British Columbia Canadian School, Dubai Investments Park – The Review
The British Columbia Canadian School confirmed its closure in July 2018. The following is for historic record. The school opened in September 2017 and at the time of its closure it had enrolled 85 children who were subsequently found places in alternative schools for the academic year 2018-19. Parents seeking a Canadian education for their children should research the first Canadian school in Dubai – the Ontario International Canadian School.
The British Columbia Canadian School Hard Hat Tour – June 2017
“The British Columbia Canadian School in Dubai will be our company’s flagship school. Our company has been in the education business for over a decade, currently operating 2 schools in Egypt, and launching 2 more schools in 2018 in New Cairo.”
Karim Mostafa, Vice Chairman of British Columbia Canadian School Dubai
An ideal candidate for the British Columbia Canadian School is a student who values education for its true essence and not a desire to memorise facts and figures for an exit exam. BCCS students will include the full spectrum of abilities and will be students who will develop into life-long learners that value the process of learning as well as the mark that comes at the end.”
Shawn Merke, Founding Principal, British Columbia Canadian School Dubai
The British Columbia Canadian School (BCCS) is set to open in September 2017 set in 25,000 square metre grounds within Dubai Investments Park (DIP). The school will significantly broaden choice for parents for families within the Green Community, Jumeirah Golf Estates, International Media Production Zone, Dubai Sports City, Discovery Gardens, Jumeirah Village Circle and Jebel Ali Village for whom the school should be easily accessible. The school will be the sixth to open in DIP after Al Nibras Private School, Greenfield Community School (reviewed here), The International School of Choueifat (reviewed here), The Children’s Garden (reviewed here) and Dovecote Green Primary School (reviewed here).
The school will phase its opening, eventually offering full all-through provision for children from 3 to 18 years across separate foundation, primary and secondary schools. Given that The British Columbia Canadian School will be the flagship school of the owners, and given the many benefits of the Canadian curriculum – and the clear investment being made in the school (see below), there is a lot of promise here for a Tier 1 premium school for prospective parents seeking the very highest standard of Canadian education for their children.
The school will be completed in two phases. All construction of the Primary phases will be completed by August when the school opens, including all facilities. As the school grows through the grades Phase 2 will be completed to allow for flexibility in responding to the needs of children and the curriculum.
The British Columbia International School Dubai is the second Columbia school opened by the Egyptian Mustafa Tawfik family owned company, the first, the British Columbia International School Cairo, having opened in 2005. The school in Cairo is well thought of, has grown slowly without a rush to profit and is fully certified by the Ministry of Education, Columbia in Canada. Feedback to our sister site WhichSchoolAdvisor.com is that the ethic of inclusion central to the school’s founding works well in creating a very positive and happy school environment for its children.
Students graduating from the new Dubai school will be awarded The British Columbia Canadian School Certificate of Graduation (Dogwood Diploma), accredited by British Columbia as an offshore school.
In a global context, however, for prospective parents as important is the school’s parallel stream Advanced Placement courses which, in combination with the Dogwood Diploma, hold strength both in the US and UK for access to Tier 1 universities.
Currently AP courses are offered in its sister school in European History, Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Micro economics and we would expect these to be offered in the Dubai school when it launches in 2017.
Our Guide to the central importance of Advanced Placement within the context of High School Diploma accreditation can be found in our Canadian Curricular Guide here. This same issues apply to the awarding of US High School Diplomas and our Guide can be found here.
SchoolsCompared has been given the commitment that: “The AP options for Dubai will cover a wide range of subjects and will be determined depending on the interests of the student cohort within the school.”
The AP, in simple terms, is required for students who wish to enter Tier 1 universities in the UK or US without needing to study an extra year of conversion or Foundation study, something not provided by all universities. High grades within the Diploma too would be required to secure places on Foundation year pre-university entry courses when these are available.
