An all through school, GEMS Modern Academy (previously, Dubai Modern High School) educates children aged three (pre-KG) to 18 years of age. The school is the only Indian curriculum school to be ranked Outstanding by the KHDA and offers the CISCE curriculum to grade 12, with an alternative International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme option in grades 11 and 12.
GEMS Modern Academy has been rated Outstanding by the KHDA's DSIB inspection team for the ninth year running in the 2019-20 inspection round. As the school received only a one day review visit under the new KHDA inspection process, no updated report has been issued.
The Story So Far
GEMS Modern Academy (GMA) was originally located in the Karama area of Dubai. It opened with 200 students in 1986, offering a day boarding option as part of the school day and grew rapidly, firstly after its move to a campus located in Al Safa, and more recently to its purpose-built campus at Nad Al Sheba. The school celebrated its 35th anniversary in October 2021, with a musical celebration of its past, attended by former alumni (including GEMS CEO Dino Varkey) and a choir formed from previous members of the school's choirs since its foundation.
The school's motto is Excellentia - a direct reflection of the academic ambition of the school, but also its focus in relation to all aspects of its community's beliefs and behaviours.
Its Vision - recently updated and inspired by its students - is Inspiring Students to make a Positive Change.
Responses to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com school survey included many positive comments in relation to the leadership and management of the school, and to the additional opportunities offered to students through the extra-curricular programmes.
"It’s a great school, great environment, good leadership; Very well organised and disciplined.";
"The school’s strength is its leadership. The Principal has a view. And she seems to be constantly putting in effort, planning and implementing".
"Extra curricular activities, they understand child’s strength and push them, they realize kids weakness and help them grow, very approachable teachers. They work on kids' overall growth".
Rated Outstanding for the past nine years by the KHDA - and the only Indian curriculum school to have achieved the highest rating - it is perhaps a risk with any long-established and highly regarded organisation, that it will "rest on its laurels".
Nothing could be further from the truth as far as GMA is concerned.
In February 2021, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's editorial team had an on-line "Covid catch-up" with the Senior team at GMA including inspirational Principal, Nargish Khambatta, and Vice Principal, Sydney Michael Atkins. The information about the developments taking place at the school have been incorporated into this review.
GEMS Modern Academy is currently home to over 3,640 students. Inevitably, the vast majority of students are Indian nationals although a total of 18 nationalities are represented in the school. GEMS Modern is also notable for the significant number of Students of Determination and those with Gifts and Talents registered at the school with some 300 students supported by the SEN team. GEMS Modern Academy is one of the few schools in Dubai to be rated Outstanding for its provision and support of students with additional learning needs by the KHDA's inspectors.
Students are taught by 232 teachers and 72 teaching assistants. Again, the majority -as would be expected a predominantly Indian nationals (85%), but the remaining 10 nationalities include staff from as far afield as Canada and Tanzania! The teacher to student ratio is a 1:16 - mid to low for an Indian curriculum school. Teacher turnover in currently running at 3%, but still extraordinarily low for the UAE, even when Indian schools suffer less from teacher attrition.
Clearly, in GEMS Modern Academy's case, this level of stability is an important factor in the success of the school. This fact is also reflected in the significant number of staff who have taught at GMA for over 20 years, with one teacher, Mr. John Maxwell Gomes, having achieved 30 years of tenure.
The growth in demand for the IB Diploma Programme, in particular, has meant that GMA is now adding staff from a variety of countries. The school has also strengthened its Senior team through the appointment of a PYP coordinator, and Vice Principal of the Middle School.
The school follows the Indian CISCE curriculum from Grade 1 to Grade 12 with an additional option of the International Baccalaureate Diploma for the post 16 students seeking an international (as opposed to Indian) University entry qualification. GEMS Modern has offered the IB DP since 2014, and this appears to be a recognition that many students will carry on their tertiary education outside of India.
