JSS International School, Al Barsha – School Visit - 23rd October 2016 - this visit took place prior to the relocation of the school to its new premises in Jumeirah Village Circle.
A confident, ambitious and welcoming school JSS is one of a handful teaching the ICSE curriculum in Dubai. Staff, parents and pupils are clearly very proud of the school which has a clear focus on science though art; music and the performing arts are also encouraged.
This large school campus is situated in a huge open undeveloped section of the Al Barsha area not far from Al Khail road. The fairly modern glass and block buildings look impressive in their asymmetric style and there are large safe parking areas all around for the vast number of school buses that appear each morning.
There is little vegetation – no trees and no outdoor garden areas. This, however is no surprise as the school rents the site and will be re-locating to the JVC area in April 2017. The model we saw looks like a large university building with state-of-the art facilities in a spacious plot in this up and coming area.
The reception area is huge with seating, a traditional majlis area, a tropical fish tank and some colourful art work on the walls. We met with Mr. James Richard, the principal, to discover more about what makes JSS unique. Mr. Richard explained that very few schools in Dubai have the ICSE curriculum; in fact only two schools, so parents have little choice at present. JSS International is strongly linked to a very large corporation in India which results in parents, children and staff having excellent ties ‘back home’.
Mr. Richard highlighted what he believed were the main key differences between ICSE and the other popular Indian curriculum CBSE. As he explained, CBSE is a more traditional and structured syllabus, with more reliance on rote learning with additional focus given to science and maths. The ICSE aims to be more holistic in its approach and is an offshoot of the Cambridge IGSEE so there is a wider range of subjects on offer. One of the major challenges facing the school is explaining the differences between the two curricula to parents.
There are 1,800 KG1 to Year 12 students, all Indian nationality but several with U.S, Canadian or UK passports. There appears to be healthy interaction between the students of different grades and a good sense of community was felt while on campus.
This good sense of community starts with the youngest students. Mr Richard described how important he felt a strong kindergarten is. He believes that these first years are critical in setting the tone for the school culture, which then filters through as the students grow up in the school.
JSS is a popular school so there is a waiting list but as Dubai has quite a transient population, it’s usually possible to find a place at JSS International, according to Mr. Richard.
When asked what JSS is most proud of, Mr. Richard didn’t hesitate with his answer: "Our students". Part of this is because JSS International incorporates ‘child-centred’ practices and an independent learning approach has helps to create ‘exceptional students who are fearless and bold’.
To complement this approach, Mr. Ricard notes that the teaching style at JSS is ‘modern’ and that the school is renowned for its high academic standards and happy atmosphere.
In support of this positive atmosphere is that attendance is excellent and that if students leave JSS, it’s because they are moving out of Dubai or to university either back in India, the U.S, UK, Germany or Canada.
As a part of our tour, we met Vishal and Muskan, the delightful head boy and head girl who happily took us on a guided tour. As we explored the school campus, the students both expressed how they love coming to school, how friendly it feels and how available and supportive the teachers are.
The school has an open and modern feel. The classroom blocks, corridors and open areas are spacious. Walls are painted white at the top half and lower a green/blue shade so the school feels light, cool and open.
Children are taught in different year group sections. We saw primary first where there are sandpits, puppet theatres, dress up areas and places to relax with a book. There are two covered outdoor sports arenas for basketball, tennis etc., an outdoor running track, astro-turf pitch, covered play equipment for young children, two indoor squash courts and two shaded swimming pools. All of these sports facilities support the many keen sports enthusiasts at JSS, enjoying all that is on offer and we were even informed that UAS shot putt champion is a pupil at the school.
As our tour continued, we were shown a gardening area located in an upstairs open spot that was covered. Here, children could practice their gardening skills as well as maintain indoor herb gardens which are also used for scientific study.
Many students take part in a pupil run ‘Tomato-sphere’ club which is a scientific programme for children to explore how outer space affects plants and seeds. They use ‘space tomato seeds’ to learn about plants in space and here on Earth.
Science in JSS is clearly a very strong focus. Labs look very well equipped and classrooms are large. A business club has inspired a group of Year 9 children to make and sell their own hand-wash, which is used throughout the school. Art is also an important subject; we observed a busy, energetic and colourful department. The school has a ‘Happiness’ corridor where art works and uplifting quotes are on display.
Our guides told us of many other opportunities and activities available to JSS students ranging from learning about business, banking, re-cycling and the ‘Talented Day’ which celebrates music, art and dance. A brass band has been formed and they proudly lead the school out on the 26th of January for the Republic Day march.
Many school trips are on offer but a highlight is in Grade 11 when a Himalayan camp trip sets off for a 108km hike that also includes white water rafting and kayaking. They describe this as ‘an incredibly exciting and sociable adventure.’
The school appears to accommodate mixed ability pupils and there is support on offer for emotional as well as learning difficulties in the form of guidance counselors or the contact 101 group teachers who have this special role.
There is a prayer room available for Muslim pupils, a large exhibition hall for competitions and performances and even a JSS radio station played during free time through speakers in all corridors.
A large circular library seems well-stocked and allows pupils to have quiet study space. There is a small junior library with a reading area run by a lady from the UK who reads daily one-to-one with pupils. IT is important throughout the school and there are many computers in library, corridors and classrooms.
The canteen serves ‘delicious, healthy Indian food to the community’, according to the school but many choose to bring in their own packed meals. On Thursdays however they are all allowed a treat when outside food is delivered and sold with part of the proceeds going towards a charity.
We spoke to a visiting father and a mother who teaches in the IT department. They both explained that they chose the school for its syllabus and feel confident that it is a very good school. The fees, however, are much higher than in India and the quality of education is hard to match with what is available in their home country. That being said, they were both happy with the facilities, the good bus service, the uniforms supplied by Stitches and the trips on offer such as Paris, London and Kenya.
Discipline is not a problem in the school, according to the parents as staff/pupil relationships are ‘respectful and healthy.’
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