Advanced Placement qualifications remove the complexity of having to find universities that offer conversion or Foundation years and are treated as having A’ Level or IB DP equivalence (subject to number taken and grade awarded.) In isolation, whatever the quality of the Canadian Diploma (which in the British Columbia case is high), it is treated, dependent on grades, and simplifying this somewhat, as having the equivalence of IGCSE/AS Level qualifications in the British System and the MYP in the IB system rather than higher A Level or Diploma graded qualifications.
The British Columbia Canadian School will be the first Canadian School to offer the AP as standard when it launches which places it, in our view, as a very important school both for parents seeking a Canadian education for their child(ren) and in the broader Canadian school context more broadly where it will set a new benchmark.
For prospective parents there are a number of other features too that should give some confidence in the new school above these key strengths of accreditation, AP provision and proven school management.
First, the school is being developed on a leaseback arrangement with Emirates REIT which has developed the outstanding infrastructure and buildings for the Jebel Ali School in Damac Properties’ Akoya project reviewed here.
Second, there are benefits from a school organisation that is smaller scale and 100% family owned. The investment, as a rule, carries with it a personal stake that can be powerful when contrasted with the much larger business operations of the bigger school groups for whom one school can become just another in a grand web of business interests.
“BCCIS was started by a family and family values remain the core of our philosophy.
From the groundkeepers to the graduating senior to the BC teacher from Vancouver, we are all one, and we all share a home at BCCIS.”
British Columbia Canadian International Schools
In our meeting so far with all those involved with the development of The British Columbia Canadian School, one thing that does shine through is a very genuine commitment to the education of children. This is also reflected in an overriding commitment to the inclusive approach offered by the British Columbia curriculum over its Canadian alternatives.
Third, the school will open (see above) with defined spaces for each of three stages of education, foundation, primary and secondary. This is an expensive approach to school delivery within an all-through, but it is one that allows schools to nurture very different, age-appropriate cultures and environments for children.
It is an approach here that has been adopted by the British Columbia Canadian School’s owners following experience garnered at their founding school which has seen development of separate schools since its launch in 2005. Originally the school educated just 27 students in a single school at launch, and has gradually expanded to today educating more than 800 children across three independent schools set within the same grounds.
Whilst the the Dubai school will have clearly defined spaces and buildings within the same school grounds rather than having, for example, an entirely separate Early years school, the school is committed to maintaining clear separation of ethos and approach at each phase, something which we believe will appeal to many prospective parents.
We know that in the Emirates many parents choose at the younger ages to keep children educated at dedicated pre-schools even if this does carry disruption later. BCCS hopes to mitigate this whilst maintaining clear separation of children by age.
Finally we note that the school is very serious in its commitment to only recruit high calibre teaching staff. It is currently recruiting and stipulates that it will only consider applicants who are British Columbia certified and who have a minimum of two years teaching experience. The salaries and package on offer by schools in their recruitment, although rarely disclosed to parents, is important too in identifying how serious a school is to recruiting qualified, experienced and committed teachers. We understand that teachers are being offered minimum starting salaries of $40,000 (US) and housing which is an upper mid-tier salary in the UAE at this level. We also particularly like the commitment to provide three professional development days per year.
It is worth finally making a note on Canada’s Performance for International Student Assessments (PISA) scoring which are significantly above the OECD average. Whilst the value of PISA scoring remains subject to some disagreement, it does provide one way of benchmarking the performance of children in different countries and within differing curricular. Canada’s latest scoring (2015) can be found in the graph below:
Canadian students as a whole secured seventh place worldwide in PISA 2015 scoring in Science, reading and Mathematics behind Singapore, Japan, Estonia, Chinese Taipei, Finland, and Macao China.
Importantly, however, the British Columbia curriculum as a whole outperformed all other Canadian variants in 2015 and PISA ranks British Canadian students at age 15 (Grade 10) with the best reading skills of any students across the 72 countries measured worldwide. British Columbia students secured third place in Science and eighth place in Mathematics. What this means for parents practically is that the British Columbia curriculum, properly taught and executed, offers some of the highest student outcomes for children in the world – and it is worth bearing in mind that PISA includes the highly regimented school curricular approaches of China and Korea in its grading.
