Shortlisted schools fell broadly into two classes:
(1) Schools that have reached our pool of finalists because of their inherent technology aspirations and, in some cases, this stretches to their design, location and infrastructure
(2) Schools that focus on leveraging technology, particularly this year in Information Technology, within their curriculum to exceptional effect.
Making a choice between these two types of schools is not simple, but again we have provided the lens through which we have made our judgements.
With regards to the first type of finalist school we have looked to schools that offer a unique promise to transform education in some way, either through the use of technology, curriculum bias or build (or a combination of all 3).
With regards to the second type of finalist school, we have brought forward schools that have best resolved, in our view, the effective use of technology as a tool for learning and innovation. Too often, even today, schools have policies reflecting a commitment to technology, but in practice its use is limited because there is no understanding of its application. In weaker schools, technology becomes little more than a distraction and a marketing tool to attract unwitting parents with the promise of fabulous investment in high tech. Having the equipment is too often in schools not related to actually being able to use it.
In this category we have also looked at all schools through the lens of our broader organisational and journalistic objectives, including the ways technology has become a force for good of inclusion, subject breadth (and meeting the needs of children), cultural inclusion (and in one case here providing important specialisation for a key aspect of the UAEs emergent high tech economy) and value-add.
Our first winner, Fairgreen International School, saw its move into its new school delayed last year as direct result of the school meeting its technologically ambitious new school build and curriculum planning. Students finally enrolled in the school in January this year, having been housed temporarily at Dunecrest American School.
Fairgreen International School is one of the first fully sustainable schools and campuses in the UAE.
Technology is in the DNA of the school and its buildings. Situated as the hub school for Dubai Sustainable City, Fairgreen International School build makes minimal environmental impact, utilizing solar power for all its energy needs, recycling all its water for agricultural use, and implementing waste separation.
The curriculum is built around sustainability. In extended discussion with the school, they have clarified that the objective, on eventual all-through launch, is to have developed a generation of students that are experts in, and highly engaged with the new high- tech sustainability economy.
The powerful ambition is that Fairgreen students will leverage high-tech clusters in the UAE, and particularly within the Sustainable City, to build new solutions to existing problems across the sector, including energy supply, waste management, water recycling and climate change. The aim is that these will be commercial – and potentially commercialised.
Two schools have been set up in this space (the other being the Arbor School), but Fairgreen, notwithstanding its late transition to its own campus, is sufficiently established and effectively strategically mapped to warrant its inclusion here.
In our view, the potential here at Fairgreen International School is beyond extraordinary for children in establishing a fundamentally new and specialised international curriculum. The ambition and courage of ESOL in launching a world-first school of its type here in the UAE we think deserves credit. Parents too have taken a significant leap of faith here.
To bring what has been achieved – and the opportunities ahead, to life, really requires a trip to the school and its extended campus in Sustainable City. The commitment is very much two way, including the shared use of a SC biodome.
Critically the school will launch post-16 provision to include the Diploma, and more telling here, the IB Career-related Programme. The latter will operate as the seed bed for technology innovation by students within the sustainable post-industrial space. It’s too early of course to know what sorts of innovation we will be looking at in the years to come, but on the strength of industry apprenticeships already being built, the opportunities for R&D by Fairgreen students is likely to be second to none – and with potential global impact.
With the IB CrP Fairgreen is flexing its inclusive muscles and we know from the very earliest discussions with ESOL that the costs of the CP are high; it would have been easier and more commercially viable to have just launched with the Diploma. The CP is built into the DNA because of the commitment of ESOL, and school leadership, to the technology ambitions grounding the sustainable curriculum.
During our visits we have seen already how students are learning, first-hand, about growth cultivation and harvesting fresh food in their technical bio-dome and understanding the technology underpinnings of wind powered cooling technology and aquaponics regulated by oxygenated water and fish. Examples of current technology integration include students managing lettuce production within class-based farms and high-tech building of their own solar panels, replicating larger scale industrial panels used by the school to power itself to learn the technology behind bio-mechanics and electricity.
