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Interview: XCL World Academy Head of School, Sean P. O' Maonaigh shares news and views and much, much more

By ITS Education Asia

XCL World Academy (formerly known as GEMS World Academy) is a premium flagship IB-through school in Asia. XCL World Academy is a family-orientated international school offering rigorous education comprising four IB programmes. You will ask, what makes it different compared to the other 63 international schools in Singapore? Compared to large schools, with over 3,000 students, this school is well known for being a smaller-medium-sized premium school with a close-knit community, providing students with personalised attention, authentic learning opportunities, and preparing them for the careers of tomorrow.

Although XCL World Academy is considered a young "seven-year-old" international school, it proved the high standards of education and showcased outstanding IB results and university acceptance.


We spoke to XCL World Academy’s Head of School, Sean P.O’ Maonaigh, who gave us insight into the school’s philosophy, new and future developments and how students are achieving excellent IB Diploma scores year after year.


What is your background in education?

I have over 35 years of experience in international school education and have been actively involved in various capacities with the International Baccalaureate Organization, the Council of International Schools, the Academy of International School Heads and East Asia Regional Council of School.

Most recently, I have served as the Head of the European International School (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam). I have also held leadership positions at St. Andrew's College Dublin, International School of Amsterdam, International School of Tanganyika, Overseas School of Colombo, International School Ho Chi Minh City and St. Andrew's International Schools in Bangkok. Additionally, I have consulted a large group of schools as the Director of Quality Assurance, working closely with British, US and Australian curricula schools in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore, and also established the Cambridge International Education schools in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as the Director of Bilingual Programmes at Vinschool Vietnam.


What led you to this industry?

The human brain has always fascinated me. Understanding brain development and the variety of complex processes involved helped me understand why some children struggle with learning and encouraged me to find ways to help children with those challenges through personalised teaching philosophy. I have started my career as a Language and Social Studies teacher. Over the years, I have expanded my experience in international and intercultural contexts, realising the importance of focusing the teaching philosophy on the individual, trying to help every student succeed and realise their dreams.


Why did you join XCL World Academy (XWA)?

It was an easy decision. I was deeply impressed by the close-knit community culture and the future-focused vision of the school. XWA is a family-orientated international school offering rigorous education comprising four IB programmes. Compared to large schools, with over 3,000 students, XWA is known for being a medium-sized school with a close-knit community, providing students with personalised attention, authentic learning opportunities, and preparing them for the careers of tomorrow. The school truly lives up to the values and philosophy of the IB Organisation, and I genuinely believe it has a great potential to become the IB Continuum International School of choice in Singapore.

Why is the school called XCL World Academy?

 This is an excellent question! The new name "XCL World Academy" was selected to embody and preserve the school's unique identity, shaped since its foundation, whilst introducing XCL Education as a partner for the future.

XCL is a gramogram of the word excel, derived from 'celsus' (Latin), which means to rise and surpass. The words '     World Academy' reflect the mission and values of the school, highlighting the diverse and multicultural constitution of the community, as well as the global perspective that we seek to embed in every child's learning. It is fully aligned with XCL Education's ethos of preparing our students for global roles in a changing world and the careers of tomorrow.

What were the changes made after the management transition?

We have started the new academic year with a new name, a new leadership team, some new initiatives that have already been executed, and firm plans for significant new developments and initiatives that will become exciting new additions to campus life over the next two years. An overview of some of the recent improvements that have been already implemented at the school include:

  • We introduced an Early Years English-Chinese (Mandarin) Bilingual Programme, a bespoke University & Career Guidance Programme for students in Grades 8 -12, and we have added extra assessment rigour with the modern MYP eAssessments in  Grade 10.
  • We opened an innovation space at the beginning of the current academic year. The ‘Garage’ offers a flexible, state-of-the-art loft area dedicated to technology, innovation, gamification and STEM activities. Equipped with high-performance computers, VR/AR devices, robotics, and an impressive audio-visual display, students will be able to engage with the latest in digital technologies and explore the world of Esports as part of the Esports club with mentorship opportunities with a professional eSports Team. The potential uses of this space are endless, ranging from hosting guest speakers to conducting training seminars to holding concerts and live performances.
  • We have partnered with a new canteen operator, led by the acclaimed Michelin starred chef Emmanuel Stroobant, who is genuinely passionate about serving our students healthy, delicious and nutritious meals.


Earlier in the year, our students were provided with the opportunity to design their own school uniforms in collaboration with award-winning local designer Kevin Seah.

  • We also launched XCL Dialogues, a series of wide-ranging conversations with acclaimed and respected individuals who have made a mark in their chosen domains to allow students, teachers, staff, and parents across the group to have the unique opportunity to hear, learn and be inspired by some of the very best minds and achievers in the world.


In the near future, we will be:

  • Introducing a student-led eSports programme. This first of its kind initiative will allow our students to explore eSports for recreation and vocation and develop critical skills such as leadership, teamwork and discipline.
  • Opening several new sporting facilities such as tennis courts, cricket/baseball practice batting cages and a 550m athletics track.
  • Building a dedicated High School Block - Innovation Hub with age- appropriate specialist classrooms, dedicated student common area and highly unique specialist areas, including university and careers counselling centre, science labs, an eSports Arena, computer coding labs and next-generation technology-equipped classrooms to accommodate hybrid learning models.

All the above changes have been designed and implemented with the ultimate objective in mind - to provide the very best future-proof preparation possible for our students.


How is XWA different from other international schools?

As you know, a school is not about the buildings. In Singapore, all of the leading schools have excellent facilities. The difference between good versus great international schools is the people who commit to the organisation and the opportunities provided to students, parents, and staff. Our teachers and staff are deeply committed to every family. Our students are being provided with a future-focused learning environment and curriculum which best supports their needs. Beyond this, the school is very well known for its diverse and multinational population, close-knit and inclusive community feel, and personalised       learning opportunities provided to our students. This is very different from many of the existing schools in Singapore and South-East Asia.