The original selection of the CISCE curriculum for the school was driven in large part by the desire to provide a curriculum that has a strong focus and emphasis on English Language and Literature, Maths and the incorporation of all three science subjects individually. The curriculum was developed from the UK's Cambridge curriculum originally. Teaching is focused on developing students' critical thinking skills and challenge-based learning.
As one of only three schools in the UAE - all Dubai-based - the CISCE curriculum is felt to have a more creative approach than the more widely delivered CBSE curriculum which is more functional in focus.
The decision to introduce the International Baccalaueate Diploma Programme was in many ways a logical one, given its enquiry focus and highly regarded academic status in universities globally.
Find out more about the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme here.
Children in the KG section follow the English National Curriculum-based Early Years Foundation Stage, recognised as a leader globally. Based on a practical, hands-on approach and learning through play, the curriculum aims to develop children with a focus on the seven interconnected core areas which include Communication and Language, Physical Development, Personal, Social and Emotional Development, Literacy, Mathematics, Understanding the World, and Expressive Arts and Design.
From Grades 1 to 5, students follow the CISCE curriculum in terms of content, but taught within the framework of the International Baccalaureate's Primary Years Programme. GMA has piloted the PYP for the past three years and anticipated full accreditation within days of our catch-up call (in mid-February 2021).
In fact, in March 2021, the school announced that it had now received full accreditation for the PYP. Commenting on this achievement, Principal Nargish Khambatta said;
“Our school has been an IBDP school since 2014, so introducing the PYP was a natural next step. The PYP is an inquiry-based framework with a transdisciplinary approach that encourages students to deepen their learning, and it complements our high curriculum standards. As an Outstanding-rated Indian curriculum school, our aim is to provide alternative pathways for our global families, and having the PYP and IB options available alongside the ICSE and ISC helps us achieve our vision.”
Currently, students from Grades 5 to 10 follow the CISCE curriculum, but with the success the school has found in the teaching methodologies of the International Baccalaureate at both Primary and Diploma level, it is now also considering the introduction of the Middle Years Programme (MYP), which would build on the skills sets developed in the Primary section. Students would the option of continuing directly with the IB MYP through to the IB Diploma programme, or switching at the end of Grade 8 to take the CISCE Board examinations in Grade 10.
The success of the IBDP programme should not be under-estimated. 14 students formed the first cohort back in 2014, in the current (2020-21) academic year, the number has grown to 180.
In large part, students' successful adaptation to the IBDP has been due to the introduction of a 'Bridging Programme' which is designed, through a 9 module study programme to enable students to develop the additional skill-sets needed to succeed at the IBDP. This programme takes place at the start of Grade 11 and runs for 3 months, until the summer break, after which the students commence the first year of their IBDP studies. They follow a September to June academic year for these final two years at GMA, in line with all other IBDP schools in the UAE.
Such as been the success of the bridging programme and GMA students' IB studies, that they achieved an average of 35.3 in the 2020 results - among the highest in the UAE - and well above the global average of 29.9 and the UAE average of 32.8.
Also in recognition of the demands of the IBDP that students are "all rounders" and to enable students seeking a more vocational option to continue to study at GMA, the school has also added the IBCP (courses) programme, which provides a "slimmed down" option of the full Diploma. In support of a broader, vocational approach and in order to develop students' skills, an internship programme operates involving both internal and external options. 80% of Grade 11 and 12 students typically participate in these opportunities over the Winter and Summer holiday periods.
The opportunity for students to gain 'real world' work experience is not restricted to Senior school students only - all Primary students from Grade 2 are encouraged to spend a day working with their parents each year.
Organisations involved include the Hamdan Incubation Centre where students are mentored and involved in research, and CISCO and SAP where students receive employability training. GEMS Modern Academy is the only accredited SAP school in the MENA region. These relationships have built upon GMA's focus on upgrading the integration of technology within the school through a targeted Change Management programme.
