition of the English-speaking European section in 2005, it has developed into something truly international. 

“Our motto is ‘Celebrate your roots, discover your wings’. We celebrate the many diverse cultures here, while being open to different ideas and opinions and adapting to future trends to stay relevant,” explains Mr Pauli.

The truly international style of the IB is an excellent fit with the school’s multicultural community and the IB Learner Profile is embedded in GESS’ culture. 

For a genuinely inclusive, European-focused, all-through International Baccalaureate education that can deliver for children of all abilities, GESS does set a benchmark in Singapore. It offers a more relaxed than competitive learning environment to some other IB schools here, and parents frequently comment on its warm European feel where teachers are approachable, there’s an open door policy, and wellbeing is brought to the fore.

These are some of several reasons judges cited when GESS was Highly Commended in the WhichSchoolAdvisor Best Schools Awards 2022 for Best IB School.

In the 2022 IB results, the average score was 35.3. Since 2015, the school’s average IB score has ranged from 31 – 35, above global averages and in the mid-range for international schools in Singapore. The school may not have the highest (or the lowest) IB scores in Singapore, but it is known to be very inclusive, non-selective and has a very international focus, which is not something to be shown in any league tables.

Mr Pauli explains why he is not focused on achieving IB scores of 40-plus.

“There’s no problem getting high IB scores if you are a selective school and only take the very best students. However, at GESS we take students of all abilities and we are still achieving a high score of 35 – and we hope to reach 37 in the future. We are proud to be an inclusive, non-selective school and produce good IB Diploma results, which are an indication of the strength of our education and learning support.”

GESS’ German stream follows the German school curriculum, based on the curriculum of Baden-Württemberg in primary and Thüringen in secondary, and offers all German school leaving certificates. It’s ideal for German expats who plan to return to their home country for schooling or further education.

The strength of its German and IB pathways recently won GESS second place in the German School Prize Award 2022. The only overseas school to receive this award, GESS was recognised for its quality of teaching and focus on innovative concepts to help prepare students for the future world of work. 

When asked what he thinks makes GESS special, Mr Pauli said:

“The jury summed it up very well. We have overcome many challenges to eventually establish stability and operational viability in recent years, with multi-professional teams working towards the same goal and common good of GESS. We distinguish ourselves through forward-looking teaching, good team structures and a strong learning support centre, so that we can provide children with strong support, advice and encouragement.

"Also, we are a community, non -profit school, so all our money is reinvested in the provision of education for our students. And we have several mother tongue programmes, especially for North European languages."

GESS really values children's nationalities and home languages and offers outstanding mother tongue and foreign language programmes from pre-school onwards. IB students study in English and study German as a second language from Grades 1 to 10. Students also have the opportunity to learn a third language – French, Spanish, or Mandarin – as they progress through the IB programme. Another distinguishing feature of this school is its Danish and Dutch Mother Tongue Programmes, which are offered within the IB programme. This will appeal to any families planning to return to the Netherlands or Denmark or enrol in a university there.

Mr Pauli adds:

“We want to educate future global citizens, and we can do this by teaching more than one language. We say in German that ‘Languages open hearts’. If you can speak a foreign language then you are a guest and not a foreigner.”

Learning beyond the classroom

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GESS partners with organisations such as BMW Group Asia as part of its Beyond Classrooms programme

Unshackled from a single national curriculum, GESS has the freedom to redesign its curriculum – and it is one of the city’s most forward-thinking schools when it comes to preparing students for the jobs of the future. Mr Pauli explains why.

“My focus is on vocational training. I don’t remember a single physics lesson from my time at school, but I do remember when we learnt beyond the classroom – going on class trips, working outdoors and so on. 

“We have to prepare our students for the future world of work, but we don’t know what that will look like yet in this fast-changing world. We have to teach more than subject knowledge because that can disappear – students need other competencies. They need to learn beyond the classroom.

“We have a strong approach to STEM at GESS. We offer very practical, hands-on training to all students so that they connect with industries, professionals and frontrunners in the fields of science, technology and engineering and learn beyond the limits of a classroom."

GESS offers a unique two-year Junior Engineering Academy programme as an after-school activity for students who are really interested in engineering (GESS students have worked on a sustainable Tiny House that will be used as a classroom for tuition, a Drone Taxi, and a PC-Upcycling). Most recently, it launched a BeyondClassrooms programme, which offers students internship opportunities, industry talks, mentorship and career guidance. 

Mr Pauli explains how the school is ensuring that students are fully prepared and equipped with the skills required for 21st Century jobs.

"BeyondClassrooms, an exclusive GESS programme, offers internships, mentorship paths, project guidance, industry talks, plant visits, career counselling, and more – helping our students to reach their fullest potential and preparing our students for future studies, work life and giving them a competitive edge.
 
"GESS is fortunate to partner with world leading organisations such as BMW Group Asia, AI-driven fish farms specialist BluCurrent, global sustainable technology expert Danfoss, leading specialty chemicals company Evonik, Technical University of Munich (TUM) Asia and urban air mobility specialist Volocopter – just to name a few.

“Lectures from visiting speakers can open students’ eyes to why they are learning physics, for example. They can understand what it means to be a managing director or a marketing director. It makes them curious to learn more about these jobs – and gives them a better idea of how to get there.” 

The future

GESS

For a school that has its sights set so firmly on the future of education – what can we expect from the classrooms of tomorrow here? GESS is currently finalising a new five-year strategic plan for the school which it says will “be meaningfully engaged”.

“We will pay even more attention to the teaching and learning of our students, with the keywords being “personalised learning”. Existing programmes will be reviewed to see how they can be further developed and improved,” says Mr Pauli.

“We will investigate more vocational training programmes, and we are talking about the possibility of introducing the IB Career-related Programme. We are also looking for 100 internships for our Year 9 students for next spring to help them grasp the changing career opportunities open to them.”

We can also expect to see an “environmentally-friendly transformation” of the school. Located close to the beautiful leafy green Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the campus has plenty of environmentally friendly features such as a green façade with vertical greener, a rooftop butterfly garden, and a rainwater-harvesting system.

But this is not enough, as Mr Pauli explains.

“A school has to be a role model for its students, and we need to show them how we can all reduce, reuse and recycle. It’s not only about saving costs but showing the students what we can do to reduce food waste, water consumption, energy and much more.”

And finally, any discussion of the future needs to reflect on the past – and this has to include the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Covid-19 showed us the importance of digitalisation and the importance of having 21st century skills such as critical thinking, co-operation and communication. It comes back to the fact that students have to learn more than subject knowledge," says Mr Pauli.

“New technology is very good for supporting individualised learning and looking ahead we have to use these opportunities more – and at GESS, we will.”

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