The SchoolsCompared.Com Hard Hat Tour – June 2017
It’s really important to visit new schools in their construction phase to really get a sense for parents of the “reality” of what parents may expect from a school on launch – and also the commitment of school leaders and owners.
What we try and do at this stage is to look at the bricks and mortar build to investigate a plethora of issues – from the size of corridors (very telling of where some schools may cut corners), design and layout (how thoughtful have the owners been in meeting the needs of children?), long term investment (for example, has the school invested in the IT infrastructure to effectively future proof the school as new technologies come on-stream?), but also to speak with owners and Principals to understand what motivates them and how they feel their school will set itself apart.
Over the course of our extended visit (June 2017) we can report that we were very impressed with the British Columbia Canadian School both in terms of provision and the investment and clear passion of the owners and Principal in the school.
For us, very telling of the ambition of the school, is that both the owners and their wider family, and the School Principal, will be sending their own children to BCCS. It was made very apparent to us that the British Columbia Canadian School is being built and modelled by both the owners and the Principal to be the perfect school for their own children.
There can be few more positive indicators of a school’s quality and ambition that that it has been designed ground-up to offer the best education for the children of those who have established it.
The Founding principal, Shawn Merke, met our team on-site – and without bundles of marketing and PR teams. This is in itself telling of a Head confident in his school. Prospective parents would be surprised to learn that often we are greeted with an army of PR experts keen to ensure that the right messages are conveyed. Mr Merke, on the contrary, was simply keen to talk about his school and the many ways he wanted to create something special for the children joining the British Columbia Canadian School in September.
Kitted out with all the relevant safety kit (including hard hats) we were shown around the entire school, surrounded by teams of builders themselves being guided by the school’s owner in bringing everything together. The school is on track to be completed within the next 6 weeks.
We would draw out the following key points from our visit:
- The school is being constructed with a plethora of features, some obvious (including inset ceiling curves to mirror the shapes of the desks for younger children and to ensure the teaching spaces are not simply “boxes” but have some flair) and some less so (significant investment in cabling, both electrical and digital, to allow the school simplified upgrading of technology in future years). The school is clearly a labour of love with a good level of investment and care evident in its development around every corner.
- Many features are being improved during the build to make sure the school meets the ambitions of the Principal and Owner. A good example of this is the increased investment in swimming facilities which will now see the school have a 25M pool (as opposed to the originally designed 18M pool) for its children. We also really liked the investment in recessing dedicated display areas for the children’s work throughout the school.
- Facilities are set to be of a very good standard including an upper floor with Gymnasium and Tennis Court, multipurpose 250-seat Theatre with full audio-visual provision and Sports Hall functionality, music rooms, libraries by phase and a school Cafeteria that will be set on two levels with its own terrace.
- We particularly liked the importance the Founding Head is placing on the designated Parent’s Café area – Mr Merke is very keen for the British Columbia Canadian School to become a hub for the school’s community and wants to establish links with parents from Day One.
- The school is hugely ambitious to ensure that all children have every chance to develop Arabic language skills and the broadest possible understanding and appreciation of Arabic culture. This is an area in which many international schools, whether British, US, IB, or as here, Canadian, struggle. Mr Merke is passionate about the advantages that Arabic language acquisition can have for children and is deeply committed to ensuring the syllabus reflects this. During our visit we discussed how different departments could work with children to engage them in the Arabic subject areas including, for example, the art department working on Arabic inspired murals to bring the school to life.
- The British Columbia Canadian School is significantly investing in teaching faculty. All of the teachers at the school are certified in British Columbia and all must have between 4 and 25 years’ experience to teach at the school.
Technology and IT provision at The British Columbia Canadian School will be focused through Apple. Coding will be taught through Apple Playgrounds for younger children which includes integration with LEGO Mindstorms:
Older children will learn Swift:
Mr Merke emphasised to us:
“I want children at The British Columbia Canadian School to appreciate what drives and controls Robots rather than just creating and then playing with them – there is clear distinction.”
