The new Swiss International Scientific School, Dubai
Opening a new international school is never easy – even in a place like Dubai which probably sees more new schools open every year than any other city in the world. Opening a school in Dubai that stands out as different is quite an achievement.
Vive la différence!
However, that is precisely what the people at Swiss International Scientific School (SISD) have pulled off when they opened in September 2015.
It’s not just the name and the Alpine mural at the entrance. SISD draws deeply on its Swiss connections in establishing a school that is refreshingly different for Dubai. Firstly, teaching is genuinely multilingual. The solution to the complex curriculum and timetabling issues that this approach normally entails, even in a primary school, is elegantly simple: one week a class learns in French or German, the next in English with a different teacher. Naturally this involves considerable collaborative planning: very IB as well as very Swiss.
Secondly, there is a proud commitment to Swiss environmentalism, as demonstrated in the use of the latest building material, and the school’s high tech, passive approach to temperature and humidity control. SISD is the first building in the MENA region to earn the Swiss – based Minergie label for its energy efficiency and commitment to environmental standards. Finally, from 2017, the school will introduce a boarding element – something frequently found in Swiss schools, and which founder, Omar Danial, himself educated in Switzerland at Collège du Léman, thinks has a real future in Dubai. Danial sees great potential in the Emirates for becoming an attractive regional hub for international boarders who need continuity and stability in their education.
Impressive from a distance, the new buildings at SISD make a clear statement as you approach. Architecture, however, does not necessarily make a school great – but, good educational architecture can make a difference to learning, and SISD is very well designed for learning. On entering the school, the natural light filling the high-ceilinged foyer is uplifting, but even more impressive is the feeling of openness in the bright, spacious transitional and shared areas as you enter the early years and primary sections of the school.
Horizontal sight lines are open and clear: you do not feel blocked by walls, all of which re-emphasises the school’s collaborative philosophy.
An emerging community
For such a young school, a real identity is already growing. When we visited on a very warm November morning, everyone from the founder Danial to the youngest student was involved in a Jump Rope charity event. Schools are not just about buildings and curriculum and at SISD you can’t escape the sense of community which is emerging among staff, parents and of course the children.
Staff and founder are more than aware that there is a long way to go, but they have every right to be quietly pleased with the start that they have made. And the parents that we spoke to before our visit? More than pleased. High praise indeed!
Andy Homden visited SISD in March 2016.