A further area of curriculum development at GMA has been the introduction of ASDAN. This UK-accredited programme for students with additional learning needs was introduced four years ago. The school is currently looking at a separate wing for the provision of vocational training including support for students who are visually impaired.
GEMS Modern offers a wide range of Extra-curricular activities aimed at the holistic development of every child through the compulsory Activities for Curriculum Enrichment (ACE) programme. Students from Grades 6 to 12 participate two days per week in these after-school activities. The school encourages children to enjoy their game, club or activity, "as the fun element is important and should not be lost".
The ACE programme also encompasses the Accelerator programme which is designed to challenge students and to nurture their creative thinking and problem solving skills. This has been divided into five parts - Callido and Occams Razor (Problem Solving and Critical thinking), Online courses, Mentoring (Enhancement classes for students who need extra support in any particular subject) and Circinate (for Gifted and Talented and high achiever students.)
Despite the obvious focus on the academic, we were rather impressed to learn that in the past 34 years, GMA has produced a number of musicals that have been awarded with outstanding certifications from Trinity College. The school has even staged musicals in India and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In addition to the ASDAN programme, the school follows a School wide Enrichment Model suggested by Joseph Renzulli. Gifted and talented students at middle school sessions may have an enrichment session (online) planned once a week wherein the students are given challenging tasks which they complete as asynchronous activities. Tasks comprise of a choice board from different disciplines where in students can choose an activity according to his or her ability. Students are given a duration of two weeks to complete these tasks. Sessions also have expert talks and counselling sessions to manage social and emotional abilities.
A total of 298 students are currently identified with SEN and G&T requirements. 172 students receive learning support whilst a further 136 have been identified as Gifted and Talented based on their high performance in GL-CAT 4 assessments. GL - CAT 4 tests continues as a tool from Grades 4-12 as the basis for identifying whether a child shows exceptional ability in the areas of Verbal, Numerical, Quantitative and/or Spatial ability.
Those students who have a score of above 127 on two or more areas of the CAT 4 are eligible for further screening. Parents may also approach the school seeking for their child to undertake or where s/he has already undertaken an IQ test. In this case, any student who has an IQ score of above 130 is considered for further screening (Renzuli subject-wise check list for teachers and Sayler’s check-list for parents) and absorption into the G & T programme.
What about the facilities?
GEMS Modern Academy is housed in a large purpose-built complex at Nad Al Sheba - between the Al Ain and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed highways. In addition to the usual range of classrooms, the facilities include five ICT Suites, four Computer trolleys with laptops for use in classrooms, a S.T.E.M Lab, the Budhayana – The Spark Lab – Makers Space Innovation Centre, the Senior School Library, the Primary Learning Centre, the Discovery Centre, an IB Lounge, and Learning corridors. Outside a Meditation Garden, Planter’s Patch and Sensorial Garden provide restful areas and greenery.
Recent improvements to the school's facilities and resources include Bio Fuel for Buses, a Green House, a Digital Screen in the auditorium, the Dubai SME Certified Incubator Centre, and enhanced security through the introduction of Transparent Acrylic screens for class rooms during the pandemic, and E2E Digital Visitor Login for Security.
Extensive sports facilities include four Basketball courts, two Football Fields, a Cricket pitch, Volleyball court, an 8-lane synthetic track with areas for field events including long jump, Shot put, Discus and javelin, two 25 meter swimming pools (one for Primary Students and a main pool with facilities for water polo), five Cricket nets with flood lights, three Tennis courts, a Multipurpose hall (also used for assemblies, Drama and Musical productions) with markings for Badminton and Basketball, a fully equipped Gym, and a Cycling and roller skating track.
What about academic achievement?
As with other GEMS Education schools, Dubai Modern aims to develop the person as well as the student, acknowledged by the KHDA, which noted the school produces "well rounded and confident individuals, as well as fostering talent at the school".
This is important. Previous feedback from parents to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com had suggested too strong a focus on the academic over the 'human'. GEMS Modern seems to have taken this on board and acted upon it.
