Dr Saima Rana was recently appointed as Chief Education Officer of GEMS Education, in addition to her roles as CEO/Principal of GEMS World Academy Dubai and Chief Education Ambassador for the Varkey Foundation. Known as a ‘change maker’, Dr Rana’s appointment implies a new direction for GEMS Education. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com met with the new education chief to find out what to expect under her leadership…
Dr Rana, what does your new role entail?
The role of Chief Education Officer involves looking after education provision across 43 schools and ensuring the quality of education provision for over 130,000 children. There is also a commercial element to the role in looking after growth, and expansion into new markets.
Tell us about your educational philosophies, what is the role of a school?
Schools should provide an educational experience that makes every child feel that they are a priority, with the belief that nothing is going to stop them from doing what they want to do in life. Schools should provide an environment where children feel safe, secure and successful.
Our strategy is NOT about preparing children for the world of work, that’s not what schools are about. Schools should be about people, relationships, passion, and caring, and making sure that children absolutely enjoy that education provision, no matter which school they go to. It’s not just about creating global leaders for tomorrow, we must help our children to become great citizens of TODAY. We want them to shape their world, to know that it’s in their hands, no matter how old they are.
It’s about genuine choice for our children. When children leave our schools, that choice may be going to an Ivy League or Russell Group university. Equally, a child may want to travel the world after leaving school, become a philanthropist, or an entrepreneur. And that’s absolutely fine, it’s having choice that’s the key.
You are known as a leader who drives change. What changes can we expect to see in GEMS Education under your leadership?
I have never stepped into a role where it’s business as usual. Yes, there will be change, and it will be transformational.
The use of technology will be something that is paramount to where we’re going, and it’s going to look different to how technology has been used in schools up until now. I’m talking about the metaverse, artificial intelligence, creating spaces for our children to speak to Shakespeare in virtual reality. We’re interested in how we can use technology to enhance the child’s experience and our education provision. I’m a techno-enthusiast but I know where technology ought not to be used as well as where it should be. Good technology practice is not at the cost of great learning experiences; it’s about enhancing teaching and learning, not replacing it.
The second focus is the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda, and Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs). We’re committed to making the world a better place, and engaging children in this vision.
Finally, we want to attract global talent to GEMS Education. There is a shortage of teachers and good education leaders worldwide. So this is a key focus not only in terms of recruitment, but also research and development, succession planning, and ensuring that we have the right people, for the right schools, at the right time.
You once told WSA that “hard work was [your] recipe for success”. How will you balance the two enormous roles of GEMS World Academy Principal and Chief Education Officer of GEMS Education?
Very early on, not in my career necessarily, but in life, I learned that on your own, you can achieve very little, but if you have a team around you, nothing is impossible.
The first thing I do is look at the team. Do I have the right people in the right place? Are they right for this time? Because people can be right for a role, but perhaps not for that time or context.
At GEMS World Academy, there is a high performing, fabulous senior leadership team, who work incredibly hard. I’ve worked with them now for two and a half years. The trust is genuine. This makes it less difficult for me to take time out to give focus on the other schools.
I also have seven incredibly strong vice presidents working with me on our education strategy, and it is ours, not mine. I will work with 43 Principals who look after their own schools. The inspection outcomes show these are already very strong institutions. It is these great people, and the support they can give, that makes doing both roles manageable.
We have a big job to do: to make sure that every child is looked after, to ensure every teacher is fulfilling their full potential; and to showcase our innovative practices – in the use of technologies, research and development and pedagogy. It is going to be a challenge yes, but I couldn’t feel more privileged to be at the helm of the education strategy; to be the one that gets to lead GEMS Education on this amazing journey.