Gems Education to expand in India and South East Asia

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School owner and operator Gems Education is planning to expand in India and South East Asia as it builds more low-cost schools with quicker building times.

“India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and the government knows that education is a key to continuing that success, and we also want to improve the public schools in India, if the central and the state governments want, through accountability, quality assurance and inspection,” said Michael Wilshaw, a former chief inspector of schools at Ofsted, who took over as the senior adviser for education strategy at Gems Education this week.

In his new role, Mr Wilshaw will oversee the expansion of Gems schools in India and South East Asia, with a focus on Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

In India, Gems owns and manages 14 schools and three nurseries. Its Dream India programme, which involves the affordable schools model all under the Indian curriculum, has 148 schools, some of which are owned by Gems.

“Because of our history and expertise in providing educational choices for families of many different socio-economic backgrounds, we feel we are in an unrivalled position to support communities throughout [India, South Asia and Africa] with our affordable schools model,” according to Dino Varkey, the managing director and a board member at Gems Education. “You may find that there are a lot of education providers that are opening schools for only a select segment of the population.”

In India, Gems is already expanding with the relatively new off-site construction model that allows for shorter build time.

Dubai-based KEF Infra, a unit of KEF Holdings, is constructing a Gems Education school in India that is expected to take just five-and-a-half months to build, "cutting down construction time from an average of 20 months for a school of such a scale in India", Faizal Kottikollon, the founder and chairman of KEF Holdings, told The National. The handover is expected in April.

All the infrastructure components for the 130,000 square feet campus with a capacity for 3,000 students were manufactured off-site at KEF Holdings’ India factory. The school is expected to have CBSE and IB curriculum.

The Gems Modern Academy in SmartCity Kochi would be the first Gems school in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

It already owns one school in Singapore and another in Malaysia, with another planned to open in the next two years. It also owns a nursery in Malaysia.

“South East Asia is a rapidly expanding part of the world, their economies are doing significantly better than they were, and for that trajectory of improvement to continue they need an educated workforce,” Mr Wilshaw said.

Gems is yet to decide on the curriculum – local or international – for these schools.

Singapore’s high school students ranked first in the world in science, maths and reading skills, according to the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) conducted in 72 countries and published last month. Vietnam ranked eighth in the Pisa test, while the UAE came 46th. India does not participate in the assessment.

The affordable schools model is also on the radar of Gems Education in the UAE, where it owns and operates 44 schools. The fees at these schools range from Dh7,000 per academic year to around Dh120,000 a year at its newest Gems Nations Academy in Dubai.

School fees in the UAE can run as high as Dh160,000 a year, with international curriculum schools operated by international schools such as Repton.

Gems runs two schools in Africa, one each in Uganda and Kenya.

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