GEMS: A Cut Above The Rest

Keeping in line with the GEMS vision of pursuing excellence and leading through innovations, GEMS World Academy (GWA) Singapore’s new Principal – Secondary Years, Jan Stipek, wants to ensure life-long success of his students rather than just university admissions

1/31/2017 3:17:38 PM
written By : Nithya Subramanian Print

You know a school is a school when educators and not businessmen run it. GEMS Education – the world’s largest operator of private school – exemplifies this, as it was founded by Indian-born teachers K S and Marina Varkey in Dubai in 1959. The same ethos is present in its schools across the globe, including Singapore, where it opened a plush 3000-capacity school more than two years ago.

Today GWA (Singapore) is buzzing with students from various countries and ethnic groups, making it seem like a United Nations of education. GWA (Singapore) offers world-class facilities to nurture diverse talents in academic, sports and performing arts, partners with parents through engagement programmes and has exceptional educators with an average experience of 15 years in teaching. It also draws resources from its global network of educational institutions to ensure outstanding results.

The first cohort of 21 students will be appearing for their International Baccalaureate (IB) in 2018, a landmark event for this school. Jan Stipek, Principal - Secondary Years, who has years of experience of working on and teaching IB Programmes, leads the team of educators at GWA (Singapore). 

“Being the first batch, our students may not have seniors here to support them, but they are part of a global Theory of Knowledge (TOK) cohort, interacting with students in other GEMS schools. We also invite young university students, recent pass-outs, to come and share their experiences with them,” he said. 

GWA (Singapore) has recently teamed up with Pamoja Education, a global provider of IB Diploma Programme online, to create a blended learning programme. The aim is to create a 21st century global classroom where DP students can benefit from combining a face-to-face learning environment with an-on-demand, virtual classroom. 

In a wide-ranging interview, the Czech-born Stipek spoke about his role at GWA (Singapore), the IB experience, and what prompted him to become a teacher.

“These days, I do not teach due to various other responsibilities, but if I had the time, I would probably teach Theory of Knowledge (TOK)”.

India Se: What prompted you to take up the role as Secondary Years Principal at GWA (Singapore)? What is your vision for the secondary students studying here, considering that this is a new school and you will be responsible for building a track record?

Jan Stipek: I stepped out of the school environment in 2011 when I joined the International Baccalaureate (IB) at their global centre in The Hague. In my five years at the IB, I gained a unique insight into the complexities and challenges schools face around the world when implementing the IB programmes. I visited an IB school in Philadelphia with a restricted budget and a tiny IB cohort one month, and a powerful, private IB school in Bangkok with hundreds of IB students the next month. After five years at the IB, I was looking for an opportunity to build a school and help it to grow. My wife and I also lived in Singapore from 2006 to 2009, and the opportunity here at GWA (Singapore) met both my professional expectations and family requirements. 

Our vision is to be the acknowledged leader of excellence in international education across Asia. To reach this, many facets must be woven into a net of overall excellence: quality teachers, safe environment conducive to learning, culture of trust, support and success, personal skills and many others. I would like our students to be respectful, confident, well-spoken, well-informed and resilient young people who are fully prepared for success in university and beyond. Many schools focus on university admission data because it provides a convenient statistic; I am interested in tracking our success further – university completion vs retention rates, ability to find a job, employment vs entrepreneurship and so on. The great news is that this sort of data is much easier to track now than even five years ago – I have many of my old students on LinkedIn and keep an eye on their career.

India Se: You have a lot of experience in the IB system and GEMS has already established itself as a leader in this curriculum outside Singapore. Could you please share your thoughts?

Jan Stipek: I think what sets GEMS apart is that it is a thought leader in and active promoter of international education, not simply an ‘operator of international schools’ passively implementing IB curricula. Both IB and GEMS are organisations with a mission, vision and passion for education. That’s why GEMS schools have adopted IB curricula – it’s a perfect match. As a result, GEMS schools globally have had impressive Diploma Programme results. 

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