“The best schools collaborate with other schools. You learn by doing that. You give and by giving to others, you get. If you want to be a good school, you should be sharing your practice for what works,” VISS Executive Principal, Mr Dean Pyrah.
The Victoria International School of Sharjah (VISS) lies on a sprawling compound along the Corniche in Sharjah. The school, under the patronage of HH Dr. Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, follows the Australian curriculum and is led by Principal, Mr Dean Pyrah.
“HH Dr. Sheikh Sultan, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah wanted to build a world class school here in Sharjah. In observing the Australian curriculum, His Highness believed that it would be a good fit for Sharjah because the Australian curriculum is very enquiry based and holistic. A memorandum of understanding was signed by the State of Victoria (in Australia), the Department of Education and the Government of Sharjah approximately nine years ago,” states Mr Pyrah.
As an international school, VISS maintains strong ties with the Department of Education in Victoria and the Victorian Qualification Authority. As such, most of its teachers are recruited directly from Australia where they have been trained and certified by the governing bodies in Victoria. There are approximately 130 teachers across the school from K-12, with 70% of them being Australian.
“The quality of education that we provide, is very similar to what you would get in a top Australian school, unlike other international schools that might loosely call themselves Australian,” comments Mr Pyrah, “we are proud of that.”
One key mandate of this school is retaining the Australian curriculum, as well as ensuring quality control in keeping with the Australian education standards.
“The Australian curriculum is broad-based. It’s a framework curriculum in the sense that it is not as prescriptive as other curriculums. It is outcomes based. There is a lot more negotiations and contextualising, so it lends itself well to an international environment,” states Mr Pyrah.
Below are a few additional terms that Mr Pyrah uses to describe the curriculum:
- Flexible and adaptable curriculum framework suited to international contexts
- Strong focus on welfare; health is included in the curriculum
- Focused on inquiry learning and innovation; less content driven
- Strong emphasis on differentiation
- Breadth of assessment; focus on process
VISS comprises of a multicultural student body of 70 different nationalities. There is a dedicated focus on providing students with a holistic and progressive programme of learning based on the Australian curriculum and IB education.
Lauding their IB programme Mr Pyrah adds, “IB takes a number of years to adjust to. Last year, our IB students were just above world average, which is fantastic, as most of our students are second language English speakers. A number of them are attending good universities.”
The school is an Australian architecturally designed open planned facility. It features glass windows in classrooms and offices. The design of the campus resonates with fluidity of movement in space and transparency, giving credence to the notion of the space being a third teacher. The carpeted floor is an uncommon feature in UAE schools and was specifically requested, by the Victorian government in keeping with their open space policy. This allows for easy movement with minimal noise from footfall.
According to Mr Pyrah, the school has been a magnet for education providers from within the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain who are interested in what an Australian education is like.
“We have a fantastic facility for training. We often host CPD training events and Spark events. Professional development is very important to us, so we invest in relationships with people who understand that. We have a good relationship with Apple. At present, we are one of the biggest providers of iTunes U in the Middle East,” states Mr Pyrah.
Mentoring sessions for senior leadership members and Emirati teachers from other schools have been hosted at VISS. CPD sessions for VISS teachers are sometimes carried out via webinars from Australia. Additionally, teacher development appraisals are carried out under a professional development programme that Australian registered teachers follow, which is based in Australia. VISS also works very closely with the Sharjah Education Zone and the UAE Ministry of Education.
Mr Pyrah notes that innovation and technology are embedded into teaching and learning. A number of VISS teachers are currently Apple Distinguished Educators and students in Years 4-9 have been benefiting from a one-to-one iPad programme for the past five years. Students in Year 6 and higher must enroll in a technology-based subject (Design Technology, Food Technology, Textiles, Music, Drama, Art, or Information Technology, etc.).
Outdoor education is a big part of the school’s curriculum. Emphasis is placed on teaching children how to understand their environment and how to survive. The co-curricular programme is mandatory for students and includes a variety of activities (Music academy, Football Academy, Swimming Academy, Dance Academy, etc.) all for them to choose from. As a member of the Sharjah Association of Private Schools, VISS students participate in a number of sports based competitions in Sharjah and Dubai.
Parental engagement in the school is fostered by the Parent Association and the provision of a number of activities inclusive of swimming classes, zumba classes, football matches between staff and parents and technology sessions to name a few.
“Our mission is to build a world-class school, as such we are focusing on building the school from the bottom up, where our KG students join us early, so they learn the culture of the school and what is expected academically and from a personal development perspective,” Mr Pyrah concludes.
With an excellent education facility, talented teachers and a space that encourages students to take charge of their own learning, the Victoria International School of Sharjah is making serious headway in accomplishing their goal of being a world-class school. The work that they do in mentoring other educators via their mentoring programme for Emirati teachers and principals, in addition to the numerous workshops that they provide for educators, are clear indicators that sharing good practice is not a mere saying, it is what they actually do.
By Carolyn Lee.
Carolyn is the editor of Teach UAE Magazine.