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In education, as in all aspects of life, individuals possess different skills and talents. Whether it is a talent for sport, a musical prowess or an innate scientific or mathematical ability, young people often shine in different areas.

At GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis (GEMS WSO), this diversity of individual talent is nurtured both academically and holistically from the moment young pupils join at the foundation level, right up to the school’s wide variety of post-16 pathways into higher education, where students are able to select different elements from different curriculums.

The team at GEMS WSO believes that this approach allows their students to maximise their success in a way that is positive both for their academic achievements and emotional wellbeing as individuals.

Children can pick pieces of each qualification that best suits them. Students can choose practical elements, purely academic elements, a broad programme or a narrower programme and everything is okay because all children are different and unique.

- Andy Kai-Fong, Secondary Principal, GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis

This starts from the very outset of children’s educational journey and can be illustrated through the school’s weekly outdoor learning programme. The Foundation Stage has been rated outstanding by the KHDA for seven consecutive years and all Foundation students have weekly access to the outdoor learning experience.

It’s a programme where children as young as three are encouraged to interact with the outside world, both on campus and during outings, to provide real learning experiences that can be taken back into the classroom.

“The main philosophy is that children need to see that learning can take place everywhere around the world and it’s not just confined to the four walls of a classroom,” says Primary Principal, Nathan Sadler.

Mr Sadler refers to how this approach is not only popular with the children but also appreciated by their parents.

Assistant Principal, Sarah Hollingsworth, says that outdoor learning is an essential part of preparing the young children from a very early age to become lifelong learners. “We have a child-led learning approach and it is part of everything we do. It gives the children an opportunity to explore their own learning and embed those skills from an early age.

GEMS Wellington  Dubai 1
Image Credit: Supplied

“With outdoor learning, it allows the children to explore, imagine and be creative in an environment that is outside the classroom”

Jonathan Roberts, Assistant Principal, says that outdoor learning can be applied to a number of subjects such as science. “All children have an innate curiosity and that’s supported through our outdoor learning, where children learn through play and experience and exploring the natural world”.

“If a student sees a leaf falling from a tree and tracks its journey or they roll a ball around, they get to see and experience forces such as gravity in action. When they go into class and they learn about forces in a science lesson, they have a concrete experience, from which they can draw on and construct learning on.”

He also says that outdoor learning provides other key skills to the school’s young minds. “Studies suggest that character is as important as academic attainment so through our outdoor learning, students really learn essential skills such as collaboration, creativity, problem solving and critical thinking.”

Post-16 pathways

The individualised and personalised philosophy behind outdoor learning continues throughout GEMS WSO’s students’ academic journeys, including when pupils select their post-16 curriculum.

The school offers five pathways where teenagers can select from IB, A-Level and BTEC courses. The school also offers students an option to combine different elements from different curriculums, creating a truly personalised pathway that is tailored to their individual strengths and interests.

Secondary Principal Andy Kai-Fong says, “Children can pick pieces of each qualification that best suits them. Students can choose practical elements, purely academic elements, a broad programme or a narrower programme and everything is okay because all children are different and unique.”

The school meet with students and parents both before and after their exams to ensure that they select the pathway which is best suited to the pupils’ needs, such as preparing to apply for a particular university or finding the best balance between academic and holistic learning.

This approach is developed to ensure that all 96 nationalities of pupils have a post-16 pathway that is tailor-made for their individual needs. “I don’t believe that a child should adapt for an institution. An institution should adapt for its students,” says Amy Cooper, Assistant Principal.

Year 13 students, Lewis Harrad and Cameron Harrad
Year 13 students, Lewis Harrad and Cameron Harrad Image Credit: Supplied

Year 13 student, Cameron Harrad, welcomes the breadth of choice and is studying the IB Career-Related Programme (IBCP). “I am studying Higher Level History, Standard Level Biology and BTEC Business. With the IBCP programme, I am able to focus on the subjects I love the most and take one step closer to achieving my career aspirations.”

His brother, Lewis Harrad, also in year 13, says his post-16 pathway choices helped him identify his career aspirations. “Having the flexibility and options to pick multiple sciences has been pivotal in me moving from studying for a career in engineering to working towards a career in product design. I now know myself better than ever and that is something I am grateful for and would not get with the A-level pathway or another system.”

Mr Kai-Fong highlights how the school’s wide variety of enrichment programmes, which are included within the timetable, is an additional example of the school’s commitment helping students in all aspects of their learning lives.

“Mental health problems, anxiety and external pressures are increasing on young people and our response to that is to broaden and balance the curriculum and have times where students can diffuse, utilise different strengths and re-energise. If students can’t find that balance the chances are they won’t be able to do it as adults and that’s not the type of learner or young graduate we want coming out of GEMS WSO.”

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