Michelle Scott began her career in education in Australia teaching English and Drama, before moving to the UK in 1997 to join the prestigious and world-renowned Downe House School.
Over her 23-year career at Downe House UK, she was Director of Drama, Assistant Headmistress, and Deputy Headmistress.
In January 2021, she took up the post of Founding Principal of Downe House Muscat to establish the first and only premium British all-girls school that offers Cambridge International Primary and Secondary curriculums, IGCSEs, A Levels, and the Oman General Education Diploma, alongside the traditional Omani Arabic subjects.
Downe House Muscat is Oman’s only international all-girls school and provides a premium, tailored education that combines the best of a British-based education with a deep respect for Arabic culture. How does Downe House Muscat preserve traditional values while providing a modern and innovative learning environment for girls?
Michelle Scott: There are two sides to tradition here – British and Omani. Our approach has been to weave the best from both, creating an evolving and organic educational landscape. Drawing from my extensive experience at Downe House UK, where the school’s DNA is embedded in me, our primary objective was to transplant high-quality educational and pastoral standards into Oman. The aim was clear – make Downe House Muscat the epitome of excellence for girls in Oman by incorporating the finest elements from British education and beyond. We take pride in being the first British international all-girls school in Oman, a pioneering effort that demanded a harmonious fusion of cultures.
So, what was important for us was to fuse and blend the uniqueness of our culture and traditions with the new elements we were introducing. We believed that by doing so, we would successfully engage and attract families, gaining their trust in educating their daughters. It is important to note that as someone not originally from Oman, I had to immerse myself in understanding and adapting to ensure a harmonious coexistence of these two sets of traditions.
We take pride in being the first British international all-girls school in Oman, a pioneering effort that demanded a harmonious fusion of culturesMichelle Scott
This has been a primary objective. However, it is not just about the present; there is an everyday aspect to it, but the focus is on shaping the future for these young girls and women. We envision their education as a source of happiness, fostering an open-minded, outward-looking approach while preserving their cultural values. Striking this balance requires respect and a deep understanding of what Omani families, and families in Oman in general, desire for their daughters.
In any school environment, the challenges are multifaceted, and they become even more pronounced when merging two distinct cultures and traditions. Looking ahead, especially considering the uncertainties of the future, navigating this process becomes a constant evolution. However, we believe in working closely with our families, regardless of their geographic location, ensuring that they perceive their daughters as safe, nurtured, understood as individuals, and encouraged to showcase the very best version of themselves during their time with us.
The focus on academic excellence is evident in the commitment to a rigorous British curriculum. How does Downe House Muscat ensure that it is pupils receive a top-tier education comparable to it is sister school in the UK?
Michelle Scott: Ensuring a top-tier education is all about benchmarking and maintaining standards. Our close, genuine bond with Downe House UK sets us apart; we are not a franchise. Unlike many international schools, we have an authentic relationship with our mothership. We utilize the same standards and benchmarking techniques, assessing girls at the same standard as in the UK upon entry. From the moment they join us, we focus on adding value to their education, regardless of their initial academic standing. It is worth noting that we are non-selective; we accept pupils based on our ability to care for them, academically, pastorally, and in terms of special educational needs. Our inclusive approach ensures every girl benefits from the in-classroom experience.
Ensuring a top-tier education is all about benchmarking and maintaining standardsMichelle Scott
We work closely with Downe House UK to recruit teachers with the highest calibre of international experience, coupled with a solid understanding of the British curriculum. Our educators must respect and embrace both the British and Omani curricula, teaching Arabic subjects and the Oman GED. This approach ensures a seamless integration of both educational systems.
For example, if you enter Downe House Muscat at or before Grade 9, all pupils undertake a two-year foundation course in the English language. This course lays a solid foundation, putting them on the highway to success. It helps them understand the nuances of a UK education and equips them with one of the best qualifications for pursuing higher education globally – IGCSEs. Moving forward, we offer options such as A-levels or the Oman GED, with every pathway aligned with the Cambridge International program – giving continuity in their education. Regardless of the pathway chosen, we are dedicated to preparing our pupils for life beyond school.
Downe House is recognized as a Microsoft Centre of Excellence. How does the school leverage technology to complement traditional teaching methods and enhance the learning experience for its pupils?
Michelle Scott: So, it is important to understand that technology does not replace pen and paper. Our pupils still take examinations using traditional methods. Even though we rely on devices throughout the day, checking our phones, using laptops, iPads, etc., we must strike a balance for the girls. We need to prepare them for a technology-driven world after they leave, possibly even during university. They need to develop the essential skills of reading, writing, and mathematics without solely relying on AI, calculators, or phones. They must have the mental capacity to handle various tasks. Achieving the right balance in the classroom is vital.
We are dedicated to preparing our pupils for life beyond schoolMichelle Scott
We have a state-of-the-art, well-equipped school, and our teachers seamlessly incorporate technology into their practices. Smart boards and interactive technology are common in our classrooms. Our girls have access to audio-visual technology, design technology, and subjects like science and technology. We aim to prepare them for a world where technology is central, but they also need the internal skills to navigate it. In subjects like ICT, even basics such as spelling and creating a Word document are emphasized. Although children are exposed to technology early on, some still lack the fundamental skills needed. Literacy and numeracy are essential, and learning how to use pen and paper is vital to mastering these skills.