MYP students at Fairgreen International School at the Dii solar leadership and energy summit in Dubai showcased individual business plans based on sustainable energy resources and solar. Students plans included those for self-sufficient smoothie machines, light-up skate parks and robotic companies.
Science students at Fairgreen are currently working on a project to bring their technology to developing countries. They are learning how to scale up solar to make harnessing the power of the sun freely available to all. The project is supported by A Million Solar Stars and Dr. Jane Goodalls Root’s and shoots. Starting in science, students were challenged to rebuild and repurpose solar windmills. Using all components of their core subjects, students reimagined these solar panels into commercial designs, and implemented these in the school’s shipping container farm tp grow strawberries. The project has seen UV light to artificially grow perfect strawberries in any climate.
Current technology resources are tailored to PYP and MYP learning and include:
• Urban farming
• Solar power
• Wind power
• Google classroom infrastructure
• Global footprint zero design, running and build
• Shipping container farming
• In classroom lettuce farms and air purification systems
This sort of innovation in new schools is very rare and ESOL has demonstrated its faith in what is being developed as a key investment technology cluster for a future high-tech sustainable industry that will need to sustain the UAE with tourism. It’s very much an investment in the UAE and its future generation of children as it is a simple school. The link with Stanford is designed to extend the linkages with US industry, R&D and academics.
If this award is to mean anything, it should be, we think, precisely to celebrate and recognise this sort of radical and courageous investment in technology within schools – and one that stretches, as here, from its buildings, waste management, energy generation and high tech location – to the grounding of its technology focused curriculum itself.
Fairgreen International School, because and not despite of, its being in its relative infancy, is one that, we think, deserves all our support.
Without doubt, JESS is a beacon for innovative use of technology in the MENA region. Technology integration at JESS is the most advanced of any school in the UAE and the impacts – in personalised learning pathways for students and learning experiences, enable levels of student innovation and inclusion not possible without it.
What we have here is a complex awards category where we have on the one hand, with finalist start-ups like Fairgreen, schools pioneering radical new forms of curriculum based on external technology drivers, and seriously world class technology innovators like JESS transforming the way education operates in an existing curricular space. It’s impossible to decide between the two.
Digital learning and multimedia content creation at JESS is just outstanding – many children have a level of learning in this area that would enable direct entrance into industry.
Integration stretches through JESS Primary through its benchmarked iPad programme for all children to the implementation of digital notebooks in JESS Secondary – and students themselves drive technology deployment and integration. New innovations have seen implementation of cutting-edge AI technology for data analysis and acclaimed integration of virtual reality across the curriculum – neither matched by any school in the UAE.
The focus too is resolutely never for technology for its own sake. Every investment decision is driven by its ability to transform learning and prepare students to be “Future Ready.”
In JESS Secondary digital notebooks use the Microsoft OneNote platform. The system was introduced in 2016 when the vast majority of schools were encouraging BYOD without any planning for its implementation. Today JESS is completely paperless in KS3.
Faculty distribute rich, engaging content to students on an individual basis: learning is personalised. Award-winning Immersive Reader tools provide students with differentiated support on demand.
The JESS timetable incorporated a bespoke Digital Skills curriculum, which runs parallel with the Computing curriculum. Students complete a series of ten units, tailored to the core needs to work fluently with technology. In recognition, JESS is an accredited Microsoft Showcase School. A significant number of teachers are acknowledged as Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts to support students in their digital learning as well as support teachers and parents.
In the last three years JESS has invested in the purposeful integration of virtual reality technology across the whole school curriculum. The innovative work being carried out at JESS using VR has been spotlighted by publications across the UAE, including ourselves, as well as international organisations such as VR Focus, The VR/AR Association and The ISC Digital Strategy Group. Examples of JESS integration of VR, through a philanthropic lens, include:
• The Ramadan VR Project: showcasing seven-year groups from EYFS to Sixth Form and the way VR was used to celebrate Ramadan 2018.