We also recognise that every student is unique, and their aspirations are also different. With that in mind, we offer a variety of graduation pathways. XCL World Academy is the ?rst and only international school in Singapore authorized to o?er both the IB Diploma (DP) and the IB Career-related (CP) Programmes. All students are expected to graduate with a High School Diploma awarded by XCL World Academy and accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), regardless of the academic pathway chosen.


What is the vision of XCL Education in terms of nurturing students?

XCL Education aims to produce the best outcomes for students, not just with excellent, world-class academics and co-curricular activities, but also with the tools, mindset, and exposure they need to navigate the uncertain future and jobs of tomorrow confidently, find their own place and leave their own mark in the world. To prepare students for this future, we instil critical 'human' skills like critical thinking, creativity, leadership, empathy, teamwork, grit, adaptivity, self-motivation and digital proficiency.


Why did XWA choose to be an IB-through school?

XCL World Academy offers a continuum of learning through the International Baccalaureate (IB) and other learning frameworks. If you are familiar with the benefits of the IB programme, you might know the incredible difference it can make, not just to a child's academic or university success, but to their whole outlook and approach to the world. The IB gives students distinct advantages by building their critical thinking skills, nurturing curiosity and ability to solve complex problems, and fostering knowledgeable and caring young people motivated to succeed. We feel extremely confident that when students graduate from our school, they will have a range of knowledge, tools and resources at their disposal to be successful in whatever they choose to do next.


We notice that XWA emphasises a lot on design. Can you share with us the philosophy behind it?

Studying design has many benefits. Students have the opportunity to make anything they want and express their creativity. Design steps out of the traditional school boundaries and diverts from everyday learning, lectures and memorisation. In design, students learn what makes them unique, step out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves. The structured framework can be applied across all aspects of life and problems and is ubiquitously used everywhere. It focuses on ideation, thinking out of the box, creating a workable solution that can be implemented quickly and refined over time. In today's day and age, where almost everyone can be a creator empowered by widely available tools available online, design thinking is increasingly necessary as a skill set to have.


Can you share with us the demographic of XCL students?

To prepare students for an increasingly global world, we prize diversity and are proud to host students from over 60 nationalities with no one dominant culture or background (our highest nationality currently only comprises 15% of the total student body).  


What are typical challenges that students encounter at XCL World Academy?

The thought of transitioning to a new grade, international school or country can make many children feel slightly apprehensive. From the initial school tours through to eventual enrolment, our objective at XWA is to ensure that we “know our learner” – your child. We aim to find out as much as we can about our students prior to commencement – interests, strengths and areas for improvement. This information assists in the decisions about class placements, the selection of a transition buddy and like-minded students to support your child’s arrival.

Our open-door policy encourages any parent to meet with a teacher, counsellor or administrator to discuss their child’s progress. Our Principals regularly meet with families of new students to discuss transitions and often to provide reassurance that everything will work out well – which we genuinely believe it will.


Can you share with us the general background of your teachers?

I am delighted to share that our commitment to diversity doesn't stop at the nationality of our students. Our world-class faculty comes from over 20 countries and has been carefully selected from all around the world.  On average, they possess 10 years of international school teaching experience. Their knowledge and expertise teach students life-long skills and attitudes that will help them succeed beyond term papers and standardised tests.


What is the percentage of students undertaking the IB DP and the IB CP?

71% of our graduates pursue the IB DP  and 11% the IB CP. In addition, 18% of our graduates pursue the High School Diploma accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

What are your schools' latest IB results?

The 2021 IB Diploma cohort once again hit the 100% pass rate! The highest score achieved is 45 points (out of 45!). Furthermore, 20% of graduates achieved a score of 40 points and above, placing them in the top 9% of students in the world who achieved such remarkable results. This year, the average score was an outstanding 35 points, which is significantly higher than the world average. Nearly 90% of our students scored above 30 points.

In addition, 38% of our graduates received a Bilingual IB Diploma, reflecting the School's beliefs in raising intercultural awareness by letting students share and celebrate their unique sense of self and cultural identities.


 Can you share with us how XCL assures good IB results?

At every step of every child's educational journey, we focus on preparing them for future challenges, opportunities, and jobs that probably don't exist yet.

How do we do that? It all starts with selecting the most qualified and passionate educators with the right motivation and expertise. Our middle years curriculum is rigorous and balanced. It widens students' knowledge, understanding and experiences, and prepares students to meet the academic challenges of the IB DP and the IB CP.

Students in Grades 8 through to Grade 12 have access to a bespoke University & Career Guidance Programme, designed to support students to make informed decisions about the educational and career pathways. A huge benefit of this programme is that it aims to help students find their pathways based on their specific academic, personal and career aspirations.

We are also proud to offer a wider choice of high school educational pathways than most other international schools (IB DP, IB CP and High School Diploma). Although the options are different, each pathway shares the scaffolding inside it, building essential skills and independent-minded students. These programmes help students focus on careers early (if they wish), so they are confident in what they want to study after high school.

I must also acknowledge that our teachers play an essential role in scaffolding learning, and they are dedicated to assisting our students. I have witnessed several teachers who go above and beyond to help students succeed in their educational journey. Our results are just a snapshot that proves their dedication, drive and courage in their learning. Every day, I see our students making choices and collaborating with teachers to organize, prepare, and apply for the most outstanding universities in the world. What is behind the results is what matters at XCL World Academy.

To learn more about XCL World Academy, follow this link: https://www.xwa.edu.sg

Dulwich College Singapore

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

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