What is your opinion on AI and the challenges that it brings to the education system for teachers and pupils?
Michelle Scott: There are many advantages to incorporating technology in the classroom. However, the primary drawback is the risk of pupils relying on it to replace critical thinking. Both teachers and pupils now grasp how to leverage AI for crafting well-written letters, documents, reports, and essays. If you visit any university or college, like Jagdeep, it is a common tool for everyone. Despite its widespread use, the challenge lies in its undetectability. That is where traditional tools like pen and paper come into play, particularly during exams. Regardless of the exam type, pupils must sit down and write their responses without relying on digital aids. While digital submissions are part of their academic journey, we still emphasize the importance of physical workbooks that pupils take home.
While digital submissions are part of their academic journey, we still emphasize the importance of physical workbooks that pupils take homeMichelle Scott
Although we cannot eliminate AI usage, maintaining a balanced approach is crucial. Learning from ChatGPT’s language structure is beneficial, but it is worth noting that the generated writing can be somewhat generic, often relying on fancy vocabulary.
Moreover, there are specific apps designed to humanize ChatGPT-generated texts. Pupils can copy and paste the content into these apps, creating a more authentic touch. This approach helps evade AI detection systems like turning it in, which identifies ChatGPT-generated content. It is encouraging to witness entrepreneurial efforts to counterbalance these challenges with innovative technology. We have experimented with a few such solutions, and the results have been incredible.
The key takeaway is that we cannot ignore the presence of AI. Embracing its positive aspects while being mindful of potential pitfalls is essential. Leveraging technology to enhance learning in various ways is commendable, but we must ensure that writing skills remain a core focus.
In light of the National Education Strategy 2040, how does Downe House Muscat align with Oman’s vision for education?
Michelle Scott: Well, there is much in what we have discussed that resonates with the strategy – finding that delicate balance between tradition and a forward-looking perspective, embracing advancements like AI and technology. We are fortunate that Vision 2040 utilizes our school for some workshops, a privilege for us and our pupils who attend these seminars. The pillars underpinning Vision 2040 align closely with our school’s vision. As a school, you cannot overlook the aspirations of the country you are in. It is exciting to see where this will take education.
Leveraging technology to enhance learning in various ways is commendable, but we must ensure that writing skills remain a core focusMichelle Scott
I am optimistic about the partnerships they are forming, benchmarking against other countries, not just in education but across all the pillars of Vision 2040. Oman aims not only to align but also to lead in these areas. Though I may not witness it, it is crucial to lay the foundations now for future aspirations and support Vision 2040, as these young women and men are the future of Oman. My pupils, hopefully, in Oman, will contribute to their community.
Whatever we can do now lays the groundwork for the future, supporting Vision 2040. It is fundamental because these young individuals are Oman’s future. I see our girls as the ambassadors for Vision 2040. And, I believe that they will carry it forward into the future. I am excited about the prospect. Oman has the opportunity to unite with us as school leaders, signaling that they are ready for our support.
At Downe House Muscat, we are like a family here. While we can never replace a mother or sister, these girls are like family to us. We ask parents to trust us with their daughters to experience what an all-girls education brings. Once they witness the relationships formed here, they understand. Like any family, we have our occasional ups and downs, but we are here to support the girls through it. There is something profoundly special about an all-girls environment.
What unique experiences can pupils and parents expect at the school?
Michelle Scott: So, one of the key considerations in establishing and shaping our school was to introduce novel elements in Oman that may not have been offered by other institutions, yet still align with Downe House UK. Everything here mirrors Downe House UK, except for the fact that our campus is a stunning modern building, as opposed to the historic structure of Downe House UK. We have incorporated facilities like food technology, fashion design, 3D and 2D art, photography studios, design technology, and engineering labs, among others.
As technology advances and the school expands, we plan to introduce more featuresMichelle Scott
We even have a film studio, though it is in the development phase. As technology advances and the school expands, we plan to introduce more features. Our recording studios are something truly special. At our core, we emphasize STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics – while also giving due attention to creative and performing arts. The creative arts find their place on the top floor, and this building serves as our hub for performing arts, including a theatre and associated facilities.
Our aim was to be distinctive, offering young women in Oman opportunities they may not have encountered before. Regardless of whether they are interested in academics, arts, or sports, this school provides a platform for every passion. We celebrate both tactile and academic subjects, fostering soft skills alongside the more rigorous academic disciplines like math, English, and science. This blend of education, within such an inspiring setting complemented by sports and other activities, sets us apart from other schools.
It is truly a unique environment, unlike anything else in Oman, even when compared to some universities. Our mission is to provide every young woman in Oman, regardless of nationality, with the chance to discover her identity, what makes her unique, and what motivates her to become the best version of herself. Our motto, “Be Your Best,” encapsulates the essence of this journey. It means different things to different people, but ultimately, it is about feeling happy and enjoying one’s school experience.
Our motto, “Be Your Best,” encapsulates the essence of this journeyMichelle Scott
When parents tell me, “My daughter cannot wait to come to school; she doesn’t like the holidays,” that’s the kind of feedback we strive for.