Switzerland’s New, World-Class International School
Switzerland’s public school system ranks among the best in the world, but the increasing number of private and international schools in the country reflects the demand of mobile modern families and more than a few locals to immerse their children’s education in a truly multi-cultural and international setting.
The Lake Geneva region houses a great number of venerable private and international schools, some dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Their curricula are varied, from strict to alternative, humanist to holistic. From the onset of globalisation towards the end of the 20th century through to the unprecedented changes brought by today’s information society, most of these institutions continue to evolve and expand in forging global alliances with other education providers to meet the contemporary challenge of fast-changing times in an international, multilingual context.
The knowledge-based global economy is one of fierce competition, and the education sector enjoys no exemption from this reality. The demand for international schools all along the shores of Lake Geneva has exploded in recent years following the surge of corporate headquarters and other multinational and international organisations establishing themselves in the region. While other private schools are investing massively to increase their enrolment capacity and modernise their facilities, newcomers are building new schools directly oriented to the needs of the region.
One of these new international schools is GEMS World Academy-Etoy. The Dubai-based international learning provider is opening the doors of its newly built, state of the art facilities in September 2013 to accommodate an initial student body of 400 children from pre-kindergarten to Grade 8 (ages 3-14). The school, whose main language of instruction will be English, intends to offer initially the International Baccalaureate Primary Years (PYP) and Middle Years (MYP) programs, progressively increasing enrolment to reach its anticipated first-phase capacity of 1000 students. As the school grows, the IBDP Diploma Program will also be offered as the student body increases to a maximum second-phase capacity of approximately 1800 students up to Grade 12 (age 18).
A Global School Network, Rich In International Education Learning Experience, Adds A Touch Of Asian Dynamism
One may ask what could a new international school offer that is different from other schools in a region where the cantons of Geneva and Vaud alone count almost a hundred of private and international educational institutions (see BILAN’s comparative documentary report on private schools in French-speaking Switzerland, 2011). Says Mel Curtis, Chief Academic Officer for GEMS in Europe, “GEMS’ worldwide success in developing a global education curriculum corresponds to the needs of the children of today for preparing to become global citizens and leaders of the future.” Rob Curtis, Marketing Manager for GEMS in Europe, continues, “Aside from its proven track record in international education, GEMS is creating the first fully integrated, ultramodern campus in Switzerland with the concept of providing an environment for students doing jobs in ten years’ time that perhaps today we have not even thought about.”
A scenario of the unknown can be applied to GEMS itself, a success story grown from humble roots 50 years ago when the Varkey family moved to Dubai to teach English as a second language among the emirate’s growing population of Indian nationals and other expatriates. Convinced that education is a major key in lifting people from poverty, promoting equal rights, and overcoming racial and religious discriminations, Mr Sunny Varkey founded GEMS with a vision of an education based on four core principles: world citizenship, universal values, leadership, and independent thinking. Varkey’s entrepreneurial spirit would create strong partnerships between communities and the public and private sectors in providing high-quality education affordable for familles in a variety of financial circumstances. He has created a unique, modern brand of education that blends innovation with the highest standards.
Originally the biggest provider of private school education in Dubai and elsewhere in Gulf and Middle Eastern countries, GEMS has long been a major force in the development of international education. The strikingly fast development and societal evolution of the Gulf region, most notable in Dubai, has changed this part of the world into an important and cosmopolitan economic hub, one obliging private schools to innovate and adapt to the needs of today’s families on the move across borders and across cultures. The Varkeys took this need to evolve as an opportunity. Today, GEMS Education presents itself as the largest private school operator in the world, counting more than 110,000 students from 151 countries and more than 11,000 teachers, specialists, and support staff among its current locations in ten countries.
The Power of Integrated Partnership
One of Switzerland’s main attractions for expatriate families is its well-established institutions both public and private. Sometimes change engenders skepticism, though; local communities are not likely to welcome the idea of “islands of expats” here and there existing in isolation from mainstream society in the region. The new school complex is on its way to completion in a somewhat unexpected location sandwiched between a busy motorway and a railway line in the Etoy Littoral Industrial Park. The GEMS group does not deny the reality of the challenges in terms of logistics and traffic management, nor of noise reduction, but rich experience plus optimism will see these challenges resolved. “The advantage of building something new is that the whole process allows the possibility of collaboration and partnership with key people and local community authorities,” asserts Mel Curtis. “Unlike the idea of creating an institution in isolation, the school has engaged closely with local authorities and communities in the design and implementation of an intelligent transportation plan, taking full advantage of the train system located just a few metres away from the school gate as well as providing a bus system. Further integration with the community comes through sourcing fresh produce for its school canteens from local growers, opening its sport facilities to the public, and collaborating with companies and businesses by integrating the real world into the curriculum. “The school will promote the first Entrepreneurial Incubator Hub,” says Mel Curtis. “This will provide the opportunity, support, and direction, with bona fide business mentors for the students.”
GEMS World Academy-Etoy takes pride in its new purpose-built campus, with its modern architectural design combining features such as the optimum use of natural light as well as ecofriendly heating and cooling technologies. Facilities will include a world language learning centre, arts and music centres, and a parents’ café. A parents’ café? The integration of family into the learning process is a GEMS hallmark. “In the international community, families are often uprooted from their network of relatives and friends, which can be a lonely experience. It is vitally important that we try to ensure parents have a variety of ways to create new networks and friends, both in school and within the local community with facilities that are open to parents and to the public. It’s good for them, good for the community and good for employers as it creates stable and happy families.” With GEMS encouraging integration and sociability, no student or student’s family will feel lonely for long.
GEMS World Academies are a global network of award-winning international schools teaching thousands of students across the globe. The new GEMS school in Etoy will provide international school learning opportunities for both local and expatriate families. English is the main language of instruction but students are required to learn French and German as part of the curriculum. They also have the option to learn other languages such as Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic.
Article by Jane Tenorio Demaurex