World Exclusive. Dino Varkey. The Man Who Shapes Stars. The SchoolsCompared.com Interview 2021.
Dino Varkey, Chief Executive Officer of GEMS Education and Patron of the Varkey Foundation, leads the third generation of a family that has played an instrumental role in shaping the lives of children globally for six decades.
Today, GEMS Education operates the largest school system in the Middle East with more than 60 GEMS schools educating 130,000 plus students. Globally, GEMS Education is the largest operator of private kindergarten-to-grade-12 schools with a reach from Great Britain and India to the United States and schools across Africa, South East Asia and Europe.
The Varkey Foundation plays a leading role globally in creating a world in which every child, wherever they are, secures what should be their Birthright: a good education. As Mr Varkey told us: “Education is the answer to every problem in the world.” The Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize is just one of many initiatives to highlight the centrifugal role of teachers in making a better world for children.
In the year in which the Varkey Family lost Mariamma Varkey, the beloved co-founder of the very first GEMS Education School, Johnathan Westley, Editor of SchoolsCompared.com, travelled over the Net to interview Mr Dino Varkey in Dubai to discover just what inspires a man who has everything, to choose a life’s work in Education and shaping the destinies of the stars that light our path to the future: children.
Dino Varkey on… Family, Giving Back and Home in Dubai.
SchoolsCompared: “Can you tell us the human story of how GEMS Education started and the values that guide its approach to families and students? What are your most precious memories of your parents and grandparents and how have they guided you throughout your life working for families and students at GEMS schools?”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “My grandparents showed incredible courage to leave their homes in the south of India to begin a new life in Dubai for themselves and their family back in 1959. Originally, they came to educate adults how to speak English as Dubai was on the cusp of opening their economy to the world. That then became adults and students, and everything grew from there.
My grandparents were very much a partnership and complemented each other perfectly. He was the intellectual, a highly intelligent man, but sadly died when I was very young. My grandmother (Madam Mariamma Varkey) probably had a more lasting impact on GEMS Education simply because my grandfather stopped teaching much earlier due to illness.
She was in schools when I started as a GEMS student and didn’t stop that kind of role until around 2010.
She was ahead of her time in many ways because she was so focused on empowering her students with not only knowledge but also character and love for each other. It was not just about imbuing our pupils with information about a given subject – although that’s obviously very important – it was about inspiring their humanity.
To a great extent, these values drive GEMS to this day.
She also had an incredible memory, knew all of the families, and in many cases, actually went from house to house to speak to families in order to convince them to send their children to our school.
Madam Mariamma Varkey cared deeply about every student and every family and, again, the purpose of every teacher and educator in GEMS Education is driven by this value.”
SchoolsCompared: “Can you explain for readers the story of the Varkey Foundation and what the Varkey Family hope to achieve through it?”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “The Varkey Foundation is very much aligned to the core mission of GEMS Education which is to bring a quality education within the reach of every child.
We were very aware that there were parts of the world that wouldn’t have access to that and so the Varkey Foundation was created to help remedy that situation as much as possible.
The Foundation works to enhance the capacity of teachers and try to motivate more people to enter the profession.
That also led to the launch of the Global Teacher Prize which shines a light on the incredible work of teachers around the world.
It has subsequently inspired many national teacher prizes around the world, and we take great pride in that.”
SchoolsCompared: “Tell me about Dubai and the UAE. Why does it hold such a special place in the history of GEMS Education – and what makes the region so extraordinary. Do you think we are at, or will get to, the stage when the UAE has the very best schools anywhere in the world?”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “It’s home.
The leaders of our nation have always embraced people from around the world with open arms.
They have created an environment that rewarded those who were passionate, bold and ready to work hard.
Success is a natural consequence of these factors.
We take a lot of pride in the fact that GEMS Education is a Dubai and UAE-born global champion. We already have some of the very best schools in the world as TIMMS and other studies show.
Private schools in the UAE have already achieved national agenda targets of being among the top 20 countries in the world and if you were to look at a cross section of GEMS schools, we would be among the top three nations of the world.
Some of our schools, for example Jumeirah College, can easily be ranked among the very best British schools globally.
The fact that in the past year, GEMS schools have achieved the best examination results in our history and, almost uniquely, have been able to continue in-class education despite the disruption of the pandemic, is something that we can all be very proud of.”
