Located at the heart of a residential district in north-eastern Yishun, GEMS World Academy (Singapore) looks every bit the modern, international campus. From its GEMS-branded sign through to its contemporary steel, glass and concrete exterior, this school makes a strong first impression. A school is much more than bricks and mortar though, and it’s not until you walk into the grand entrance of this all-through school that you really get a sense of its strong community spirit and internationalism.
Similar in design to other GEMS World Academies worldwide, this campus has a large, modern lobby area with a parent café and a desk for the parent-relations executives.
“For all GEMS World Academies, the connection between school, parent and student is fundamental to the whole ethos of how we do things. I don’t think there’s a school that involves the parents in the way GEMS ways or accommodates them in the same way.”
It’s a bold claim, but one that is backed up during our visit. We saw parents drinking coffee after the morning drop off, others working on laptops in a quiet parent room, and two parent-relations executives (both paid positions) dealing with all parent enquiries at a dedicated desk by the entrance. Parents play a key role here – whether attending regular PTA meetings, organising school events, attending one of many parent workshops, or joining the audience for their child’s weekly assembly.
“When joining GEMS, it’s not just about the student joining a school, it’s about the family joining a school community.”
GEMS also prides itself on being a “truly international” school – and the flags hanging from the ceiling in the entrance hall celebrate every nationality represented at the school.
“We don’t have any one dominant nationality, but we are dominated by Singapore’s five top nationalities: American, Australian, British, Indian and the Japanese. We have about 10% of each of those nationalities.”
Students are greeted with words including innovative, imaginative, creative, communicators and resilient, which brighten up the large white walls of this atrium. As well as helping to build a positive school culture by inspiring and motivating its students, GEMS is reinforcing the messages that define what this IB school really stands for. This positive tone is continued throughout the campus through colourful displays that put student work in the spotlight.
Read our full review of GEMS World Academy (Singapore) here.
GEMS has a well-planned, well-maintained and spacious campus, with ample room and facilities for its current student body of 975 children. We found the school easy to navigate and pleasant to walk around; whole-school facilities are located on the ground floor, and then there are six floors of classrooms and specialist facilities including science labs, art studios, drama studios and language rooms.
As you’d expect from a school that’s only five years old and purpose-built, it is contemporary and fresh. For example, the outdoor play areas are equipped with colourful, modern and age-appropriate climbing structures. There are state-of-the-art specialist facilities that really immerse students in fields such as design, the arts and sport. And there are shelves, drawers and desks filled with the latest learning resources. It may not have the charm of older schools or the glitz and glamour of some newer schools, but it does feel friendly and functional.
Although this school is part of the GEMS group, you don’t feel as if you are walking into a cookie-cutter version of a GEMS school – and you’re not overwhelmed by GEMS branding and messages, which can make a school feel far too corporate. That’s not to say that it doesn’t take full advantage of being part of a such a large global education group. All GEMS World Academy Schools are connected in various ways. We heard how students connect by video-link up with their peers as far afield as Chicago and Switzerland; French students visit the Swiss campus on an exchange trip; and, most recently, swimmers and athletes competed in a GWA Olympiad in Dubai.
GEMS certainly seems well-equipped to deliver the IB’s enquiry-based, cross-curricular approach to learning, and the breadth and depth of study at diploma level. As you’d expect in any IB school, every grade has a cluster of classrooms around a learning pod that’s used for individual and group work.
What really comes across as you walk through the corridors of GEMS is that it is a bright and cheerful campus, particularly in the PYP years. Here we saw colourful design features, primary coloured furniture, and displays of student work on the walls and hanging from the ceiling. There are plenty of floor to ceiling windows here; natural light streams into classrooms and learning pods, which is known to boost students’ energy levels and give them a better view to the outside world.
There’s a more mature feel to the secondary school here, and more space dedicated to individual study and research. We were interested to see a large plot of land on campus which is earmarked for development, and is likely to include more dedicated facilities for secondary and college students such as lecture halls and a common room.
