Hidden GEMS

Chloe Uzoukwu, Editor

This article was published as part of the June 2019 issue, just as the closure of GEMS World Academy in Etoy was announced. It is interesting to see initial student responses to the closure of that school – two years on, an “ex-GEMS student” is virtually indistinguishable from any other ISL student. For a retrospective account by a former GEMS student, check out Shar’s article on “Life Beyond Gems” here.

Lol GEMS hates the people at ISL.”

“ISL feels the same way about GEMS. And I mean at least we haven’t gone bankrupt.”

This is a WhatsApp conversation between an ISL student and a GEMS (soon to be La Côte or ISL) student. Everyone finds it ridiculous and quite possibly hilarious, but do people really understand what is going on with GEMS?

When someone says “GEMS”, your mind automatically goes to the small school in Etoy, which is now a few days from closing. But the Global Education Management Systems (GEMS) is the largest operator of kindergarten-to-grade-12 schools in the world. It has a network of over 70 schools in over a dozen countries. GEMS World Academy Switzerland, however, was opened in 2013 and announced its closure on May 29th 2019, due to financial issues. 

Mr. Cairns says,“It doesn’t really matter what is going on at the school, all that we need to know is that the school finds itself in a situation impending its continuing and multiple other reasons.”

Let’s be honest, none of the ISL students really cared about GEMS closing. That was until we were all told that many of the students were going none other than here.

ISL is expecting about 80 GEMS students next year and about 4-5 GEMS teachers. Because of these large numbers, some classes are expanding. For example, one class is being added to Years 6, 8 and 9 and class numbers may expand to about 24 per class. The school is looking at a few minor issues such as more lockers, problems with September trips, as well as Year 13 being bigger than ever next year.

A day cannot go past without students here complaining about the new company next year. We have all heard and discussed things about GEMS, the people there and their standards. But I’m sure that there’s some decency in every one of you, so can we, as a community, think about how these new students are feeling, just for a moment?

According to Ms. Vivian, who is a parent of GEMS students and is quite close to the school, has used words such as “shocked”, “sad” and “angry” to describe the teachers’, parents’ and students’ reactions as the news was shared. She has also said that “the GEMS families I know are coming to ISL are sad to have lost a school that they loved, but they are also very excited to join ISL.” Being a parent affected by this situation as well, she described the events as a “tremendous shock”.

Ms. Vivian suggests that the main reason that ISL students are so wrapped up in this new integration is because they are “apprehensive about what the change will mean for them.”

She also gave the students this scenario: imagine if, right now, someone were to walk in and tell you that ISL was closing. For some people, this school is all that they’ve known. About 800 students are now left with nowhere to go to school, teachers left with no jobs. Look around the class. Think about your classmates. You would probably never be around that same group of people ever again. This is exactly what happened at GEMS, less than a month ago.

If you read Coline’s article regarding the elections, all three participants mentioned GEMS as their biggest concern. This gives a small snapshot of the scale of our reluctance to accept these new students into our community.

Mr Cairns himself has actually voiced some concerns about the reception that our community will give the GEMS parents and students. “The second they walk through those doors, they are ISL students,” he has said. But obviously, students are having a bit of trouble understanding that and treat them as though they are a whole different species.

Mr. Cairns voices some appropriate concerns. The students have not been the kindest towards to new company (as the student quotes illustrate). During the ISL TALKX, a promotional Battle of the Bands video was displayed, and the second the GEMS team came up, the audience’s immediate reaction was to boo them.  Let’s not even begin to talk about what opinions the students have:

“They have a reputation of being dumb and cringey.”

“Don’t like them.”

“They literally have issues (like diagnosed) and are more aggressive than ISL students.”

“We just interact differently and have values that don’t correspond with one another.”

Ms. Vivian has a bit more hope for us as a community. “I trust that we will all make an effort to help care for our new members of the ISL student body.”

And let’s not forget the fact that ISL may not be financially stable forever. For the time being we’re all right, but if a large company such as Nestle or Philip Morris made any large changes, such as moving their headquarters to different countries, even to other parts of Switzerland, ISL would definitely be in trouble. We could lose just as much as they did, maybe even more. This could happen to anyone at any time.

All new students deserve to be treated with respect, no matter where they’re coming from. We have had students join ISL from GEMS, so why do we insist on making it a big deal now? We say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, isn’t it hypocritical that we’re now doing it ourselves?

And, as Ms. Vivian rightfully says, “Just like all of you went from being new to ISL to being an integral part of the ISL community, they will too.