Victoria’s newest school — in the Persian Gulf

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WHILE most of the expat community living in the United Arab Emirates flee the July heat, a team of Victorian teachers will touch down in the city state of Sharjah next week to begin work in the first international school to teach the Victorian curriculum.

Finishing their induction training in Coburg today, the 21 teachers are headed for the purpose-built private school owned by the Sharjah Government — bringing with them Victoria’s curriculum, assessment and reporting models.

The Victorian International School of Sharjah — designed by Victorian firm Taylor Oppenheim Architects, run by a Victorian principal Rob Blachford and staffed by a team of Victorian teachers — opens in September.

With classes taught in English, the school will cater for both local and expatriate children and will initially take students from kindergarten to year 9 before expanding into year 10 to 12 in 2008.

Both the VCE and Victorian Essential Learning Standards will be offered at the coeducational school, which will eventually cater for 2600 students.

For Maribyrnong College physical education and health teacher Erin Ripley the chance to work overseas while still teaching a familiar curriculum was an opportunity too good to miss.

However Ms Ripley, 25, said there would be some adjustments to make, particularly when taking physical education classes.

With temperatures in July and August reaching 45 degrees-plus, there would be more indoor activities such as swimming and classes would need to accommodate the cultural sensitivities.

“There will be challenges for sure,” she said. “There will be cultural aspects that we will have to be mindful of in terms of gender separation and so forth.”

The former head of Lauriston Girls’ junior school, Jan Senior, has been appointed vice-principal of the international school, where the kindergarten fees start at about $8000 and rise to about $16,000 for year 12.

Ms Senior, who leaves tomorrow for a three-year stint said she was looking forward to teaching overseas but also staying in touch with her former students by email.

Education Services Minister Jacinta Allan said while Victorian teachers would benefit from working in a foreign culture, students would also benefit locally.

“They get the benefits of the information and knowledge that the teachers will come back with … so there’s potential for a real cultural exchange.”

Ms Allan said the teachers were ambassadors, whose presence would build on Victoria’s international reputation with the state’s $2.9 billion international student market likely to benefit.

The five-year, multimillion-dollar deal struck between the Victorian and Sharjah governments is not the only example of Australia exporting education to Sharjah.

In 2005 Sharjah’s ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed al-Qasimi, signed a $3 million deal with Adelaide University’s dentistry school to run a similar outfit at the University of Sharjah. The same year, a primary school teaching the Queensland curriculum opened in Sharjah, staffed by Queensland teachers.


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