The Future Is Now

GEMS Education has launched five ground-breaking Centres of Excellence to promote technological and digital learning and unique student pathways

In pursuit of creating unique learning pathways and qualifications for students with greater relevance to a fast-evolving society, GEMS Education has launched five ground-breaking Centres of Excellence. Each Centre specialises in a distinct field – artificial intelligence and robotics; digital industries and sustainability; aviation and space; performance and theatre technologies, entrepreneurship and youth start-up – but all share a focus on promoting and delivering outstanding technological and digital learning experiences, primarily for students aged 14-18.

Why are these Centres of Excellence necessary?

Michael Gernon, Chief Education Innovation Officer at GEMS Education, explains: “It is clear that there will be a greater focus on skills to meet the challenges of the future. And not just the four Cs – Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical thinking, but areas not previously explored in depth by schools, such as complexity, agility, risk and increased social and emotional intelligence, will be equally if not more important. Transferability of skills and the application of knowledge to create new learning will be paramount.”

If the education sector is to achieve this, Michael points to the need for businesses, higher education and schools to work together to create new models of learning, credentialing achievements when ready and offering more flexible pathways to success than the traditional graduation stages of high school, higher education and work. Put simply, it requires a bold and disruptive approach.

Karan Deep, Head of Innovation and Partnerships at GEMS Education, echoes this: “We live in a world where our lives are segmented into three different phases – K-12, higher education and the workforce. But in today’s world, by the time people start working, companies often still have to spend a year or more retraining employees on new industries, new mindsets and new technologies.

So, we want to help blur the lines that exist between these three stages, bringing forward the knowledge and expertise that exists in the later stages of our lives to the age of 14 or earlier. It is our attempt to help bridge the skills gap and knowledge gap and enable our students to hit the ground running, whether it is for university or a job. That is where our Centres of Excellence come in.”

 Five Centres of Excellence have been launched by GEMS Education
Five Centres of Excellence have been launched by GEMS Education

Shifting Boundaries

Within these Centres, students have access to new learning experiences in the world of work and undergraduate study, making them future-ready at a much earlier age. By removing the traditional age boundaries of graduation at 18 and 22, as well as the constraints of a typical academic year, students are immersed in a range of academic and industry-level qualifications and experiences and have the chance to create real-world, future-focused solutions.

The Centres involve deep integration and collaboration with local, regional and international university and business partners to enable experiential learning, research and development, innovation and entrepreneurship. The aim is to lead to industry and higher education-level qualifications accredited by the partners involved, in addition to allowing for early identification of emerging student talent.

“The whole point is to work with our university and business partners to tap into their knowledge and create new learning and development pathways for students,” says Karan.

“There is a full spectrum that begins with career and technology talks to create awareness about industries and jobs and to engage our students in long-term project-based internships geared towards completing challenges. We are also actively co-creating some of the world’s first embedded K-12 curricula on the likes of artificial intelligence, drones, digital economies and entrepreneurship to name a few – all coupled with applications and tangible outcomes. GEMS is building long-term relationships with industry leaders to ensure sustainable impact.”

This new approach is positioned as a form of talent-spotting and universities have shown particular interest in inviting talented students to their campuses to incubate them and potentially also offer early or expedited university entry. Karan explains what an ideal pathway would look like: “In an exemplar scenario, a pre-engineering course or the first year of an engineering undergraduate degree might be brought forward and covered through high school. The student would work with the school and university faculty to complete the course and then be offered expedited entry into the university, either in the second term or year of the undergraduate degree. The same applies for businesses. Having worked with the student in high school and seen their passion, a business might offer a longer internship or full-time employment. This really evolves the standard model of university and job applications and doubles down on our vision of blurring these lines.”

In addition, it’s not just students who would benefit because the Centres of Excellence are also geared towards training teachers in new technologies and pedagogies, underpinned by the latest research and development. The intention is for the Centres to act as regional and international hubs for the GEMS Education community, while also creating outreach and philanthropic connections globally through the Varkey Foundation.

Closing the skills gap

Partners on board so far include a range of well-known organisations, businesses and government bodies with a local, regional and global presence. These include Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, The Executive Office, Siemens, Al Tamimi & Co, Noon, Emirates NBD and Liv.