Key to the support of students as they progress through the school towards their final four years is the Guidance and Support that is available to them. GMA has a well-qualified and experienced career counselling department. They provide complete guidance from reviewing the appropriate aptitude test provision, university fairs, visits, reviews, parent and student orientation, one-one counselling and guide the application through Unifrog.
In addition, the school actively promotes the research and analysis skills required for university through firstly, its Project Prism initiative, introduced in 2017, which provides Grade 11 students with the opportunity to work together in groups of five on inter-subject collaborative research. The aim of the student team is to identify problems that society faces and to put forward solutions to address these issues. To date, students have developed innovative solutions to problems such as transforming plastic into edible ice cream, using cigarettes as raw materials for manufacturing bricks and many other ideas.
As a further step towards Senior students being able to develop the research skills and aptitude, the research paper writing element has been introduced. Students are given training in carrying out literature review, creating objectives and hypotheses and working towards writing papers. The aim of this initiative is to bridge the gap between high school and the demands of university. The papers are written based on international research paper publication standards and reviewed by external contributors, who themselves work with Universities and have published many papers.
Students take aptitude tests in Grade 8 and Grade 10. In Grade 8 they make a choice between sciences or economics and their application subjects. The counsellors support and guide the students and parents to make the appropriate choice that is aligned to their aptitude, interests, probable future career options and abilities.
In Grade 10, students choose between the ISCE or IBDP pathway. ISCE students have a choice of 4 subjects (English is compulsory) that align to their aptitude, interests, course options and university destinations. IBDP students make a choice of 3 Higher Level and 3 Standard Level subjects again based on their aptitude, including the predicted grade from CAT4, interests and course options and university destinations.
Unlike most GEMS schools, information about exam results is posted on the school's website.
In the Grade 10 (ICSE) 2019-20 examinations, GMA students continued to surpass international benchmarks, with a pass rate of 100 per cent and an average of 91.62 per cent – a record high for the school. A total of 71.2 per cent of students achieved above 90 per cent, and the school’s results include 68 scores of 100 per cent across a range of different subjects.
The Grade 12 cohort of 2020 set a new school record, achieving an average score of 90.43% in the ISC 2019-20 examinations. The results include 40 scores of 100 percent in specific subject results. In addition, 62 percent of students achieved an average score of 90 per cent and above, compared to 48 per cent in the previous year, marking a significant year-on-year improvement in results.
For the 2019 ICSE (Grade 10) exams, the average for the cohort was 90.1%. 64.8 percent of students received an aggregate of 90 percent or more in the ICSE examinations and there was a 100% pass rate. Unfortunately, the school did not reveal the number of students who presented themselves for the exams. However, we do know that 43 students scored 100% in Computer Application, 10 students scored 100% in History, Civics and Geography, 9 students each scored 100% in Commercial Application and in Economics, 7 students scored 100% in Mathematics, four students scored 100% in Environmental Application, and two students scored a perfect 100% in Science.
In the ISC (Grade 12) examinations, the overall average for the cohort of 144 students was 86.8%. 47.9% (compared with 55.9% in 2017) of students received an aggregate of 90 percent or above, with a 100% pass rate. Five students scored 100% in Computer Science, three students scored 100 % in Mathematics and Commerce, and one student each scored 100% in Economics, Psychology, Accounts and Physics.
GMA published its first set of IBDP results in 2017, and has continued to do so in subsequent year.
In both 2020 and 2021, examinations were cancelled due to the Covid 19 pandemci and a mix of teacher-assessed and previously submitted deliverables were used to determine students' grades.
In 2021, GMA's cohort of 75 students achieved an average points score of 36.9 with a 100% pass rate. 28% of students were awarded 40+ points (among the top 5% of IB students globally). This compares with a global average of 32.99 and a UAE average of 35.89.