• The Empathy Film Project: The Psychology Department investigated the potential for VR to foster empathy and eventually embarked on a VR film to highlight the perils of exam-related stress.
• The VR Classroom Project: exploring the potential for live-streaming JESS lessons in VR to other children around the world.
• #CPDinVR: In 2017, JESS Dubai’s Head of Digital Learning became the first teacher in the world to deliver CPD inside virtual reality – sharing best practice from JESS with a global audience.
JESS device management systems safeguard students digitally; streamline devices to focus on teaching and learning; , and support parents on successful device management at home. Apple Classroom and Net Support have given teachers unparalleled control in the classroom.
Harnessing effective pedagogical teaching, innovative technology and neuroscience, JESS uses the Century Tech Artificial Intelligence platform to generate personalised learning pathways for students. Century Tech analyses strengths and areas for development in pupil learning, providing resources specifically aimed at supporting or extending every child’s next steps. Century data dashboards allow teachers to analyse not only what a student knows, but how they are learning best.
JESS Dubai has established itself as a beacon school for technology – it has actively engaged with schools across the UAE to help with integration and child learning. Since 2016 the JESS Digital Innovation Summit has, each year, acted as a global forum to share innovative practice from JESS faculty as well as provide a stage for global pioneers including Lord Jim Knight, Mark Anderson and Abdul Chohan to connect with educators across the UAE and MENA region. This not-for-profit event has welcomed to date over 1000 educators. Its rich impact on schools and education in the region cannot easily be quantified – but is significant.
The JESS Arabic Department integrates digital teaching and learning to resolve the challenges faced by all international schools with Arabic subjects – language learning is rich and engaging. JESS openly shares best practice with other schools in digital learning, including the use of audio in OneNote, interactive presentations with Nearpod, Seppo for gamifying lessons as well as integrating virtual reality technology. If JESS can crack this, it will solve a problem that has confounded every international school in the UAE.
JESS supports the UAE National Agenda by embracing digital tools as integral to its inclusion policy. At the primary level, Clicker 7 is integrated across the curriculum to support students in the recording and processing of ideas. In Secondary, Microsoft Learning Tools supports students with dyslexia – but is also used broadly to allow students to access a variety of texts, regardless of reading level.
Coding is taught through a progressive curriculum that builds from game-based learning in EYFS through to block-based coding in KS1 and lower KS2 through to full, text-based coding and practical programming with robots and drones from KS2. Skills learnt in Computing are also harnessed within the JESS innovation curriculum in KS3.
JESS data analysis too, with Power BI initiative, allows staff to analyse National Agenda GL data. JESS is at trial stage of live reporting, leveraging this, to parents. This initiative replaces formal (end of term/ year) reports to parents with live dashboards which can be accessed both from desktops and on mobile devices. This shift allows teachers to focus on teaching & learning and assessment.
What JESS has created is arguably the UAE’s first 21st century school.
And the exciting thing, for journalists at both SchoolsCompared.com, and our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, is that we are only, we think, seeing just the beginning of what this will eventually achieve for children. Seeing the way VR brings to life the mapping of the limits of the brain in JESS psychology lessons is one of the most unforgettable and profound examples of just how far JESS is pushing the boundaries of outstanding education with technology at its forefront.
It’s just extraordinary what is being achieved with technology at this school.
KHDA Rating: Outstanding
KHDA weakness: Arabic subjects
Subject breadth/meeting the needs of children: Outstanding
Fees: AED 39K – 92K
Number of students: 1394
Age of role: 3 – 18
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate blended
School type: NFP
Number of students with SEND: 45/3.2% (Above 5% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive for SEND)
Number of Emirati children: 24/1.7% (Above 10% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive to the local population)
KHDA Rating: NA (School in phased launch)
Fees: AED 50K – 78K (Year 8)
Number of students: 1150 final capacity
Age of role: 4-18 on all-through
School type: Private, for-profit