Like several international schools in Singapore, GEMS offers an all-through education from as young as two years. In January 2019 it opened Little GEMS nursery for two to three-year-olds, and this is located next to the school’s kindergarten.
“We were seeing so many mums sitting in the school café with little ones after drop -off or before pick-up. We had the space to open this nursery, so it just made sense.”
The self-contained nursery and kindergarten has its own entrance, canteen and play area. In addition to offering flexible timings and a dedicated entrance, GEMS has small class sizes capped at 16 and modern early years’ facilities. A day at Little GEMS starts with temperature checks for all children and continues with a programme of play-based learning in a Reggio Emilia-inspired environment.The kindergarten really does have a wow factor – from its colourful tree centrepiece that can be used for all manner of displays through to the beautifully designed central area. It feels inspiring, has plenty of space for exploration, and is equipped with modern learning tools and toys. And judging by the giggles coming from one of the classrooms, it is a happy place to be.
GEMS follows three pillars of education – sport, arts and academics. This first pillar is fully supported by a suite of sporting facilities including an indoor sports hall with four badminton courts, basketball/volleyball court, and a 15m-high rock-climbing wall.
What stands out here is the school’s Astro-turf pitch, which can dry out within 30 minutes of one of Singapore’s frequent rainstorms. Another special feature is its indoor 50-metre Olympic swimming pool with eight lanes, which has a movable bulkhead that can create two 25 metre pools. (There’s also a learner pool for GEMS’ youngest swimmers).
The arts is a core part of the IB programme, and GEMS has invested in the creative arts with a 750-seat auditorium that is equipped with the latest facilities, including cameras linked to YouTube that screen student productions to parents who may be travelling. There are also music rooms equipped with violins and cellos, private music rehearsal rooms, and art and drama studios.
GEMS encourages every student to take to the stage, whether in a school play or during a class assembly – and we saw a kindergarten class rehearsing on the big stage for their forthcoming assembly.
“Every class gets the opportunity to run an assembly, to give the students exposure to public speaking. Every child at some point in the year will be up on that stage to help them build confidence. “
The auditorium is also used by parents at the school – whether attending one of several monthly parent workshops ranging from What is the Extended Essay in the IBDP? to How to Prepare Your Child for the MYP Personal Project, or watching their child’s weekly assembly.
“It’s very important to us that our parents understand how their child is learning, why they’re learning what they’re learning, and what they can do to help that.”
GEMS' passion for design and innovation really shines through during our visit. We saw a STEM lab that’s used primarily for the PYP, and technology labs equipped with Lego robotics, green screens, 3D programming. Don’t expect these to be used for a standalone STEM or technology lesson though.
“The IB is focused on project-based learning and no one subject is taught alone; it’s all integrated. So, we use our STEM and technology labs to help students understand the connections and concepts of what they’ve been working on in class.”
The school’s 630 sq m Design Centre fully immerses students in a ‘zone’ where they can sit or stand, design or build, and look at the past to help create the future. Equipped with hammers, saws, laser cutters, pottery wheels, 3D printers, forges, robotics kits and sewing machines, this makerspace 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 IB’s Career-Related Programme in the arts, when they can focus on anything from animation to fashion design.
As well as having workshop-style rooms, this makerspace has a huge central area filled with a design library, displays of cameras, hoovers and kettles that showcase innovation and design through the ages alongside shelves filled with student-designed board games, wooden phone holders, LED lights and fabric bags.
There’s definitely a strong buzz in this area, where students are led by a design teacher whose enthusiasm and passion for teaching was incredible. It’s certainly different to any other design centre we have seen in a school – and is one of the school’s strengths.
“This inspirational space is equipped with the latest technologies in the field of design, and gives students the inventive flair needed to become tomorrow’s innovators and entrepreneurs. Everything in a good IB school should be able to contextualise the learning and bring it back to the real-world.”
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