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COVER STORY: Excellent International Education: GEMS World Academy
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The GEMS World Academy, which is located in the heart of the Sino Singapore Eco City, will be raising the bar in terms of international education in Tianjin and TEDA. Through strict adherence to its guiding principles, the organisation has earned a strong reputation for its child-centred approach and by providing educational services fit for the 21st century. All GEMS schools worldwide offer unique and exceptional programs to both local and expatriate children. We spoke to the recently appointed principal of GEMS World Academy in the Tianjin Eco City, Mr Neil Hugo, to find out more about how his organisation will take the city’s international education section to a new level.


Can you please start by telling us a bit about yourself and your professional background?

I am originally from the UK and I have been on the international teaching circuit for 30 years now. During this time my work has taken me to various parts of the world, including different cities in China, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Kazakhstan and Malawi. I started my teaching career by working with primary/elementary level students, but since then I have also retrained to work with other age groups. I have taught 2-3 year olds as well, which is exhausting but it is the best job in the world! I have worked as a principal for the last 19 years.


Why did GEMS choose this school as their first centre in China?

GEMS is a Dubai-based organisation which already has schools in the US, Europe, Africa and across the Middle East. The company wanted to open a new school in this part of Asia for some time, and after looking around for opportunities we found that this particular location was very attractive. The Eco City is a very exciting development indeed. The concept behind this residential area is very much in tune with what GEMS believes in as a company: addressing environmental issues and promoting clean living and social responsibility.

We will be an International Baccalaureate (IB) school and thus having clean surroundings and building a better environment are central to our teaching. For example, we have clean air classrooms using air filtration systems, we re-use 40% of our water, produce hot water from solar panels and heat our wonderful swimming pool using geothermal energy and we encourage our students to confront environmental issues throughout their studies at GEMS. So this area in particular is well suited to our organisation’s philosophy and is therefore an ideal location for our first school in China.


For our readers who haven’t yet heard of GEMS, please give us a brief overview of what the company is all about.

The organisation started over 50 years ago in the United Arab Emirates. It builds, owns and operates international schools for all segments of the community. Around the world we have schools that are very affordable and provide the highest quality of international education for young learners. The brand now reaches a global audience; it currently employs 10,000 teachers and educates well over 100,000 students.

As well as being a private educational provider, the company is also very philanthropic. We do a lot of charity work through the Varkey Foundation, of which former US President Bill Clinton is the Honorary Chairman. Through our scholarship programs we also provide educational opportunities for children who would not have access to it otherwise. For every student we have at our schools we impact around 100 other children in some way through our charitable activities. We also partner with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative and many other organisations which share our goal of bringing better opportunities to young people around the world.


Give us an insight into the GEMS approach to education and tell us what is unique about your schools in comparison to other organisations of this kind?

There are four key elements of the GEMS educational philosophy which guide our approach to teaching. These are as follows:

World Citizenship

Students in GEMS managed schools learn about the world and the people in it from an early age, developing an awareness of different cultures and countries. By exploring the world, they become socially, culturally, economically and environmentally aware and learn about their responsibilities as world citizens. They learn to adopt a global perspective and understand how they can make a difference in the global community.

Universal Values

Our Universal Values philosophy helps students to develop the values, principles and ethics that are respected, admired and accepted in all cultures around the world. Students are taught to have healthy social attitudes and a spirit of humanity, providing them with the ethical foundation and solid social skills to guide them through life. A variety of activities and experiences based on the understanding of universal values teach students to make positive contributions to others, their schools and the community.

Leadership Qualities

From an early age, our education programs encourage students to explore and question, to seek solutions, make informed decisions and solve problems. They learn to demonstrate tenacity and to express themselves confidently. Through the development of these skills and others, our Leadership Programs are aimed at developing each student’s own individual potential for leadership– either as a motivator of others or of themselves, discovering and excelling in their own specialist area.

Forward Thinking

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is underscored in our educational programs. ICT is taught not only as a stand-alone subject, but it is integrated throughout the curriculum both as a teaching and learning tool. Emphasized as an essential skill, students learn to become proficient in the use of Information and Communication Technology and it is applied right from the time they start school.

Also, as I mentioned before, we will be an IB school, and therefore we strive towards instilling the ten core aspects of the IB Student Learner Profile. This involves aiming to develop students who are: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk takers, balanced and reflective.

The IB curriculum is an outstanding tool for educating pupils. It is a skills and concepts based framework. Although it does contain some knowledge learning aspects, it mostly focuses on inquiry and on students working independently and cooperatively to find solutions to problems by utilising their critical thinking skills. We believe that this best equips young learners for life in the 21st century.


Since your organisation last spoke to Business Tianjin at the start of the year, what developments have taken place at your centre?

At that point in time we had just opened our kindergarten section of the school, which is now fully operational and we have some students enrolled onto our programs. We have an international teacher working within that part of the school and we are excited to be welcoming several more staff members to our centre over the coming months.

More recently we have been focused on getting our primary school opened to students and adding the finishing touches to our world class facilities. We are due to open on 28 August, with a grand opening being held on the 29th. We have hired a full team of well qualified and experienced international and Chinese teachers to deliver the full curriculum.


Which groups of learners are you aiming to attract for your school in Tianjin at the moment?

Our kindergarten is open to both international and local Chinese pupils. We welcome people from the local community to bring their children here to enrol with us. In terms of the primary school, however, we cater exclusively to learners from Tianjin and TEDA’s international community, who are aged between 6 and 11 years old. So for international students we run a full programme for 2 – 11 years olds.


As a global company, how does GEMS maintain its levels of consistency in educational excellence when opening a new centre?

We aim for similar learning outcomes, of which I have previously mentioned, throughout all of our schools around the globe. However, given that we are using the IB framework, our approach is pragmatic and is guided by a philosophy- as opposed to having a strict schedule of teaching points to follow. Our teachers have their learning objectives, but they are also required to use people, resources and their surroundings to teach in the most suitable way relative to the location of the school. Each of our schools is allocated a Chief Education Officer who visits regularly. Our teachers follow procedures which have been put in place to ensure that the quality of our education is consistently high and we abide closely with regulatory bodies such as IB and the Council of International Schools.


What would you like to tell anybody who is reading this dialogue and is interested to learn more about your school?

We are very well priced in comparison to our competitors. Our teaching is excellent and our facilities are also outstanding. Come to our school and enrol your children here because we will be offering the best international education available through our exceptional programs that prepare students for life in the 21st century! 


By Josh Cooper
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