After something of a delayed opening - both the Girls and Boys schools opened in the Girls' school initially, it seems that GEMS feels there is enough demand for GEMS Al Barsha National School for Boys to warrant its own campus.
The story so far...
Originally planned to open, together with its sister (and neighbouring) school GEMS Al Barsha National School for Girls, in 2016, it took a further year for GEMS to have the confidence to go ahead with the opening of the Boys school. To some extent, GEMS Al Barsha National School for Boys (NSGB) almost certainly found itself in the middle of a maelstrom of new school openings, directly on its doorstep.
With GEMS Founders (a more moderately-priced UK curriculum school) having opened next door to a huge response, Dubai Heights Academy - also UK curriculum - steps away, and the American School of Creative Science across the road (and potentially likely to appeal to families seeking an international school with a more local, and culturally appropriate ownership - that of BEAM Education in Sharjah), it seems that families seeking the particular blend that GEMS Al Barsha National School for Boys intended to offer had been hard to find. Given the school's location at the centre of a large residential area that was designed for, and is predominantly lived in, by local Emirati families, this no doubt came as something of a surprise to GEMS.
The opening of the Girls school and its apparent success at attracting families, and presumably significant word of mouth, does, however, seem finally to have turned the situation around. From the outset, the Girls school hosted a mixed-gender Foundation section, and this will remain the case on a permanent basis. The Boys school therefore focuses on Year 1 to Year 10 currently, growing to Year 13 over the next 3 years.
The school states that it "aims to be one of the leading national schools producing future leaders of character who are confident, resilient, adaptable and ethical global citizens".
Its vision is to create a "world class, innovative and inclusive National school dedicated to developing bilingual, biliterate Emirati and Arab leaders and responsible global citizens – respectful and creative lifelong learners with a strong National identity, firm foundations in their faith, integrity and empathy who are happy, resilient and adaptable". This is quite some ambition.
Whilst international curriculum schools in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain have tended to offer an environment very specifically focused on their large Emirati populations, in Dubai, Emirati students have represented only a very small contingent of the student body in the most popular and well-regarded international schools. Those schools that were more often attended by Emirati and Arab students, although also adopting an international curriculum in addition to that prescribed by the Ministry of Education, have not been particularly highly regarded by the KHDA. This is where GEMS' experience and reputation can make the difference.
What about the curriculum?
NSGB will offer the National Curriculum for England from Foundation 1 through to A Levels. It is currently open to Year 10 and will expand annually. The enhanced National Curriculum for England integrates 21st century skills and competencies aimed at developing "confident, resilient and adaptable students for an ever-changing world" whilst remaining sensitive and respectful of Arabic culture and local traditions. The school intends to place specific emphasis on developing literacy and numeracy skills in both Arabic and English, through a unique (for GEMS and Dubai at least) equal bilingual language instruction programme in the Foundation years.
The teaching and learning programmes are designed to develop critical thinking, leadership, creativity and problem-solving skills through a variety of "engaging and innovative student-centred activities". Children are by taught by qualified UK trained teachers and Arabic Language teachers with a proven track record. These teachers are trained in contemporary methodology with a clear understanding of how children develop and learn. There will be two teachers in each class in Foundation, Year 1 and Year 2, delivering the curriculum in both Arabic and English, ensuring children are bilingual and bi-literate.
In the Primary School, Key Stage One (Years 1 and 2), students will study English, Mathematics, Science, Humanities, Digital Learning, Arabic language, UAE Social Studies, Islamic Education, (or PSHE for non-Muslims), Enterprise Education, Design and Technology, Arts including Drama, Music and Art, and Physical Education. Key Stages Two and Three (Years 3-9) students will follow the same subjects with an enriched programme for Arabic, Islamic Education and UAE Social Studies. Students will take Spanish from Year 6.
During Year 9, students will be guided in their selection of IGCSE and GCSE subjects which they will study over the two year period from Year 10 to Year 11. Current options are somewhat limited in our view - including English, Mathematics, Science, ICT, Arabic language, UAE Social Studies, Islamic Education, Business Studies, Design and Technology, Physical Education and Moral Education. We would expect the range of options to grow as student numbers increase.
In Year 12, students will start their two year University entry studies for A Levels. We hope that by this stage, the school will also be looking at other, more technical, options, including BTEC or similar. NSGB has not yet released information about subject options at this stage.
In line with local regulatory requirements, all Muslim students will study Islamic Education from Year 1 to Year 12 inclusive. All Arab students (registered at the school with an Arab passport) will study Arabic as a first language from Year 1 to Year 12 inclusive. All students registered at the school with a non-Arab passport will study Arabic as an additional language from Year 1 to Year 9 inclusive.
The school, unusually, in our experience, specifies details of its Homework policy. It advises that "Home learning" will consist of weekly tasks that are project-based and practical, some of which will be optional. This will allow for consolidation and extension of learning. Teachers will ensure that tasks are clearly explained so that independent learning can take place "without causing stress at home". For younger children, the amount of time spent on home learning will be less than for older students, as they approach public examinations such as GCSE and A-Level. The school does not specify how much time students are expected to spend on "Home learning", but does state that "this practice is also based on educational research".
In addition to the regular curriculum and home learning, students will have access to a range of Extra-Curricular activities. It would seem the list is not definitive but may include activities such as School Magazine, Book club, Debating (Arabic/English), Poetry (Arabic/English), Science Club (English), Robotics (English), Chess Club, Music (e.g. choir/band – both western & Arabic styles), Dance/Drama (both western & Arabic), English/Maths/Arabic Enrichment, Art and Craft Clubs, Quran club, Cooking club, Cartoon club, Arabic reading & writing club, additional Language Clubs – e.g. French/German, and Sports including swimming, netball, football, multi sports, badminton, and tennis.
What about facilities?
As would be anticipated in a new school with relatively premium pricing, facilities appear to be extensive. They include spacious teaching areas with interactive whiteboards/LED displays in every classroom, a fully-resourced bilingual library, Science and ICT Laboratories, a Creative and Visual Art Studio, Performing and Art Productions studios for Music, Drama and Dance, a Performance Theatre - a multi-function space designed for music and drama productions, school assemblies, meetings and exhibitions - and dedicated prayer Rooms. In addition to indoor and outdoor learning and play areas, sports facilities include indoor and outdoor multi-purpose facilities and playing fields, a 25 metre six lane swimming pool, and a dedicated learner pool.
Fees at GEMS Al Barsha School for Boys start at AED 37,800 in FS1, rising to AED 46,800 from FS2 to Year 6. Secondary fees start at AED 51,300 in Year 7 to 9 and AED 55,800 in Years 10 and 11. These fees are discounted by 10% from the KHDA approved fees for 2018-19 and 2019-20. In addition, there is an AED 1,000 non-refundable application fee and a deposit of AED 2,500 on offer of a place.
Students applying to GEMS Al Barsha School for Boys may also be eligible for a new merit-based scholarship programme designed to reward students excelling in Academics, Creative and Performing Arts, Sports, Innovation and Digital Technology or Arabic Studies. Successful candidates will benefit from a concession ranging from 25 to 100 percent off their annual school fees. The scholarships will be awarded for a single academic year and awardees will be required to apply for renewal annually depending on their academic progress.
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