An exclusive interview for bestinPortugal with Chari Empis, Headmaster of the Oeiras International School-OIS, which is the first institution of international education in the Council of Oeiras, in the greater Lisbon area, and follows the International Baccalaureate-IB, the programme that is recognized for the highest standards of international education.
The school campus is based on the premises of a 17th Century palace, the Quinta de Nossa Senhora da Conceição in Barcarena, Oeiras. The 5 hectare campus was newly refurbished this year and the inauguration took place on September 20, 2011 with the presence of the Mayor of Oeiras, Mr. Isaltino Morais and the American Ambassador in Portugal, Mr. Allan Katz.
Could you present a brief bio on yourself?
I have a BSc in Maths and a MSc in Pure Mathematics from Lisbon Classical University plus post-graduate studies both in the areas of Maths and Education in Portugal, UK and US(Harvard). I speak fluently French, Portuguese, German and English but I have forgotten some of my Spanish, my father’s native tongue. I taught for 10 years at the Lisbon Classical University training Maths teachers and doing research in the field of Functional Analysis and Applied Physics. Later I taught Maths at the Nautical Academy which I helped to restructure as the President of the Scientific Council. I then became Head of St.Dominic’s International School, Portugal where I introduced the 3 International Baccalaureate-IB programmes.
What motivated you to start a new English-speaking school after being the head of another English-speaking school for 17 years (St.Dominic’s International School)?
The fact that with my family we were able to integrate a group of people, the founders of the new school, with the same love for education centered in student development as only the IB programmes do. Together we created a not-for-profit organization called Oeiras International School-OIS.
What are the challenges that you presently face in this second year of activity of the OIS?
In the first year every day was a challenge on how to proceed, developing the project at the Quinta and at the same time running the actual school, fulfilling all the conditions to be properly accredited by the International Baccalaureate Organization- IBO, European Council of International Schools-ECIS and the Portuguese Government.
Now we can concentrate on the stability of the project and its peaceful development, making the students appreciate the beauty of the place which provides for an extraordinary environment for learning.
Knowing that we are facing challenging economic times and that a non-negligible amount of parents are transferring their children from private schools to public ones, how is this affecting you? Do you have scholarships or other financial aids for the needy students?
From day one we had decided to offer 2 full scholarships per year for academic excellence in the Oeiras area. Quality education in English as any IB school can offer in the Lisbon area is still something foreign and Portuguese parents try to offer their children. Private Portuguese schools should also try to offer more than what public schools do in order to challenge parents in times of difficulties.
Is the OIS open to all or are there certain necessary requirements to attend?
The school is open to all, based on previous reports from other schools and an interview in English where we judge if the student can benefit from the type of education offered.
What type of initiatives have you taken to benefit the community? Do students participate in community activities?
From Years 7 to 11 of the IB-Middle Years Programme, students have their own annual Community and Service projects which they evaluate termly. At the end of the school year the scrap books for these activities are on display at the school. In Years 12 and 13 CAS/Community, Action and Service is mandatory in the IB-Diploma. At both levels one of the activities for the students consists of taking care of the vegetable garden and fruit trees of the Quinta da Nossa Senhora da Conceição where the school is located.
What goals have you established for the 2011-2012 school year?
To be successful in the 2 next IB-Middle Years Programme visits/inspections in October and April and that the IB-Diploma students fulfill their goals in the IB-Diploma exams at the end of the school year.
What is the response from the students? Do they feel prepared for the challenge?
So far we have great response from the student body, our top asset.
How are students being encouraged/guided to choose a career path that they have interest in?
We use the services of Marina Rodrigues,Lda. located in Cascais, specialized for many years in this area, with huge success.
For students that wish to pursue their studies in a Portuguese University, do you feel that the education that they have been given in OIS has them equally prepared as if they had followed their studies in a Portuguese school?
Top Portuguese Universities like to have IB students, which quickly become their best students. Actually the first sign of independence any Government gave these Universities was to allow them the possibility to choose or not the admittance of IB-Diploma students.
What values do you think are important to transmit to the next generation of young adults?
That the “Rule of Law” has to be in place for all to have equal opportunities and countries to develop.
What impact do you feel that the online world has produced on the way students study nowadays, as compared to 20 years ago, when Wikipedia and Google were not available?
I believe that Academic Honesty became essential in how they learn and develop.
How is the OIS taking advantage of the available means of the Digital age?
All are in use in our classes, labs and library. Students are encouraged to have their own laptops. We use a robust programme to run every aspect of the academic side of the school.
What are the plans and projects that OIS is engaging in?
Next school year we plan to grow from 110 to 150 students, increasing to 210 in 2012/13. After that we have plans to build a new wing to accommodate in all, 310 students.
Any final thoughts that you would like to add?
It is extremely rewarding to work together with such a group of wonderful people for a common purpose as in the OIS.