Gems World Academy to enrol 3,000 students here by 2017

The newest kid in the international school scene here, Gems World Academy in Yishun, has just over 200 students, and will grow its enrolment to 650 in September.

When the school's $220 million campus is completed by 2017, it will be able to take in 3,000 students aged three to 18.

Its opening last year, alongside Britain's Dulwich College, has helped to ease the crunch for places in international schools. Market research shows there are about 40,000 students in more than 30 international schools here.

Both institutions target mainly expatriates, as Singaporeans need approval from the Ministry of Education to enrol.

Fees are similar to that of other such schools here - above $20,000 a year.

But unlike Dulwich, which screens students aged seven and above for academic ability, Gems Group executive director Dino Varkey told The Straits Times that the school would not be doing so.

"Our philosophy in education is to nurture every child to his fullest potential," he said, pointing out that despite not being an academically selective school, 99 per cent of its students make it to university, including top varsities such as Oxford, Cambridge and Stanford.

Dulwich College's move to screen students has made it popular with some expatriate parents, while drawing criticism from others.

Mr Varkley said that while Gems does conduct assessments on incoming children, it is done to understand their needs - "where their strengths are and where they can be given extra help".

The Gems education group, the largest private school operator in the world, operates schools in more than a dozen countries including China, Switzerland, Britain and the United States.

Mr David Edwards heads the Singapore school, which offers the International Baccalaureate programme. Classes range from kindergarten to pre-university level.

The school's focus, he said, is on all-round development. All pupils from Grades 1 to 5 (aged seven to 11), for instance, are provided with either a violin or cello. Sound-proof studios allow for one-on-one music lessons during the school day, and there are multiple orchestra groups and bands.

The school's sporting facilities include an Olympic-sized swimming pool, football pitch, gym and a climbing wall.

When fully completed, it will also have a 750-seat auditorium and a planetarium.

Globally, Gems hires more than 13,000 teachers from 115 countries. In Singapore, the school day for students ends earlier on Fridays, at 1.15pm. The afternoons are set aside for the professional development of teachers.

"When you look at education systems globally, the single most important factor that drives student outcomes is the quality of the teachers," Mr Varkey said. "So for us, the quality of our teachers is absolutely the most important thing."

The group's Varkey Foundation launched a US$1 million (S$1.4 million) global teacher prize last year, and American teacher Nancie Atwell was the first recipient.

Mr Varkey said the group, which already has a school in Penang, will open another school there in September, as well as one in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur next year.

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