With the 2021 awards being based heavily on the submission of scores by schools, and evidence of grade inflation as a result - the global IB average score was raised from 31.34 in 2020 to 32.99 points in 2021, a further significant leap from the figure of 29.62 in 2019, when students took the IB examinations - we would anticipate that there will be a correction in 2022 when students are expected to sit exams in the usual way.
In 2020, GMA students achieved an average of 35.3 - among the highest in the UAE - and well above the global average of 29.9 and the UAE average of 32.8.
In addition, 18% of candidates achieved 40 points or higher, 60% achieved 35 points or higher and 87% achieved 30 points or higher. The school topper was Aadit Palicha who secured 45 out of a maximum of 45 points, whilst Sachien Fernando and Arisma Arora each secured 43 points.
The first set of IB Diploma results were released in 2017. Of the 30 candidates registered for the May 2017 session, 24 were Diploma Candidates and 6 were IB Courses candidates, sitting a reduced number of subject papers and without the Core requirements of Theory of Knowledge and the Extended Essay. The average overall point score obtained by Diploma candidates was 33 points, far exceeding the world average of 30 points. In addition, 8% of candidates achieved 40 points or higher, 29% achieved 35 points or higher and 71% achieved 30 points or higher. One student secured 44 out of a maximum of 45 points.
In 2019, the IB results indicated that 66 students (so more than double the cohort two years ago) sat the IB Diploma achieving an average of 34.6 points with 13% achieving 40 points or more. GEMS Modern can be deservedly proud of its students' achievement in 2019 - 34.6 points is not only the highest score among the six GEMS schools whose students participated in the IBDP in 2019, but also among the highest in the UAE.
In addition to providing data about public examination results, GMA also fully discloses results for UAE government-mandated International Bench-marking tests. In the PISA tests in 2015, GEMS Modern Academy was placed 3rd in the whole of UAE scoring 591 in Science and 567 in both Math and Reading respectively. The PISA 2018 performance was also notably strong with students scoring 582 in Science, 579 in Math and 592 in Reading.
In the 2015 TIMSS tests GMA students exceeded the KHDA targets by 40 and 26 points respectively with a score of 593 in Grade 4 Science and 605 in Grade 8 Science.
In the 2019-20 Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau round, GEMS Dubai Modern Academy was again rated Outstanding for the ninth year in a row. However, no new inspection report was issued as part of the KHDA's new process for Very Good and Outstanding schools whereby only a one day 'review visit' takes place.
According to the Dubai regulator, Dubai Modern Academy provides an Outstanding quality of education, with attainment and progress across all age groups (Primary, Middle and Secondary) ranked Outstanding for English, Maths and Science. In fact, the latest Inspection report is remarkable (and very similar to that of 2017-18) with every measure across the six performance standards rated Outstanding. Islamic Education and Arabic as a second language (the main area of challenge for most international schools) fall a little behind the standard set elsewhere, but are both now rated as Good in attainment and progress across all phases of the school.
At the heart of the school's achievement - as is so often the case - is the Outstanding leadership of the Senior leadership team, supported by its Governors. The inspectors note that "The Principal and other leaders have a shared vision of inclusion for all. Partnerships with parents and organisations across the globe make a significant contribution to school improvement. Leaders encourage and empower others to solve problems using a wide range of strategies and resources. Governors hold them accountable for their work".
In fact, the KHDA inspection team states that the strengths of the school are:
As would be expected, given the overall ratings across all other areas, the sole area of improvement identified by the inspection team was to:
Undoubtedly, GEMS Modern Academy has got it right! Sadly, they were not one of the schools who participated in the Abundance mentoring project set up by the KHDA in 2016-17, and as a result other schools were not able to benefit from their evident skill.