SchoolsCompared: “In your life, which famous person has had the most influence on you and inspired you most in the field of education?”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting ‘famous’ people in my life and I’ve learned something from them all.
However, if the question is about who inspired me in the field of education, then I have to say my family.
Three of my grandparents were teachers and education leaders.
My father, our Founder Sunny Varkey, continues to be the source of inspiration because the dream of changing our world for the better through education is one that he willed into existence.”
Dino Varkey on… Teachers.
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “When you were at school, who was your favourite teacher and why? What lessons did you learn from them that has influenced both your life and how you run GEMS Education?”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “I don’t think I have a single favourite teacher as such, but there were certainly several who had a profound impact on my life.
Rocky Miller, for example, the current Principal of Our Own English High School – Al Ain – was my Grade 5 class teacher, Sanjeev Jolly, Principal of Our Own High School, was my house master and maths teacher, Kevin Oliver (now Head of Performing Arts, GEMS Education) was my music teacher.
What’s consistent across them all is that they demanded more of me by virtue of the responsibilities they envisaged in my future.
I believe that approach and those expectations would now be consistent for all our teachers in relation to our students. Our goal is simple: deliver on the promise and potential of every student that we are privileged to teach.
Our families expect nothing less.”
SchoolsCompared: “Tell us the story of a single teacher at a GEMS school in the last five years that you believe really made the difference for families. What did you learn from this?”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “That’s a very difficult question to answer so I’m going to respond in a different way.
To us, every single child’s needs are absolutely paramount.
Parents, at the end of the day, are rightly more preoccupied about what we are doing to nurture their child than anything else so our focus must always be concentrated on this individual, personalised care.
So, any one of our teachers who has made the difference for a single child to fulfil their potential – in whatever field – is doing heroic work in my eyes.
That may be helping a high performing pupil to achieve top grades in a public examination but equally it could be encouraging a child with low confidence to surprise themselves by accomplishing something they never thought was possible.”
Dino Varkey on… Students, Principals and Favourite Schools.
SchoolsCompared: “Is there a student at a GEMS school that has particularly inspired you? How? Have any students at GEMS schools ever come to work at GEMS Education? If so, what do they do today? If not, are you looking for somebody this year and what would they be doing?!”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “There are lots of students at our schools who inspire me.
It’s difficult not to be inspired by young people who are already looking to create and have impact beyond themselves and their families.
For them to be doing this at such a young age is truly inspiring.
Examples? Well, there’s a girl who developed an app to protect women from sexual violence, for example.
And we have a young man from GEMS World Academy who invented a teddy bear which detected early cases of cancer.
We have lots of students who have returned to work with us including generations of teachers.
Another is Emily Ellington, our Head of Inclusion, a GEMS Alumna who studied at Jumeirah College.
There are just… too many to mention.”
SchoolsCompared: “Why are school Principals important?”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “Easy, they’re the foundation of our success.
Our school Principals deliver the ambition and the purpose of GEMS Education.”
SchoolsCompared: “I know you should not answer this, but everyone always has a favourite school. Obviously, you love all GEMS schools, but which one has special place in your heart – and why?”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “I am an alum of GEMS Modern Academy so it is difficult for me to choose another favourite school.
The values that the school inculcated in me at a very young age, still shape my thoughts, words and actions as a human being today.”
Dino Varkey on… Changing the World.
SchoolsCompared: “If money were absolutely no object, and nothing stood in your way, what are the five things you would do tomorrow morning in the UAE to transform education for the better for children across the region. You can choose to do absolutely anything, unconstrained by any financial issues or anything else!”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “Money is not necessarily the constraint in education, so what I am suggesting simply requires a change of perspective.
The curricula that we use as a framework teach our pupils needs to be revolutionised so that it is truly relevant to the future that our children will grow into.
We need to inspire and incentivise our most talented to take up the teaching profession.
We need to recognise and nurture individual promise and potential rather than strive for homogenous mediocrity.”
SchoolsCompared: “Can you describe for us your average day? What are your favourite parts – and what gives you nightmares? What does success look and feel like on the very best day at work?”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “Thankfully, when you have the privilege of working in education, you don’t have too many nightmares!
My average day has changed considerably over the past 12 months.
