Future School Leaders: Meet Karan Deep

Our Future School Leaders series takes a small diversion for this piece. Today, we meet a future focussed education professional…who is not a teacher! Meet Karan Deep, Head of Innovation and Partnerships for GEMS Education.
This article is part of an editorial series on Future School Leaders
Future School Leaders
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Future School Leaders
This article is part of an editorial series on Future School Leaders

Karan Deep is Head of Innovation and Partnerships for GEMS Education.  He is one of WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's Future School Leaders, despite not being a classroom teacher. 

We were intrigued as to why his peers has nominated Karan, but once we had spoken to him we understood quite clearly why they felt he has a future school leadership role ahead of him.  Perhaps not in the traditional sense, but in a fast evolving education sector, Karan represents a new era of professionals contributing to the evolution of education.

Karan, you have a really interesting job title! Before we get stuck in to what you do for GEMS Education, can you tell us a bit about your career to date?

Well in a way, my career in GEMS started twenty years ago! I was a Dubai kid and went to a GEMS school (or as they were know then, the Varkey Group), Our Own Dubai. This job is life coming full circle for me!

Before joining GEMS Education, I spent a few years working in London and India before returning to Dubai. Wherever I have worked, my career has always been about finding areas for improvement and coming up with creative solutions.

One constant in my career…whenever I have graduated or have been looking for work, it’s been in the midst of an economic downturn…I just hit those sweet spots! Before joining GEMS I had come up with the idea of a Facebook group to help my job search, “Find Karan a Job”. Yes, I did that! Well it worked, as within a month a guy contacted me about a role at GEMS. He got my CV and…that was it.

Karan meets some of the GEMS Education groups' most innovative students

What exactly is your role and what impact does it have on students in the classroom?

My role is both tricky and simple to explain! My primary goal is to set up innovation functions and departments across the GEMS Education group. I look at two kinds of innovation. The first is corporate innovation. I ask questions; “how does an organisation like GEMS evolve, create new ventures and ideas that can help the company continue to thrive?”

The second and most important area is innovation in education. Here I am looking at how we help our network of schools update what teaching and learning is, to make sure it is up to date and relevant.

Explain to us how your role works in schools?

My job is quite lateral. I work with school leadership, the curriculum teams and my favourite part is working with the students!

A good example of how this happens is that we have created a network of “Innovation Leaders”. All of our schools have an Innovation Leader and a Digital Leader. This group of individuals is responsible for identifying pockets of innovation that already exist, expanding them and then scaling them across GEMS Education.

We have lots of innovation initiatives underway in GEMS schools. We have partnered up with a Silicon Valley organisation, Singularity University. Really, what Singularity is, is a collection of futurists, trying to solve humanities’ challenges. With them we are working on two projects. Number one is the Global Futures Curriculum. It’s a future focussed curriculum that introduces students to exponential mind-sets and technologies.

The second is something called the Global Innovation Challenge. We say to students “now that you have learnt these things, how do you go on to apply your knowledge and actually build stuff?” The Challenge is an eight month long entrepreneurship programme that encourages students to build prototypes to solve some of humanities biggest challenges. We give our young entrepreneurs a brief…“can you positively impact a billion people?” What I love about it is that we are forcing students to think beyond neighbourhood, beyond city to something that transcends borders.

Karan and GEMS' students

We piloted the curriculum with 200 students, now we have 6000 students across all our schools! We give schools the curriculum, the framework and the training and then let them interpret it in a way which best suits their unique students. What always amazes me is that some of best results come from when the students and teachers deliver the curriculum together. We have to acknowledge that we live in a world where the students already know so much!

When it comes to the Innovation Challenge, we now have 50,000 students, from 100 different countries taking part. Isn’t that incredible!

So what new innovations lie ahead for GEMS Education?

There are so many! Overall…well, we are continually looking at how to change the system of schooling to make it more relevant to the world we live in and the future that lies ahead for students.

We see these changes happening in a number of ways. We know there is a huge appetite for real world experience, so last year we launched a new strategy, the GEMS “Centres of Excellence”. We are building new specialist schools that will be bringing in industry and university partners. These Centres will create new learning pathways in areas such as AI and Robotics, Entrepreneurship, Performance and Theatre Technology, Aviation – all the things our students tell us they are interested in. Our partners are fantastic; Siemens, the Prime Ministers’ Office, IBM, American University Dubai to name a few.

How often do you get into one of the GEMS Education schools?

Oh, I’m lucky, I’m in one of our schools every single day. I don’t teach, but I work with many different departments. I might be having meetings with either the school leadership team, teachers or students. In one school I could be working on modifying the curriculum and in another looking at digital strategies. Or I might be in the office building new products for the GEMS organisation.

What do you think makes education in the UAE unique?

I have two responses to that. The first is probably the most common that you hear, the diversity.

I think this is a unique melting pot and place to learn from other cultures. Even in our schools which cater to specific curricula communities, such as our Arab or Indian schools, you would have a huge diversity from that country or region. Here you are always meeting people that challenge your perspective. That adds so much value to education.

The second is that in the UAE we have some really forward thinking authorities in the shape of MOE, ADEK and KHDA. They are actively thinking about the future of learning, all the time. For example, two years ago they created an innovation category in the inspection framework. That helped me in my role a lot!

I think what is great about education in the UAE is the good mixture of fantastic people at the grass roots and top down support to encourage change and human capital development.

Karan works with stakeholders across the GEMS Education group

Why do you think you were nominated for this series? Especially given that you are not a classroom teacher…

Well…that is a very good question! I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I read the other features in the series and I knew I didn’t quite fit the typical profile. I guess what it is, is that I have had a broad reach across the schools, right to individual students. I have been mentoring our students and supporting staff for many years. My niche takes me from the classroom right through to the corporate side of business. I have an absolute passion for what I do, and I am assuming that GEMS saw that passion in me. So whilst I might not be a future school leader in the typical mould, I spend all my time looking at the future of education.

What would you say to someone who aspires to work in innovation in Education?

A few years ago ‘innovation’ would have been mostly tied to technology departments in schools. If I am honest, and if I had to go digging a very deep hole [Karan laughs!] I would say that the true success of what I am trying to implement is when it is not required any more. What someone like me is aiming for is to embed the culture of innovation so deeply in our organisation we are not needed any more, however strange that sounds! When everyone in schools, in the organisation is constantly thinking of better ways of working, teaching and learning…that will be the ultimate success.

If someone was to come to a role like mine, I would say that need to constantly ask questions. You need to be curious about finding better and better answers and solutions.

If you had to say where education will be ten years from now, what would be your prediction?

I think in 10 years from now we will see a more dynamic and personalised education system, where we focus everything on identifying, intercepting and amplifying individual students’ strengths.

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