This all-through school, which is owned by the global education group GEMS, offers a full IB education at a modern campus in Yishun and distinguishes itself from the rest by offering a choice of the IBDP or IBCP, teaching violin and cello to all primary students, running four sports academies, and having a dedicated design centre.
There are seven full IB schools offering all three programmes in Singapore – but only one international school that offers the IB continuum and a choice of the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) or the IB Career-related Programme (IBCP). This school is GEMS World Academy (Singapore).
When GEMS opened in 2014 it faced competition from other IB continuum schools including Canadian International School (Lakeside Campus), Stamford American International School, GESS and ISS International School Singapore (High School). It also opened alongside Dulwich College (Singapore), a selective school offering a much more British education.
What GEMS has managed to achieve in just five short years, though, is to focus on several key academic and non-academic areas that distinguish it from the rest. Top of this list is the option to study the rigorous and broad IBDP or the career-focused IBCP in either the arts or aviation. GEMS also offers a specialist sports programme that includes four elite training academies. And it runs a varied arts programme that includes violin or cello lessons for every primary student. Other standout features of this school include an impressive design centre, its commitment to working closely with parents, and a strong focus on languages.
The school community
Located in Yishun, GEMS has the capacity for 1,400 students, and it currently enrols around 975 students. It’s one of Singapore’s mid-sized schools – large enough to offer a well-equipped campus with a wide variety of courses but still small enough to have a close-knit community. There are plans, however, to extend the school at its existing site with a Phase 2 building, which will increase its capacity to 2,500. While this still keeps the school smaller than the likes of SAS, Tanglin Trust and CIS, it will be interesting to see if GEMS can hold onto the strong community spirit that really shines through at this school.
GEMS enrols students from two to 18 years. In a positive step towards supporting parents with children of different ages, GEMS opened its two Little GEMS nursery classes in January 2019; this means there is a much easier pick up schedule for families who have older children.
There are four to five classes per grade in the primary school, and three to four in the secondary years. Class sizes are 14 in nursery, 16 in kindergarten, 24 in Grades 1-5, and there’s always two teachers in every class; from Grades 6-12 there is one teacher and classes are capped at 24. This means that GEMS has one of the lowest teacher to student ratios for the PYP in Singapore.
Reflective of its name, GEMS World Academy has a very diverse, international community made up of more than 60 nationalities making it one of the most demographically diverse and truly international schools in Singapore. The largest group of student nationalities are Indian, Australian, British, America and Japanese.
GEMS is authorised by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) to offer all three IB programmes – the Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP). In addition to the MYP, middle school students can opt to sit IGCSE exams (and most students here do). The school is also the only one in Singapore, apart from School of the Arts Singapore (SOTA), to offer the IBCP. This alternative to the IBDP is specifically developed for students who want to focus on career-related learning, and it is the equivalent of the UK's BTEC, although with a distinctly more academic shell.
Teaching all three IB programmes can be an advantage – and GEMS strongly believes the PYP and MYP is the best – and most rigorous – preparation for the demands of the IBDP or the IBCP. Led by a principal with extensive experience of working in the IB programme worldwide, and with a team of teachers with an IB background, GEMS is committed to this internationally recognised curriculum.
The primary school delivers the PYP, which is based on six Units of Enquiry – Who we are, Where we are in place and time, How the world works, Sharing the planet, How we express ourselves and How we organise ourselves. GEMS promises that that learning “is not confined within the boundaries of traditional subject areas” and all subjects (mathematics, languages, science, social studies, personal, social and PE, technology, music and art – are taught through integrated units.
In the secondary school, Grades 6-10 complete the MYP and the externally moderated MYP Personal Project alongside IGCSE courses; students can choose to opt out of taking these exams but the majority don’t. Compared to other international schools in Singapore, GEMS offers a limited number of IGCSEs in English (first language), English literature, French, Spanish, Mandarin, science and maths. However, it’s important to remember that students are studying the MYP as well, so the IGCSEs can be seen as a valuable ‘add-on’. And for parents who may be concerned about the lack of measurement in the MYP, IGCSEs do provide them with exam results.
From Grade 10, students are offered university and careers advice by the on-campus counsellor. This advice comes at a critical time when students can choose whether to follow the IBDP or IBCP pathway. IBDP students can select courses from a decent offering of 44 different subjects, with a wide choice of languages and experimental sciences (including sport and design technology).
GEMS launched the IBCP in 2018, and it has partnered with the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to offer an art and design programme that covers areas including fashion, architecture, fine art and graphic design. In August 2019, it will launch a second IBCP in partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which will focus on aeronautics, aeronautical engineering and aviation business administration. It’s interesting to see GEMS branch out with the IB’s vocational programme, something we’ve also seen at three GEMS schools in the UAE.
While IB schools such as SAIS and CIS root their IB education in US or Canadian culture and standards, GEMS is committed to delivering a more international education – and this makes sense at a school that’s not focused on appealing to one dominant nationality. In keeping with the internationality of the IB programmes and the very wide mix of nationalities at GEMS, the school has a strong focus on languages with Mandarin, French and Spanish on the curriculum. Students study Mandarin until Grade 1, when can they choose to continuing studying Mandarin or switch to Spanish or French classes. GEMS also offers after-school mother tongue classes in French, Mandarin, Spanish and Japanese from Grades 1 to 10.
In addition to offering the core IB curriculum, GEMS has an iSTEAM (Innovation & Inquiry in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) programme. There are many variations of STEM and STEAM in modern education and GEMS has labelled its own approach to implementing “project-based learning that can increase student interest in science, technology, engineering, art and maths by involving students in solving authentic problems, working with others, and building real solutions”. iSTEAM is not a lesson and it’s not a facility ¬ but it does suggest that the school is taking an active approach towards innovation and inquiry across all subjects.
