WSA’s Hard Hat Tour: GEMS Al Barsha National Schools

WSA’s Hard Hat Tour: GEMS Al Barsha National Schools
By C Hoppe
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Given that Dubai already has a Healthcare city, Media City and a Design City, you could mistake the new GEMS Al Barsha National Schools’ site in Al Barsha 3, as the nearest thing there is so far, to a ‘GEMS City.’

The vast 90,960 square metre plot boasts not one, but three large brand-new schools: GEMS Al Barsha National School For Boys, GEMS Al Barsha National School For Girls and GEMS Founders. At capacity each school will accommodate 3,000 students, making an impressive total of 9,000 students across the three schools.

Of course, our first question is naturally about the potential mind-boggling parking issues, (of course it is!). Both vice principals of the new national schools- Julie Till Dowling and Nicholas Patel, give us a knowing look, and agree they’ve had more than their fair share of discussions on the topic.

Although the schools when complete will be entirely separated from each other by dividing walls, standing at the front of the plot, the collective structures are simply enormous.

The two schools we’ve come to visit (Al Barsha National School for Girls and Al Barsha National School for Boys), are situated side by side and are mirror images of each other.

Designed in what could be called a modern- Islamic style, the schools are spacious, modern and aim to capture as much natural light as possible.

Islamic style ‘elements’ include arched corridors and doorways, full length arched windows in the sports hall and numerous geometric designs across many of the windows.

The schools also ‘mirror’ each other, in curriculum, with both following the UK curriculum with Ministry of Education (MOE) and intensive Arabic language elements.

While both schools will work, at roughly the same pace, it is immediately obvious, that unlike many of the other dual curriculum institutions we’ve visited, these schools will also remain relatively independent in many ways.

As vice principal of the Boys School, Patel says, “this will allow us to tailor our strategies and reward systems to suit each gender.”

Interestingly, both British vice principals seem to have been chosen not for their Islamic knowledge or Muslim faith but for their extensive experience in the set up and management of single-sex schools.

Dowling has managerial experience in numerous girls’ schools and was most recently principal at a well known Indian all-girls school where she established the A Level and GCSE programmes.

Patel’s experience has been in numerous boys schools in London followed by a spell as vice principal at First Point before moving over to Al Barsha National School for Boys.

While the National Schools are not quite premium in price (AED 42,000 to AED 57,000) they’re relatively 'expensive' for schools that have traditionally targeted this audience, however thinks parents will get a 'whole lot' of education for their money.

Both schools will offer two qualified teachers per class up to Year two, with Years’ three and above retaining a teacher plus a classroom assistant.

Classes will be kept small (22 children) in Foundation, rising to 27 in Year one and above. Uniquely, the National schools will be the first to separate girls and boys right from the outset (Foundation), allowing lessons to be tailored to suit the learning styles of each gender.

The schools will utilise the UK curriculum’s topic based learning as the basis for the curriculum, but  uniquely will teach half the day’s work in English and the other half in Arabic to the end of Year two.

The schools will also each have a specialised Arabic and English language support department.

The schools are being constructed by UAE construction veterans ‘Chicago’ from pre-cast concrete and are planned for completion on the 31st July.

Again, unique to GEMS National Schools, there are no shared facilities, unlike many of the other dual curriculum schools. Each school will have its own swimming pool, sports halls, library, play areas, 300 plus seat auditorium, drama unit, dining hall serving Arabic food, music, design technology and science labs. thinks this GEMS entry into the dual curriculum sector is an interesting option for many parents seeking this type of education for their children.

While the Islamic faith and social studies elements of the Ministry of Education curriculum is of course entirely present and correct, we feel it’s the drive and commitment to being bilingual via Arabic literacy and numeracy from the youngest years, plus a focus on implementing the best ‘gender’ practices, which will make these two schools stand out in a new, yet rapidly expanding sector. 

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