Confirmed university partners to date include American University in Dubai (AUD) and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). The GEMS Education team is also in discussions with Arizona State University in the US, Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada and Middlesex University in the UAE. All of these universities are eager to collaborate with GEMS Education and there is also the benefit that each partnership extends across all five Centres of Excellence.

“Interestingly, AUD is building its own centre of excellence focusing on sustainability, blockchain, artificial intelligence and entrepreneurship, so it is a good time to be developing our own Centres,” adds Karan.

“The foundation of each university partnership is built around faculty sharing, student sharing and curriculum co-creation.”

The universities and enterprises on board for the launch of the Centres of Excellence were chosen following meetings with hundreds of potential partners. “These are the most forward-thinking and supportive partners we have come across,” explains Karan. “And in all of these partnerships, there is no monetary transaction involved. Our relationship setup is purely based on closing the skills gap.”

The newly designed AI and Robotics Centre at DAA
The newly designed AI and Robotics Centre at DAA

Ambitious plans 

So how exactly does a Centre of Excellence work and how will it be integrated into existing school frameworks and curriculums? “All our Centre of Excellence Leads are members of their school’s senior leadership team,” says Karan. “This is to ensure there is positional power and buy-in. Our aim is to embed the Centre into the curriculum and into the normal school day – so it is not merely an after-school activity. In a normal school day, you have English, science and maths, but now you also have artificial intelligence or entrepreneurship, for example.”

Karan emphasises that the programme is open to all students and not selective. And while students attending one of the five chosen schools will, of course, have direct access to the Centres of Excellence, it is also important to note that students across the entire GEMS Education network will be able to register for and attend related talks, presentations and events.

Moving forward, the idea is to add more Centres, opening up the opportunities and pathways to an even greater number of students and enabling them to focus on other key industries and subjects. “Some areas of specialisation were held back this year,” says Karan, “but these might be launched next year, including industries such as data science, biotech and nanotech.”

Centres of Excellence

1.  Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

As the Centre of Excellence for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, GEMS Dubai American Academy (DAA) will undertake initiatives across research, student and teacher development and culture development. These include:

  • Training for teachers across the GEMS network
  • Development of active incubation hubs for best practice
  • Generating and publishing latest thinking and research
  • Hosting talks by successful implementers of AI
  • Leveraging of partnerships with AUD, RIT and others
  • AI vision processing and autonomous driving on board a modified Renault Twizy road vehicle
  • Robotic arm research, including Conveyer, Slider, Vision Kit and Industrial Automation
  • Virtual, augmented and mixed reality research using Facebook Occulus, HTC Vive and Microsoft Ho-loLens
  • 3D printing – Multi-material and Multi-Tool 3D printers capable of printing in plastic, metal and food (paste)
  • Coding – advanced recipes using Python, Tensor Flow, IBM Watson, Amazon Alexa on high-end Apple computing ecosystem
  • Development of a continuum of AI courses leading to AI and American diploma
  • AI elective for high school
  • Introduction to AI – machine learning bootcamp for elementary and middle school students
  • Introduction to behavioural coding in middle school
  • Introduction of industrial robotics in high school
  • Microsoft Azure access subscriptions for students
  • Implementation of AI-powered chat bot and inventory
  • GEMS-wide interschool AI hackathon/conference

2. Digital Industries and Sustainability

Having already announced their close partnership with Siemens in June 2019, the role of GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa (FPS) as the Centre of Excellence for Digital Industries and Sustainability is well underway. “What FPS and Siemens are doing is the basic framework for everything else,” explains Karan. “On one side, students can work with Siemens on sustainability and on the other side we’re working with our other partner, Noon, to build an e-commerce curriculum for K-12.”

In addition, through Dubai’s Rahhal programme, for which FPS is the designated lead school, FPS has designated every Wednesday an internship day for students aged 16 and up. This sets aside time for students to engage with long-term projects on sustainability with Siemens or the e-commerce curriculum with Noon.

