KHALDEH, Lebanon: At a small rented apartment building south of Beirut, Amani Jurdi is running a school using innovative education techniques that she hopes will teach Lebanon’s next generation of leaders.
“Our aim is to create future leaders, fearless people that are globally minded, big-hearted and reflective,” said Jurdi, who has pictures of renowned entrepreneurs Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg and Nassim Taleb hanging on the entrance wall.
“At Ghadi, we’re creating young entrepreneurs and helping them discover their talents,” she said.
Three years ago, Jurdi established Ghadi, an alternative elementary school for children of diverse backgrounds and learning abilities.
This followed her working as a tutor for more than a decade, during which time she became familiar with different styles of learning and challenges, including attention deficit disorder and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.
“I discovered myself how the brain works, the cognitive abilities of children, the emotional aspect of learning,” she said.
She wanted a school that would nurture different types of talent through small classes and individual attention – there are 70 students and 18 teachers at Ghadi – and not let any child fall through the cracks of what Jurdi considers an outdated system of impractical standardized exams.
She said she takes inspiration from education systems in Finland, Switzerland and Japan, where schools offer immersive learning experiences that help develop critical thinking and emotional intelligence. She actively involves parents, soliciting their input in everything from the curriculum to the school menu.
“We should stop [having] classrooms where the teacher is the center of the class, with 30 children, evaluating every child with what we think the standard evaluation is.
“We should start respecting the individual differences of children,” Jurdi said. “Why evaluate children in math, language and science, but not dancing, the ability to imagine, discover and teamwork? The issue here is that standardized evaluations will take us nowhere.”
Instead, Ghadi educates students through immersive experiences, such as real-life language learning and exams, yoga and dance classes, and with special attention for students with specific learning needs, such as those with ADD and ADHD, who account for about 20 percent of those enrolled.
She is also working on developing an innovation center for students to create their own products.
The tuition varies according to the needs of the child: generally $2,000 to $3,000 a year and $6,000 to $7,000 for children with learning difficulties who need individualized attention and therapy. All of this is done while meeting the required curriculum of the Education Ministry.
“When your curriculum is built correctly, with structure, there’s space for discovery,” Jurdi said. “Mistakes are embraced at our school, and children reflect on their mistakes.”