Residents will soon have their say about the proposed
development of a private school in Pemberton when a public meeting is held in
Whistler this week.
The Whistler meeting will take place July 24 at 7 p.m., in the
Westin hotel. The meeting will offer information about GEMS Education, the
Dubai-based company that hopes to the build the school, as well as the proposed
“Independent Day and Boarding School” to be located in Pemberton.
Plans to build the school were announced in 2007. The proposed
site is Ravens Crest, outside the boundaries of the VOP.
The site is a rock bluff, according to project proponent Cam
McIvor, but developers have nonetheless submitted a “non-farm use” application
to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), which oversees the use of land in
the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), where farming is a priority use.
They have also submitted an application for rezoning to the
Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.
“The school’s proposed primarily on unimprovable, non-arable
land, very hard soil that can never be improved,” McIvor said. “We are seeking
a non-farm use application so that it will remain agricultural and it will be
under the jurisdiction of the ALC when it comes to permits and uses on
GEMS, which stands for Global Management Education Systems and
has operated for 48 years, is headed by Sunny Varkey, an India-born businessman
who now operates the company out of Dubai.
Varkey sees education as a business. His schools offer K-12
education at three levels of affordability: budget, mid-market and premium.
School fees at English schools have ranged anywhere from £5,000 a year to
£12,000 (the equivalent of over $24,000).
The schools themselves can be found throughout the world
— there are more than 30 schools in the Middle East, in countries such as
the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Libya, while 11 are operating in England.
The Pemberton school would be the first for GEMS in North America.
The education itself is largely traditional, with teachers
trained in several curriculums including the International Baccalaureate (IB)
program, the American Curriculum and the Ontario (Canada) Curriculum. The
academic program stresses four values at all GEMS schools: world citizenship;
universal values; leadership qualities; and forward thinking.
Academic results are “consistently high,” according to the GEMS
website, with English GEMS schools ranking nearly 40 points above the UK
national average. The website also says that students have gone on to such
institutions as the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and