“We want students to innovate in what they’re learning and then use inquiry techniques to solve problems.”
Technology and innovation
As mentioned before, GEMS has made a commitment to using technology and innovative thinking through its iSTEAM programme. To help support this, there’s a 1:1 iPad programme from Grades 1-5, and 1:1 iMac laptop from Grades 6-12. As much as the school is using technology to augment learning, it is also focused on teaching students the responsible usage of technology.
The school also has the facilities to foster innovation – STEM labs and its ‘’jewel in the crown’, a 630 sq m Design Centre with seven creative workshops. Fully equipped with hammers, saws, laser cutters, pottery wheels, 3D printers, forges, robotics kits and sewing machines, this design centre is an inspirational space for students to study design and technology courses throughout the IB’s Middle Years and Diploma Programmes. It is also taking students out of a typical classroom environment to study the IBCP.
Beyond the classroom
The academic programme extends well beyond the classroom. To support the IB’s focus on service and global issues, the school organises monthly visits to an elderly home, fundraising activities, school staples such as bake sales to raise money, and environmental projects such as a Beach Clean Up.
GEMS also runs a Week Without Walls (WWW) programme, designed to help students from Grades 6-11 become more internationally minded and better global citizens. During WWW, students engage in sustainable service projects, gain awareness of the issues that transcend national borders, and develop an understanding of issues such as poverty, indigenous people and environmental degradation and preservation.
In common with most GEMS schools worldwide, it also offers a wide range of extra-curricular activities including sport, science, language, media, and art activities, among others. These include free and paid-for activities for children in KG 2 through to Grade 12.
“We’re still at that size where we can’t offer absolutely everything, but we can offer enough to accommodate different interests.”
Sport and the arts
In addition to timetabled PE and swimming lessons, students can attend after-school sports clubs, compete in one of many school sports teams, or be selected for one of GEMS’ Sports Academy Programmes – the Athlete Programme, Rugby 7s Academy, Swimming Academy and Triathlon Academy. It’s these academy programmes that really make GEMS stand out from the crowd in terms of sport – and this an opportunity for elite athletes to train, and learn about nutrition, strength training, sleep and recovery. Other schools offering similar programmes include Australian International School (AIS), Nexus International School, Dulwich College (Singapore), and Singapore Sports School.
“We bring in professional athletes several times a year to train those students who have a particular aptitude for these sports. Our PE teachers then bridge the gap in between those sessions to help students push themselves to new heights and challenge them to develop their skills.”
For those students with a more creative streak, art, music and theatre are taught throughout the PYP and MYP, and students can choose art and theatre courses in the Diploma Programme. It’s the primary music programme that really stands out here as all Grade 1-5 students take an annual six-week string instrument course in the violin or cello lessons. Other music classes see them playing the drums, steel drums and various Orff percussion instruments. There’s also an option to take 1:1 music lessons during the school day as a paid-for extra-curricular activity.
In addition to hosting annual school performances offering various arts ECAs, the school hosts an annual Arts Week with visiting artists.
GEMS Singapore is part of the global GEMS group, which has schools in Europe, North America, Asia, the Middle-East and Africa. While GEMS is a very well-known brand of education in the UAE, where parents have the choice of 48 schools, it does not have that recognition or presence in Singapore. This was GEMS Education’s first venture into South East Asia and it will be interesting to track how the school follows the lead of other World Academies in the group.
Leadership and faculty
At the helm is principal Richard Henry, an Australian educator with extensive experience in the IB programme worldwide. He joined GEMS Singapore in August 2017.
There are 28 different nationalities of teachers, and there was a low 2% turnover of staff in the last academic year which is a strong reflection of the positive environment at GEMS.
“We don’t hire anyone who has less than 10 years international teaching experience and they must have IB experience.”
Campus and facilities
GEMS World Academy is one of only a few international schools in the north-east corner of Singapore (another being Sir Manasseh Meyer International School). But while it may be a 30-minute drive from Orchard Road and the CBD, it is well-connected to all corners of Singapore by road and the MRT – and attracts families from every direction.
As you’d expect from a new, purpose-built school GEMS has cutting-edge facilities and modern classrooms. The school is housed in a well-designed, attractive and spacious campus, where all students have access to an Olympic-sized swimming pool, sports pitch, gym with a climbing wall, auditorium, STEM labs, design centre, music and art rooms, and a canteen. There is also a parent café and quiet zone for parents to work in.
GEMS celebrated its first IB graduating cohort of 18 students in July 2018 with an average score of 31.33, which is higher than the global average of 29.78. Students went to universities in the US, Australia Switzerland, the UK and France.
Admission and fees
The standard of facilities at GEMS need to be paid for, of course. However, while GEMS World Academies have a reputation for being among the most expensive schools in the UAE, tuition fees at GEMS Singapore are in the mid-range here. Fees range from $21,570 for a full day in nursery to $33,200 in Grade 1, $39,270 in Grade 6, and $40,640 in Grade 11.
GEMS is one of several schools in Singapore to offer full and partial tuition scholarships, but the choice here is more varied and is open to both primary and secondary students. Tuition fee reductions of 25, 50, 75 or 100% are offered to students who excel in academia, the arts, sport, community service.
As one of Singapore’s newest schools – it has only been open for five years – it is still establishing itself here. And the good news for parents is that places are still available in most if not all grades.
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