My ideal working week would have me in schools for the majority of the time but I actually only spend 5-10 percent of my time in them right now.
I want to put that right as soon as I can.
The very best day at work will always relate to having made a positive impact in the lives of our students and families.”
SchoolsCompared: “When was the last time that you felt personally that you made a difference in education? What exactly did you do?”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “We are living through the most unnatural social and economic dislocation of our lifetime, and perhaps, many lifetimes.
The seamless transition to remote learning achieved only through the passion, dedication, and expertise of our teachers, combined with the exemplary academic achievements of our students last year is a tremendous source of pride.”
SchoolsCompared: “In ten years, how, ideally will GEMS Education have changed? Can you paint us a picture of what you would like to have achieved at GEMS Education by 2032?”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “In the current climate, it is difficult, even dangerous to look too far into the future.
However, I would hope that in 10 years’ time, the impact and benefit of a GEMS Education is felt by more families, across more countries.
The nature of that impact may change its form as we look at harnessing technology to exponentially enhance our ability to provide access to quality education.”
SchoolsCompared: “If you had to write a school report card for GEMS Education as a whole, what score would you give it this year, one in which Covid has wreaked such havoc on all of us. Are there any areas that you would write “could do better!””
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “We can always do better!
As an education organisation we are “Always Learning” and we strive for Excellence.
Which means that there is this restless dissatisfaction that constantly drives us to do better tomorrow, than we did today.”
Dino Varkey on… Secrets, GEMS Education and Advice for the Future Generation.
SchoolsCompared: “Tell us a really good, absolutely top, top secret about GEMS Education that you have never, ever, ever, told anyone for publication before…”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “The reason that we call ourselves GEMS Education is because my father believes that for every parent, their child is unique and precious, the most important resource in their life.
And we are given this tremendous responsibility to nurture, protect and inspire this resource – a responsibility that drives everything that we do, each and every day.”
SchoolsCompared: “If you had only a few minutes with a family in an elevator and wanted to explain why GEMS Education schools were so special, what exactly would you say to bring GEMS schools to life to the family in such a short time?”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “We have been trusted for over 6 decades by families from around the world to nurture the promise and potential of their children.
Our heritage, as educators first and foremost, is an incomparable hallmark of all GEMS schools.
Our purpose is singular and uncompromising – to put a quality education within the reach of every student.
Consequently, the diversity and breadth of our schools cater to the ambition, affordability and aspiration of every family.
Our people, drawn from over 120 nations are passionate educators who will strive to inspire knowledge and character in every student.
As the education sector’s employer of choice, helped by founding the Global Teacher Prize, only 2% of applicants succeed in becoming a GEMS teacher.
Over 400,000 students have graduated from GEMS schools.
In fact, 1 out of every 4 students that graduate from the UAE is a GEMS student, and 1 out every 2 students that graduate from and Outstanding rated school is a GEMS student.
In 2016, the Telegraph recognised GEMS Education as one of the ten companies that could change the world.
Be it through inspiration, innovation or impact, our schools will prepare every student for the future, so that they, in fact, become the catalyst to improve the state of our world.
And all this is underpinned by something that’s sometimes overlooked but matters highly to all parents: we run enormously happy schools.
And happy schools produce happy students – and happy students are always great learners.”
SchoolsCompared: “Finally, what advice would you give a young person at school in the UAE on what is really important in school – and what comes afterwards. Do you think the changes taking place around us make your advice any different today, to that you would have given ten years ago?”
Dino Varkey. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Education. Patron. The Varkey Foundation: “In a world where change is constant, connected and increasingly complex, you must expect the technical knowledge that you acquired at school to become obsolete at an increasingly faster rate.
Consequently, the real constants for our children, our stars of today and tomorrow, will be their endless love of learning, and their values.
It is their values that will enable our youth to make the right choices in a rapidly changing context.
If every student is able to embrace the future in this manner, then I am confident that the generations to come will thrive in a more sustainable, peaceful and prosperous world.”
For more on Dino Varkey, and his instrumental role in shaping GEMS Education, our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, has today published an exclusive, extended interview that can be found here.
Our obituary for Mariamma Varkey (1932-2021) can be read here.
Our review of the very first GEMS Education school, can be found here.
More information on The Varkey Foundation can be found here.
More information on GEMS Education can be found here.
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