Dubai: The UAE’s largest private education provider, GEMS Education, on Thursday launched the “Family First” initiative to incorporate this core principle in a new movement for global change while supporting the UAE leadership’s agenda for social change.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence, launched the initiative at GEMS World Academy – Dubai.
Hessa Bint Essa Buhumaid, director-general of Dubai’s Community Development Authority, also addressed the audience of some 500 GEMS family members, including GEMS Education Founder Sunny Varkey, students, parents, and grandparents.
Love and care: Positive change
The movement for positive change, based on love and care, will help GEMS underpin its long-established holistic classroom learning for students across its school network in a ground-breaking new programme, the company said in a press release.
It said that GEMS believes that family is the launchpad for all learning and that love and care for our elder relatives is a great way for us to repay at least some of the debt we owe our parents and grandparents. “This is also encapsulated in the recently released Dubai Social Agenda 33 that emphasises the theme ‘Family: The Foundation of Our Nation,”
Addressing the audience, Sheikh Nahyan said: “Family is the most important building block of a peaceful, tolerant, and prosperous society. Your work will help families promote values such as peace, tolerance, fraternity, non-violence, as well as personal and collective growth and achievement. These are values which are so important in our lives, our society, and our world today.”
“The emphasis in the Family First movement on the connection between children’s mental health and their family life is particularly important. I commend GEMS schools, under the leadership of my friend, Sunny Varkey, for taking up this important challenge. I congratulate the faculty and staff at the schools for realising their duty to engage families and to enhance their abilities to help their children live their lives with confidence and hope.”
The movement encourages GEMS families to spend more time together, exploring new frontiers of experience, and tapping into the wealth of knowledge and wise counsel within the home unit that too often goes undiscovered.
Plans for Family First activations in 2024 include a large survey on family values, a monthly TED Talk-style discussion on different aspects of family support led by leading experts and proponents from around the world, and an end-of-year gala event to celebrate stories that encapsulate Family First principles.
Every GEMS school in the UAE and Qatar has already appointed a staff member as a Family First ‘Champion’ to spearhead individual school activities based on family values.
“All 44 GEMS schools in the UAE and Qatar will inculcate family values and the importance of family into their teaching from kindergarten years upwards. This will take various forms, ranging from emphasising the importance of strong ethical behaviour in an Islamic or Moral Studies class, to interviewing an elderly Emirati grandparent about growing up in the UAE during the 1950s or 1960s in a history lesson,” the group said.
Varkey, who helped his teacher parents grow the organisation from a single school in the early 1980s to become one of the world’s biggest and longest established private school group, said: “As I get a little older, I start to realise that the most important things in life are the family relationships we have. In all my travels, I have noticed that in developing economies, there is a real family bond – of love and dependence. To me, this is the norm. However, in wealthier nations, I see people more isolated as they pursue their individual goals. It is good to dream but you mustn’t forget those that gave you the chance to dream in the first place – your families.”
Parents, students, and staff will join forces to put Family First at the heart of a vast array of projects that Varkey sees as tapping into the very DNA of the organisation he has nurtured for years.
This has already taken shape in the Jewels of Kindness and Core Values programmes rolled out in all GEMS schools, the group said.
Varkey continued: “Families that stand together – united – are always stronger. And for those that say our elders are merely dependents, I say this to you… Have you ever seen grandparents play with their grandchildren? You will see that our elders are the essential anchors of stability and guidance. They offer deep wisdom, important traditions, and a huge capacity for love.”
Dr Saima Rana, GEMS’ Group Chief Education Officer, said: “Families and caregivers are the unsung heroes of the education process. They offer the emotional safety net that allows learners to take risks, make mistakes, and grow.
“They instill values, model compassion, and provide a stable foundation upon which education can thrive. Therefore, it is imperative that we recognise and express gratitude for the invaluable role they play in our journey as learners and as individuals.”