If you would like to read the KHDA inspection report in full - and we strongly advise you to do so - please go here.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey shows that parents are positive in their feedback to us. Overall, the responses from a sizeable survey response achieved a rating of 4.1/5 - a positivity rating of 82%. 86% of respondents report that their children enjoy going to school and have a strong sense of belonging. A significant 77% of parents are fully satisfied with the academic performance being delivered by the school (compared with a UAE average of 65%), though, interestingly, a sizeable 32% believe that additional tuition is necessary. The vast majority of parents are satisfied with communication and disciplinary policies at the school.
A whopping 84% would recommend GEMS Modern Academy to other parents, although, interestingly, at some point 32% have considered moving their child to another school. If there is a bugbear, it is the fees. Whilst 28% believe that they represent good value for money, 48% only partially agree, and 14% disagree with this statement.
If you are a parent, teacher or senior student at GEMS Modern Academy, please share your experience with other readers by completing our Survey here.
It's not only the KHDA's DSIB inspection team that is highly satisfied with the standard of education at GEMS Modern. In the pre-inspection survey, 94% of over 780 parents expressed their satisfaction with the quality of education at the school, noting that leaders and teachers listen to their concerns and answer their questions appropriately; almost all feel that their children are safe at school, and parents believe themselves to be well informed about their children's progress and school events.
As, if not more importantly, students' sense of well-being at GEMS Modern exceeded the Dubai average in almost every key indicator. Almost all students are happy, optimistic and report positive teacher-student relationships.
We have no doubt that the responses of both parents and students is driven by the high expectations that GMA has for its students, whilst maintaining a strong desire to see its students regarded as part of large family, with a particular focus on wellbeing.
Evidence of this is shown by the school's response to the Covid 19 pandemic and the requirement for the implementation of Distance Learning. The ICT department set up a common email address that was initiated to receive requests from parents who had no devices available for their children to be actioned immediately with the support of the Senior Leadership Team.
Since the advent of remote learning in March 2020, GMA has provided a total of 106 laptops and 37 iPads to parents of students to ensure no break in learning. This facility was extended to all parents. Parents were also provided with an in-person orientation on how to use the remote learning platforms.
GMA also operates a student leadership programme led by its Senior students which has seen a number of initiatives designed to support its focus on family and well-being. This includes the 'Adopt a Parent' and 'Girl Up' programmes, as well as a specific focus on Support Staff at the school as part of their focus on compassion.
There is no doubt that as the only Indian curriculum school in Dubai to be rated Outstanding - and interestingly also, one that does not offer the more popular CBSE curriculum - other Indian schools have a hill to climb, but also an impressive example to follow. And not just Indian curriculum schools for that matter. GEMS Modern Academy is also a substantially larger school than the vast majority of the other Outstanding schools in Dubai which are largely UK curriculum.
Steering a ship with close to 4,000 students and staff on board - not to mention the parents who also form an integral part of the ship's company (to use the same analogy) - to such high standards is a remarkable achievement, and one that should not be overlooked or underestimated.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's sister website - SchoolsCompared.com - certainly did not do so, voting GEMS Modern Academy the Best Indian curriculum school in Dubai at its Top Schools' Awards in March 2019.
What are the Fees?
Fees at Dubai Modern are relatively affordable for a GEMS school, ranging from AED 28,646 for pre-KG to AED 35,360 for KG rising to AED 40,044 in Grades 1 and 2 and reaching AED 52,427 for the ICSE curriculum in Grades 11 and 12. Fees for students following the IB curriculum in Grades 11 and 12 are AED 68,302. Compared to Indian curriculum schools, the fees are very, very top end. Compared to IB schools, they are in the Value range.
A registration fee of AED 500 is due at the time of application. This fee is non-refundable and non-transferable - a practice which is increasingly raising concerns among parents.
When an offer of a seat in the school is extended, there is an additional fee of AED 1,000 to secure the seat. This again is non-refundable, but is adjustable against the first term's fees.
Tuition fees must be paid by the 10th of every month, and are collected in 10 installments except during the months of July and August.
GEMS Modern Academy is a Best of school, a ranking determined by parent surveys on the site. It can be found in the following Best of rankings:
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