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By: Leisa Grace Wilson

Legacy can be defined as the mark or impact someone leaves behind. What legacy would you like to leave behind? The majority of us are keen to ensure that our work has a lasting impact for years to come.

As educators, our work lends itself nicely to creating legacies. It is our duty to ensure that we leave a lasting positive legacy on both our students and colleagues.

In this edition of the Teach Middle East Magazine, we enter the world of GEMS Legacy School Dubai (GLS). Formerly known as GEMS Kindergarten Starters, GEMS Legacy School Dubai has been at the heart of learning in the city of Dubai since 1990. With such a name and reputation, we are keen to find out what makes this school so unique. Keep reading.

Creating a Unique Learning Environment

The school has been a part of the Dubai education community for 31 years, as a Primary School, in Al Garhoud, which is in the heart of Dubai. The school has just rebranded and is now being upgraded to a K-12 school. The school focuses on personalised attention, with excellent coordination between teaching staff, supervisors and the school’s counselling department.

They try to discover what motivates every one of their students and understand their needs, know their potential and stimulate their educational curiosity. They ensure that students experience learning in a positive, balanced and complete way, so that they can realise their potential. What makes them unique is that they educate for life, and that is why they are an institution where everyone learns as a community in an environment of respect, solidarity and dialogue. Education values are integrated into every aspect of learning. At GLS, students learn to get along and learn as a group, complementing the education they receive at home.

Changing The Name But Not The Vision

Having completed three decades as a Primary School, there was a desire among the parents to see the school offer a secondary education with the same focus of a values-driven school. The words “Kindergarten” and “Starters” both had connotations with an early primary stage of schooling, and this no longer holds true, which warranted a change of name.

The name GEMS Legacy School was chosen to carry forward the rich traditions on which this school was established, and also to honour the founding Headmistress, Ms Bernadette Pinto. Ms Pinto’s vision was to establish the Kindergarten Starters. They are carrying forward the legacy of this school and what it has stood for over the past three decades. It is often said that if we cannot trace our past, we cannot read our future correctly.

The school marches forward with the grand vision of being the preeminent intellectual and creative school in Dubai and beyond, where research and design, transform and drive approaches to learning and teaching.

Embedding An Effective Digital Strategy

Gems Legacy School was a front runner in adopting a digital curriculum almost a decade ago, moving the school to adopt technology through a Bring Your Own Device Policy for all its students from Grades 2-6. Kindergarten and Grade 1 students were provided devices in school to have hands-on access to devices. The intensive training that teachers received enabled a seamless transition to this model, with the school being recognised as a Microsoft Show Case School since 2016. Each year the school has more than 150 Microsoft Innovative Expert Educators (MIEEs) in the school. Since April 2013, the learning approach has evolved from conventional textbook learning to a blended e-learning approach.  Online interactive learning platforms have extended learning beyond the physical boundaries of the textbook and classroom. 

LEGO and STREAM were integrated within the curriculum in 2016.  Students engage in hands-on Robotics projects and are regular winners at the GEMS Innovation Challenge and the FIRST LEGO League, where they exhibit their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Students collaborate in the Design Atelier to design solutions to real-life global problems through the Design Thinking Process, using Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. They lead the learning at Makers Markets, where they teach their parents the skills of Coding and the use of Microbits, and WeDo as they help them navigate the world of technology. This is often very new to some of the parents.

Promoting  Sustainability And Environmental Awareness

GLS has the unique distinction of being the first school in the world to have United Nations Climate Change Teachers in all of its 162 classrooms. Not wanting to remain content with certification, the school decided to take action by committing to plant 15,000 trees each year. On 5th September 2019, they began the Plant A Legacy project by planting saplings in several locations in the United Arab Emirates.

Today, they have planted more than 36,500 saplings with participation from 42 countries and were recognised as Champions of the Earth by the Child Movement instituted by Licypriya Kangujam, a young Indian climate activist.

Having attended the Conference of Parties (COP 25) in Madrid in 2019, the school realised there were not many opportunities for children in schools to discuss climate change. Hence, GEMS instituted the world’s first School Conference of Parties Expo in 2020 (SCOPE 2020) – a virtual platform that saw 40 schools from as far as Australia and Costa Rica participate alongside students from the UAE. Students used many forms of expression, including art and literature, to generate awareness, and their literary works were published as The Climate Diaries on Amazon. This platform continues to invite participation as students discuss issues around climate action. GLS is looking to host at least 70 schools this year in October 2021.

Empowering Staff and Students To Achieve Great Things

The school provides opportunities for staff to discover their leadership potential and innovate in a flexible and positive environment. This has empowered staff to work with Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education on an Action Research for three years and this case study is featured in Inquiry-Driven Innovation: A Practical Guide to Supporting School-Based Change. Staff have also presented their innovative strategies at the World Education Summit, and the T4 Global Summit held last year.

Generosity and Tolerance are deeply ingrained at GLS, and through fundraisers conducted annually, the school has been donating through Dubai Cares. The school’s continuous support over the last ten years earned them recognition from HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, as the only educational institution to have contributed every year to support the cause of Primary Education for underprivileged children all over the world. GLS has also built schools in Malawi and Palestine, in an effort to make generosity a tangible reality for the students.

The legacy continues…