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DIALOGUE: GEMS Education: Bringing the World’s Leading Early Childhood Education Programmes to Tianjin
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altRegardless of the country, it is an underlying universal truth that everything which is great must have first been built on solid foundations. Children's education, particularly in the early years of their brain's development, is no exception to this important rule. Ensuring that young people receive a strong education is absolutely crucial in fostering their abilities and attributes as adults. GEMS Education is one of the world’s leading organisations when it comes to early childhood education, and the company now offers its unique services to Tianjin. We spoke to GEMS’ Chief Academic Officer for Early Childhood Education, Professor Pat Preedy, to find out more about her organisation’s approach to education and how the children of Tianjin can benefit from the company’s programmes.
 
Please tell us a little bit about your professional background and your career highlights within the educational sector?
I have been working in education for over forty years, the last twenty specialising in early childhood education. I have combined many years of experience and research into developing the curriculum for Little GEMS International (LGI). Currently, as well as being Chief Academic Officer, Early Childhood Education for GEMS Education, I am a reporting inspector for the Independent School Inspectorate, a university lecturer and school adviser. 
 
As both an engaged parent and a school principal, I became aware that the period between birth and seven years of age is fundamental in developing children who will become successful, both as people and academically. As I expanded my research into neuro-development and explored what factors enhance children’s learning, it became apparent that it was time for a new model of early childhood education - a model that focused on the first seven years of life, builds upon the work of educators such as Maria Montessori, Reggio Emilia and the High Scope Programme, and takes into consideration the needs of children and their families now and in the future.  
 
I began working on this model as Executive Principal of GEMS Sherfield School in Hampshire, U.K.  After receiving an outstanding inspection from the Independent School Inspectorate (ISI) in all aspects of early childhood provision, Mr Sunny Varkey (Chairman of GEMS Education) asked me to work with an international team to develop LGI as the new global model for early childhood education. I am very proud to say that LGI now stretches from Chicago, USA to Tianjin, China.
 
In your view, what are some of the most important elements of a successful early childhood education programme?
There are many early childhood settings where children are well cared for and happy. However, research has demonstrated that this environment alone is not sufficient. At LGI parents will find robust educational provisions, the appointment and training of quality staff and a strong partnership alongside quality care that encompasses routine, healthy nutrition, safety and the highest levels of hygiene. 
 
Can you tell our readers, in brief, the story of GEMS Education and give us an insight into how it has become such a globally successful organisation?
Founded in 1959, GEMS Education is an international K – 12 educational company. Its vision is to be the world’s leading provider of quality education - enriching the lives of millions of children and the communities in which they live. GEMS Education works across both the Private and Public sectors. In the Private sector the company is the largest kindergarten to grade 12 education provider in the world. It educates 130,000 students from over 150 nationalities across four continents. GEMS employs over 11,000 education professionals, specialists and staff from over 80 countries. In the Public sector, GEMS Education works with governments to lift school performance levels and improve the standards and expertise of government schools across the globe.
 
What contributions have you made to the GEMS curriculum? How has your research and experience within the field formed your vision of what early childhood education should be?
The Little GEMS International curriculum is unique in the way it uses the English Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Curriculum as a framework combining it with the GEMS Core Values and specially written programmes and unique approaches to learning based upon research and an understanding of early childhood development and how the brain functions.  
 
The LGI programmes in Tianjin combine the Chinese Kindergarten curriculum with the English Early Years Foundation Stage framework. As GEMS schools to combine international standards of education with the needs of the communities in which they are in, we found an amazing synergy and alignment with the requirements of the Chinese education system. Our staff carefully plan around themes incorporating the following areas of learning:
 
• personal, social and emotional awareness and development: 
• communication, language and literacy; 
• physical  and motor skills development: 
• mathematics:  
• environmental awareness and understanding of the world: 
• aesthetics and creative experience, arts and design.
 
Each section, named after a precious gem, is run by our qualified and highly trained staff. Our Sapphires are aged 2–3 years, our Emeralds 3–4 years, our Diamonds 4–5 years and our Diamonds Plus 5–6 years.
 
As Little GEMS International’s website states, giving children access to programmes such as yours will “improve their progress in schools as lifetime learners”. In your own words, why is it so crucial for parents to go the extra mile in obtaining this kind of education for their children in the early years? 
The early years in a child’s life is the period in which the most brain development occurs. It is where the foundations are laid down academically, personally, socially and emotionally. Starting school is a simple and enjoyable step if children have been used to an educational setting with routines incorporating creative and independent learning. Giving children access to quality pre-school education, such as that provided at LGI Tianjin, gives children as much as a two year advantage when they start school.  
 
The Chinese, and East Asian people in general, are renowned for their financial and emotional investment in their children’s education. How competitive is this market, and what are some of the major upsides and challenges of operating in this part of the world?
I have met many parents and grandparents as we have been setting up LGI, Tianjin.  I have been extremely impressed by the way in which children are considered to be so important to Chinese families. They deeply understand that investing in their children’s education will have an enormous impact throughout their later lives, including their choice of universities. There are many childcare providers and nurseries out there, but there is nothing in the market that provides pre-school education for young children in the same way as LGI. The key is to combine the International School experience with each child’s individual values and developmental needs. 
 
How does the Little GEMS International approach differ from that of other educational organisations in Tianjin?
The thing that really separates us from other providers is our unique specially written LGI programmes based upon research into how young children learn and develop. Learning has to be done with a multi-sensory methodology to ensure that it appeals to all learners. Through the use of SPARKLE (sensory, physical, auditory, real, kinesthesis learning experiences), along with high quality resources including information technology, children are able to gain independence whilst undertaking activities which help them to explore and learn at a rapid pace. For example, the Mini Maestros Programme gives children the opportunity to explore their musical skills with a range of musical activities. 
 
As China continues on its path to global economic ascension, is it fair to say that the country needs to critically evaluate and build upon its provisions for childhood education in order to improve the overall levels of human capital within the nation?
If any country wants to be successful it needs to invest in its children– particularly its young children. Chinese families are leading the way in their understanding of the importance of early childhood education, and LGI provides a excellent platform to lay the foundations of a successful educational experience. 
 
 
For more information about LGI in Tianjin, or to learn more about GEMS Education, please visit http://www.littlegemsinternational.com/tianjin/  
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By Josh Cooper
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