Shawn Merke. Founding Head. The British Columbia Canadian School.
The High School will be completed in March 2018. Again, Mr Merke was at pains to explain how development of the second phase of the school would not in any way impact on children – the whole build has been designed to effectively separate the two schools. Eventually the High School will in practice form the right-hand side of the diamond shape of the school’s design.
As was fitting much of our discussion during our visit focused on the uniqueness of the Canadian approach to learning which differentiates itself by decrying hot house approaches to learning by fixed phases regardless of a child’s developmental phase or interests, or those approaches to learning that depend on disciplining learning by endless testing. Instead, the Canadian system leverages a much more progressive, nuanced and child-centred approach to teaching children – and one that has clearly been shown to nurture critical reasoning skills and creativity. It is also broadly accepted as a school environment that works very well for mixed ability children and as here, in schools with an absolute commitment to inclusive education. Historically too, we have also found that Canadian schools (as above) tend to also be very happy ones.
“My vision for The British Columbia Canadian School is one that will develop all our students into pragmatic thinkers, who are willing to challenge the status quo, and who are empowered to work with others to face life’s never-ending challenges. The British Columbian curriculum provides our teachers the flexibility to meet these goals – while still allowing the space and time for students to explore their own unique and individual passions and interests.”
Shawn Merke. Founding Head. The British Columbia Canadian School.
Mr Merke emphasised his commitment to offer parallel-stream Advanced Placement provision at secondary “Sixth Form” phase with the Canadian High School Diploma for children seeking university positions outside the Canadian system. For those parents less acquainted with the Canadian system, our view is that this dual layered approach in many ways offers the best of both possible worlds and should give security to prospective parents wanting to ensure the seamless transition of children on graduating the school to top tier universities worldwide.
It is far too early, as with any school in its pre-opening phase, to provide any more than an outline view. But stand-out for us are three features of the school beyond those basic features of any school we would expect including proper accreditation. The first is AP provision within a Canadian School. This is a very important benchmark for Canadian Schools across the Emirates. Second, the openness and passion of the Founding Head, Shawn Merke, in sharing his vision for the school and his ambitions for its children (including, tellingly, his own and those of the school’s owners) is quite something and we think prospective parents will be inspired. Third, the thought going into school across physical design, teacher recruitment and the curriculum, is serious, considered and ambitious – all qualities we would expect from a top tier school in the making.
How these will translate into bricks and mortar and final delivery only time will tell – but we are optimistic and impressed.
There is much here even in these early days to recommend the British Columbia Canadian School and certainly enough for those parents seeking an inclusive, happy, progressive education to shortlist the school as one to consider for the education of their child(ren).
We watch with interest.
YEAR 1: 50,000
YEAR 2: 50,000
YEAR 3: 50,000
YEAR 4: 60,000
YEAR 5: 60,000
YEAR 6: 60,000
YEAR 7: 70,000
YEAR 8: 70,000
YEAR 9: 70,000
YEAR 10: 80,000
YEAR 11: 80,000
YEAR 12: 80,000
British Columbia Certificate of Graduation (Dogwood Diploma) - Province of British Columbia, Canada
British Columbia Ministry of Education
Not published (new school)
(1) Phased launch with 300 role on opening
Projected to be 1:10 - 1:15 based on BCCIS
Dubai Investments Park, Dubai
(1) Canadian (largest nationality) projected
Mostafa Tawfik (Mostafa Morsi) (Chairman)
Karim Mostafa (Tawfik Mostafa) (Vice Chairman)
Emirates Reit (sale and leaseback)
• Family ownership with proven delivery of the British Columbia all-through curriculum
• Proper accreditation
• AP parallel stream provision
• Highly committed launch Principal
• Very good school transparency
• Promise of genuinely inclusive entry and significant investment in SEND and EAL
• Potentially outstanding core programming curriculum
• Commitment to Arabic language acquisition
• Happy school dynamics and a whole child focused progressive learning environment
• Potential teething problems of any new school
• Premium fees with steep, if consistent, increases from the KG starting point. Parents will have high expectations