Choueifat School director looks back on almost 40 years of expert educating in the UAE

As one of the oldest private schools in the UAE, the International School of Choueifat has had a comparatively long time to perfect its educational system.

The non-selective International School of Choueifat. “All we require is that a child can talk,” says the school’s regional director. Ravindranath K / The National
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ABU DHABI // As one of the oldest private schools in the UAE, International School of Choueifat has had a comparatively long time to perfect its educational system.

Ramzi Germanos, the regional director for the Arabian Gulf region, believed that the school had prospered because of its record of getting the best out of its pupils.

Mr Germanos began his career as a fresh graduate teacher in 1960 at the original Choueifat School, in the village on the outskirts of Beirut after which the school is named.

After steadily rising through the ranks, he was part of a group of teachers that came to the UAE to help establish the first overseas school in Sharjah in 1976, followed by Abu Dhabi in 1978 and then Al Ain in 1980.

Since then, the company has grown rapidly and there are now more than 70 establishments in the Middle East, North America, Europe and Asia.

Mr Germanos, a Lebanese national, said the school had never shirked from the challenge of turning average pupils into high-achieving university students.

“Some schools are selective, in the sense that they take the best students. We are not selective, parents bring us students and all we require is that the child can talk, if these conditions are met we take the child and we teach him and take them to a very high academic level,” Mr Germanos said.

The school’s system – known as Sabis – means almost all the material used in the curriculum is published in-house, as Mr Germanos believes that textbooks from external sources fail to effectively teach pupils because of publishers’ ulterior commercial purposes.

“We don’t use books from outside because they are not meant to take the students to the next level, these books are made by publishers, whose aim is to sell, so they put a lot of interesting things in these books. The outcome is that the essentials get lost in a sea of interesting things, you see, our books are slim and focused,” Mr Germanos said.

As a karate enthusiast, Mr Germanos likened education to the martial arts, where those who practise are not allowed to diverge from form until they have mastered the skills.

“You have to perfect movement, no creativity, when you punch you punch a certain way, you block in a certain way. Only after you reach Third Dan must you demonstrate a new technique in front of your seniors, only then are you able to create new things, when you have a background.”

The school’s system also involves weekly tests to make sure pupils have thoroughly understood the subject matter.

Pupils take these weekly tests on computers, then grades are calculated through a series of monitoring and evaluation programmes.

The grades are passed on to heads of departments and school directors, but not the teachers.

As such, these weekly assessments are as much a test for the teachers as they are for the pupils.

“We are not only bridging gaps for students, we are bridging gaps in teachers, this system ensures that students become better students and teachers become better teachers,” Mr Germanos said.

In weekly meetings teachers who are underperforming are assessed to determine the reasons for their classes’ low scores. All tests are standardised, so responsibility for failure lies with the teacher for not teaching the curriculum properly.

There is a lot of testing at in the school – about 35 tests a week.

Mr Germanos does not think this is excessive, saying it actually makes learning easier for pupils.

“With no tests you are really moving in darkness and it’s a matter of luck when you come to the external exam. With us there is no luck, because you know you know everything,” he said.

With many pupils gaining places at top universities, some could argue the school specialises only in turning good pupils into great ones. Not so, said Mr Germanos.

“Students who are outstanding will pass whether they are with us or anyone else, students who are average will benefit greatly from our system, we don’t leave gaps.”