In November’s issue, Blue Chip spoke about the state of education among privately run schools in Pakistan. This month, we profile a school that is making concentrated efforts to keep ahead of the academic curve, while distinguishing itself among other schools by establishing only one campus per city.
In a country where the most reliable schooling is found in the private sphere, private schools in Pakistan are growing increasingly competitive, both as service providers and as businesses. Many schools seem to be racing one another in their attempts to enroll the largest numbers of students, who in turn need to score the highest when it comes to their board examinations to gain credibility among the public. The ensuing rush for admissions into reputable schools often results in hundreds of campuses sprouting across the country to keep up with demand. Schooling in Pakistan is largely a business that educates minds, but a business nevertheless.
However, the strategy followed at Froebel’s International Schools is at variance with this. By focusing all their resources into one campus per city, FIS provides students with fully equipped schools that continue to evolve with changing international academic trends. The schools pride themselves on keeping up with international trends in academics, extracurricular activities, campus facilities and teaching practices. It’s the first and only educational institution in Pakistan to implement the IPC (International Primary Curriculum, which is followed by schools in many progressive countries). This theme-based curriculum is initially being implemented into Early Years, while School Development Administrators are concurrently training teachers and laying the groundwork for implementing the IPC throughout the Primary Years. Froebel’s students will also be appearing for Edexcel’s IGCSE and A level exams that are currently administered in the UK.
What began with a small student body in Islamabad in 1975 has steadily grown into three campuses. Froebel’s Islamabad remains the original/flagship school in the urbanised F-7 centre of the city, while the two-acre landscaped Froebel’s Rawalpindi campus was launched in Rawalpindi in 1996 on Peshawar Road, and the eight-acre expansive Froebel’s Lahore was inaugurated in Lake City in 2008.
The ‘educating generations since 1975’ tagline is relevant for Froebelian graduates whose children are being educated there, as well as for the personal tradition in which the school is run. Many of the faculty members have been there since the beginning, and alumni regularly return to visit and advise students, treating each other and their former teachers like family. Froebel’s graduates go on to be admitted at prestigious universities and work in lucrative professions in Pakistan and around the world. Perhaps that’s why some of the leading political families find it a safe and appealing school for educating their children. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari famously attended Froebel’s Islamabad, as well as Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s sons and nephews, while former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s grandchildren attend Froebel’s Lahore. The familial and cultural backgrounds of the students are richly diverse; their parents range from MNAs to business professionals, industrialists, diplomats, doctors and lawyers, and also include foreign nationals.
Blue Chip discusses some salient features of FIS with its Principals, and discovers their distinctive school cultures.
Shahmina Kamal is an organisational whiz and the Head Principal of Froebel’s International Schools, as well as the Principal of Froebel’s Islamabad. In addition to supervising the Islamabad school, Ms. Kamal’s role as Head Principal entails coordinating all three campuses and maintaining their daily running from Playgroup to A levels via a team of mentors who work as deputy heads. A British expatriate, Ms. Kamal brings with her thirteen years of diversified work experience as Headmistress and Teachers Trainer for language proficiency courses, English for specific purposes, Early Years Education, Montessori Training, Management Skills, Communication Skills and Leadership Attributes. “One of the main areas where we are seeing remarkably quick development at Froebel’s is in Teacher Training,” says Ms. Kamal. She is a published textbook author with several post-graduate diplomas in Education from the University of Strathclyde to her credit, and has, to date trained more than 700 pre/junior school teachers.
“Froebel’s is a name that takes you far, as it’s a school that’s recognised worldwide due to distinctions such as High Achievers,” says the Head Principal. “Ivy League and colleges all know and trust the Froebel’s name, including Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge. It was recently on a Top Ten Asian Schools list. The teachers are professionals that have been here for a long time and are affiliated with the school. Froebel’s also has the status of being the first Edexcel International Examination Centre in Pakistan. Students feel that they are in their home environment when taking their exams so may perform better. Another advantage is that there are no mistakes made when exams are sent, as it’s a direct process. Students receive their results quickly and they are available online.”
The Head Principal describes the school culture of Froebel’s. “All three campuses follow the same policies and curriculum and are well coordinated. They each have their own school colours, and dress in the same uniform. Froebelians have a drive within them to get somewhere and know what they’re aiming for. They receive on-campus guidance counseling and career aptitude tests and have ample opportunities. In terms of safety, we have on campus nurses, and our security measures include emergency drills for political unrest and earthquakes. The culture of a school is the student body and its environment. Each school has its unique characteristics and culture but all three are identical in their policies, academics and opportunities. The Lahore school has an excellent new campus. The Rawalpindi school has an open area for maneuvering. The Islamabad school is in the centre of the city with no nearby schools and a healthy interaction within the student body.”
Ms. Kamal goes on to say, “The co-educational element gives it a real-world setting that produces a confident set of boys and girls, where students from both genders view one another as people first and males and females second. In single-sex schools, not only is it an artificial school culture, but also, the genders do not learn to interact with respect and confidence. This also applies to schools that only offer to educate limited age groups rather than Early Years up to A Levels, in the sense that their school culture will lack a collective sense of belonging and loyalty. Froebel’s International Schools have a friendly environment and purpose-built campuses that provide opportunities for school culture, not just private education in small houses, which is why Froebelians are equipped to face the challenges of tomorrow. There is a strong sense of partnership and belonging here. Community service strengthens the characters of students who have erred and increases a sense of responsibility among them, maturing them. Alumni feel very proud and have a strong kinship, and even send their children to their alma mater.”