The school’s Centre of Excellence will focus on student and teacher development, real-world links, culture and research and development. Initiatives include:

  • Careers programme from FS1-Y13 linked to industry, employability and soft skills
  • Weekly internship options for students aged 16+
  • Development of project-based approach to internship
  • Industry-specific qualification element to FPS’ Key Stage 4 and 5 curriculums
  • Incubator opportunities
  • Creation of a continuum of staff development for digital industry based on Blooms Taxonomy
  • Development of alternative entry routes into university
  • Access to industry-level courses and qualifications on sustainability and related technologies
  • Involvement in Siemens’ energy efficiency programme

3. Aviation and Space

To help develop its role as the Centre of Excellence for Aviation and Space, GEMS International School – Al Khail (GIS) has developed a partnership with Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre. “They have their own educational content about space and workshops that GIS can utilise to put together a series of talks and for other content. We’ve also been asked to participate in the Young Persons in Space Conference in November,” says Karan. Discussions around the aviation component are ongoing, he says.

As with the other Centres of Excellence, the focus is primarily on student development, teacher development, research and development and culture.

Initiatives include:

  • ‘Introduction to Aviation’ and ‘Introduction to Aerospace Engineering’ IB electives for MYP and DP
  • ‘Introduction to Aerospace and Aviation’ extra-curricular activity and Grade 9 STEM class
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator Licenses for Education
  • Implementation of Drone for EDU programme to aid piloting skills, leading to licensing by the DCAA
  • Integration of Python and CAD.CAM design suites from middle school onwards
  • Student-led design and installation of flight traffic control simulator and flight simulator rooms in MYP
  • Interschool drone building and racing events

4. Performance and Theatre Technologies

Having teamed up with Arts Educational Schools (ArtsEd) and UDO Academy, both UK-based, the Centre of Excellence for Performance and Theatre Tech at GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis (WSO) offers a transformational, personalised performing arts education that includes theatre equipment, stage design and costume design, plus opportunities for early entrance into higher education.

Initiatives include:

  • Mentorship, workshops, industry programmes and seed funding to develop student performance and theatre tech leadership and business models
  • Bespoke Performance and Theatre Tech programmes
  • Development of partnerships with ArtsEd, UDO and other specialists within the UAE to provide industry training, masterclasses and skill development
  • Further development of WSO Performing Arts Academy and technology pathways offered including IB, BTEC, UDO, LAMDA, TRINITY and ABRSM
  • Industry recognised vocational qualifications, pathways and learning experiences for teachers
  • ArtsEd professionals working alongside WSO staff to ensure world-class student training
  • Collaboration with Ryerson’s Theatre School and Faculty of Communication and Design to bring forward degrees in Performance Production, including student exchange programmes and staff CPD

5. Entrepreneurship and Youth Start-up

As the Centre of Excellence for Entrepreneurship and Youth Start-Up, GEMS World Academy – Dubai (GWA) is focused on developing programmes and curriculums that promote entrepreneurship, innovation and environmentalism. Key partners include The Executive Office and Al Tamimi, the largest law firm in the region. Discussions are also underway with Wamda Capital.

“We previously worked with The Executive Office to create an entrepreneurship curriculum that was meant for higher education, but now the Centre of Excellence at GWA is working with them to create a K-12 entrepreneurship curriculum. The aim is to bust the myth that entrepreneurship is purely business because in fact it’s about solving problems for large numbers of people, which may or may not have a commercial angle,” explains Karan. And part of this curriculum involves developing a mini embedded accelerator programme of 10-20 weeks.

Karan continues: “We’ve brought Al Tamimi into the mix because the vision for the GWA Centre is to graduate entrepreneurs, not just students. By that I mean students who have the skills necessary to run a business and solve large problems and who have a working business and trade licence in hand. This is where Al Tamimi comes in as through their CSR activities, they’ve agreed to run legal and IP camps for students and also teachers, to help them with business registration. This will be highly beneficial as typically it’s difficult for those aged under 18 years.”

Initiatives include:

  • Development of an Accelerator Hub
  • Hosting professional development events for teachers
  • Development of a parent committee and mentors
  • Development of teacher trainers and start-up coaches
  • Social Impact curriculum for Grades 3-11
  • 10- to 20-week accelerator programme for students
  • Mini MBA for Grade 11
  • Development of partnership with Wamda, one of the region’s largest ecosystems for start-up mentorship, programmes, funding and thought leadership.
A week in the life of a Centre of Excellence student