“Learning another language is like becoming another person,” says Karim Murcia, Director and CEO of the GEMS Al Barsha National School. A linguist himself, graduated in French and Arabic, Murcia is pushed in his role to encourage students to become bilingual and biliterate so that they become well-rounded citizens of the world with a deep respect and understanding of their culture and of their heritage.
With a high percentage of Emirati students, the school supports a bilingual curriculum and believes that language is the main vehicle for reflection, action and change. The school’s cultural ethos instills strong values in students who aim to become innovative global leaders with a sense of national pride.
The GEMS Al Barsha National School is dedicated to the development of bilingual and bi-literate Emirati and Arab leaders. Does the mandate help inspire loyalty and pride in students?
Our vision is to create a world-class, innovative and inclusive national school dedicated to the development of bilingual and bilingual Emirati and Arab leaders who are responsible global citizens. We prepare our students to become respectful and creative lifelong learners with a strong national identity and a sense of pride in their culture and heritage. Although we are fully inclusive, over 75% of our students are Emirati. By making them bilingual and bilateral, we want to inspire loyalty and pride in the UAE and make them confident in communicating with all citizens of the world, both inside and outside the UAE.
To help you in this endeavor, do you have qualified and experienced native English and Arabic speaking teachers trained in contemporary methodology?
As a part of GEMS Education, we are able to recruit some of the best teachers from around the world. All of our English teachers are highly qualified UK trained teachers, while we have the best Arabic teachers in the Arab world. We invest heavily in professional development, both at the company level (with the Tellal Institute) and at the school level, so that when we recruit teachers, they understand our methodology, curriculum and approach. .
What is the appropriate age to start a new language?
The journey begins when students enter school at age 3, at the founding stage. Our basic stage is taught in a fully bilingual model – 50 percent of their students are in an English program and 50 percent in an Arabic program. As they progress, we devote more time to the curriculum for Arabic language subjects, but bilingualism and bilingualism are ingrained in the culture of the school. We have a continuous stream of community collaboration initiatives promoting it and much of our student-led activities are conducted in both languages.
Speaking of role models, do you offer your students mentors by introducing them to Emirati leaders and innovators locally and internationally?
We have strong links between the school and the local community and we engage many of our Emirati parents who are powerful role models. We are constantly using parent feedback to develop our bilingual and bilateral programs to see how we can further support our students.
Our rich program of external speakers is also extremely beneficial for our students as it connects them with Emirati leaders, such as Sheikh Juma Bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, as well as successful personalities such as Mohammed Al Harmi, director of space operations at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center. and United Arab Emirates astronauts Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan AlNeyadi who inspire our students. Our senior students are also part of mentoring programs with leading companies in the UAE that help them hone their skills and broaden perspectives.
As a UK school, how do you facilitate biliteracy?
The school teaches the National Curriculum for England from Foundation Stage One to A levels. We place special emphasis on developing literacy and numeracy skills in Arabic and English, through a unique curriculum of teaching of equal bilingual languages in the Foundation years. In Key Stages 2 and 3 (Years 3-9), students have an enriched curriculum for Arabic, Islamic Education, and UAE Social Studies that helps them understand the ethos, culture and heritage of the UAE. region.
Our teachers are trained to understand language development, focusing initially on listening and reading skills which become the building blocks of productive speaking and writing skills. Stimulating and dynamic learning exhibits and the support of bilingual staff members including teachers, teaching assistants and administrative staff all help to enhance language development in an immersive environment.
Biliteracy is likely to be difficult due to the linguistic distance between Arabic and English. Are you OK with that? How did you meet the challenges of the pandemic?
As part of our professional development program, teachers learn to understand student needs, understand the importance of visual cues, and understand the benefits and challenges of local Arabic as opposed to some form of Arabic. more standard.
During Covid-19, our teachers did an incredible job developing the programs. For example, our Arabic teachers have developed the skills to deliver hybrid teaching models – at school and at home. We offer high quality live lessons during distance learning, and we make sure that students are active learners in terms of language acquisition. The way our teachers have adapted to the change has helped accelerate the opportunities for children to develop their language skills.
How did bilingualism and bilingualism help your students?
With 77% of our students being UAE nationals, it is very important for us to get involved and understand the needs of the community and we have been fortunate to see that our methodology has yielded encouraging results. Our Grade 11 students last year were the first cohort to take the IGCSE exams. We use a program called ALPS to track student progress and we are delighted that last year’s results produced an ALPS score of 1, the highest possible score, which suggests they were in the top 5. percent of international results.
This content is sourced from Reach by Gulf News, which is GN Media’s branded content team.