Ms. Sabah M. Khan is the enthusiastically proactive Principal of Froebel’s Lahore. Educated at the University of Maryland and an expatriate from the Netherlands, Ms. Khan’s seventeen years’ experience as a notable business executive and an educationist have included responsibilities as Co-Director of a multinational establishment and later, Vice Principal and Teacher Trainer for Primary and Lower/Upper Secondary Years Education. Her achievements as educationist, when administering O levels, included Cambridge/Edexcel High Achiever Awards in the very first year.
“I joined Froebel’s Lahore as Principal on the very first day of its inception,” says Ms. Khan. “My role as Principal entails the smooth execution of the day-to-day and long-term operations pertaining to the Lahore school. Our team can be ranked amongst the best in Lahore. They bring with them a blend of experience and knowledge from the best educational institutions combined with unmatched motivation, British and American qualifications and experience, and an unfailing will to succeed.”
About the school’s facilities, Ms. Khan explains, “Even in it’s first year, Froebel’s Lahore offers unparalleled facilities; an international educational system coupled with the host of curricular and extra-curricular activities/facilities that include a purpose built campus, spacious classrooms, recreational grounds with play apparatus, tennis courts, swimming, horseback riding, an auditorium, a gymnasium, a cafeteria, transportation, junior and senior libraries equipped with a stock of high interest books, periodicals and teaching/learning resources, updated networked hardware and appropriate software including the Internet, three science laboratories, sports and dramatics clubs. What normally surprises first-time visitors about the campus is the range of facilities, which a school brochure cannot prepare you for until you see it with your own eyes. Prior to admission, parents and students are given a tour of the campus to make them comprehend what is actually being offered to them compared with other schools. The well-appointed classrooms generally surprise parents, as do the vast grounds and sports facilities offered by the school. Lahore, by virtue of its culture and society, is generally more competitive than other cities, and people possess a fierce sense of pride. The environment at Lahore branch is generally aligned with the city’s academic and aesthetic values that most of the prime schools in Lahore don’t provide, such as well-equipped classrooms, horseback riding and swimming. Along with our well-trained and experienced staff, this is the best place to study in the provincial metropolis. Our campus is in a gated, protected society at Lake City and we have our own security and transportation.”
The Principal of Froebel’s Lahore also explains the importance of the new curriculum, “The IPC is an integral part of academics. It encourages inquiry, team spirit and cooperation among reflective and confident learners who think from a global perspective. The IPC integrates information and communication technology into the Early Years and Primary curriculum. We provide extra guidance as far as Remedial work is concerned. The Students of Early Years, Primary Years and Lower/Upper Secondary are all involved in a rigorous programme that provides each individual the opportunity to achieve something extra in academics and curricular activities. We have specialised events including Sports Day, Food Festival, Movie Night, School Dance, Drama Week, English speech and debate competitions, Urdu Play, qirat competitions, Mushaira, Urdu speech and Math and Science competitions, book fairs, and football, rugby and cricket matches.”
The Principal of Froebel’s Rawalpindi describes how the parents of Froebel’s students have appreciated their children’s academic experiences and how initially challenging it was in Rawalpindi to introduce new methods of teaching, “People say they know a Froebelian when they see one. This confidence is attributed from the Early Years onwards. Weekly events and activities get the parents very involved. Froebel’s Rawalpindi provides the best opportunities in the city. Frankly, they wouldn’t have access to such facilities at other Rawalpindi schools, which tend to have different academic standards or be physically congested. Froebel’s has its own seasoned, experienced teachers. Competitive teaching training programs at Froebel’s attracts the best teachers. The campus offers facilities with a small student body that gets ample teacher attention, a 25:1 student-teacher ratio. Parents feel that the Rawalpindi campus is how a school ought to be, with its landscape and environment. Many of the parents are recently returned expatriates who are pleasantly surprised by the facilities offered and the progressive teaching and evaluation methods. Even more traditional parents now appreciate that FIS doesn’t expect students to ‘memorise’ and evaluates them as per GPA rather than on a ‘first, second, third’ basis. Seeing their children blossom has had an effect on the parents too. Early Years offers more theme-based activities ensured by planners which are well integrated, as well as resources that support different subjects. Additionally, events, clubs and community participation are of a higher calibre than other schools, such as the Savers Club that promotes community service activities like earthquake relief and fund raising. Parents have expressed that these activities instill a sense of responsibility amongst the children.”
Head Principal Shahmina Kamal sums up the future direction of Froebel’s International Schools, “The future is very positive at Froebel’s, with academically strong cultural change for more effective schooling. Froebel’s continues to attract highly motivated students. Parents, too, remain very involved and regularly participate in parent-teacher meetings.”
The recession may have hit other industries, but education is one sphere that remains lucrative: children need to be educated no matter what the circumstances. Parents seek cost-effective solutions but are normally reluctant to compromise on the quality of their children’s education. Now that city development authorities are restricting schools from operating in residential areas, the cities will see newer campuses, a major improvement from the small houses where most schools are currently located. In the end, it’s the schools with the more evolved teaching methods and better-equipped campus that attracts the brightest and produces the best. By focusing all their resources on one fully-equipped campus per city, Froebel’s provides students with a more complete educational experience, all the while continuing to enhance its academic programmes, on-site facilities and teaching trends, ensuing a vibrant and productive student body.