Dubai school celebrates 50 years of service

GEMS Our Own English High School grew from a single room in Bastakiya in 1968, when its fees were just Dh900 per year

Dubai: From one room in Bastakiya to a huge campus for more than 10,000 students, GEMS Our Own English High School (OOEHS), one of Dubai’s oldest and biggest schools, celebrated its 50th anniversary on Monday.

At a ceremony held at the school, now located in Warqaa, the OOEHS community and guests watched a short film about the school’s journey since 1968 and enjoyed performances by the school choir. There were also speeches by key officials from GEMS Education, which owns OOEHS.

The event was attended by Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai. Also in attendance were other senior officials, including Dr Abdullah Al Karam, director-general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

OOEHS is the first school of GEMS Education, the UAE’s biggest private school group operating around 50 schools in the country.

OOEHS (then known as Our Own English School) was established before the UAE gained independence in 1971, by the Varkey family who came to Dubai from India in 1959. The school only had three teachers and less than 30 students then. Today, there are around 10,200 students and 500 teachers at the Indian curriculum school.

Addressing the gathering on Monday, Dino Varkey, CEO of GEMS Education, said OOEHS, which he had attended as a child, had grown exponentially from “humble beginnings”.

“We’re also incredibly grateful to the leaders of this nation for creating an environment, a place, that people from many nations are able to call home. The leaders of this nation have made us believe, through their foresight, their support and guidance, that people can dream and dare to achieve great things,” he added.

His speech was followed by a video in which Sunny Varkey, the founder of GEMS Education, who was also in attendance, thanked his parents, schoolteachers, students and their parents for the success of OOEHS. He also thanked Dubai’s ruling Al Maktoum family, especially His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. He said he was “truly honoured” to call UAE “the home of GEMS Education”.

The video message was followed by a tribute to Mariamma Varkey, Sunny Varkey’s mother, by the girls’ choir. Mariamma Varkey is a former teacher from India who moved to Dubai with her husband K.S. Varkey in 1959. They founded OOEHS in 1968.

Tributes were also paid to the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founding father. The UAE has been celebrating 2018 as the Year of Zayed to mark his 100th birth anniversary.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Dino Varkey said the “ambition to be impactful” in the UAE and globally “has always been there” for GEMS. OOEHS has branches in other emirates and is popular with the Indian community. A new OOEHS branch opened in Sharjah last week.

The school’s annual tuition fees were Dh900 when it started, compared to around Dh10,000 today, which is still considered “incredibly affordable”, Dino Varkey said.

Suresh Mathur, who served as the school principal from 1989 to 2000, described OOEHS as “a dream school” where each of his deputies was a “superstar” who “made it easy to run the school”.

Anaswara Harikumar, a grade 12 student, said: “The teachers and the heritage of our school are every strong. Our school motivates us everyday.”

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