- Robert Stitch, Principal of the Garden International School in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Paul Wilson, Headmaster of Brighton College, Singapore
- Jo Roberts, Head of Early Years and Primary, and Michael Perry, IB Primary Years Programme Coordinator,from The European International School, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Together, they talked about how their international school communities are agents of positive change in their localities and beyond. Plus, how their resilient response to the Covid pandemic is strengthening the focus and commitment to inspire the next generation.
Developing young global minds
International schools are special places. They bring together children and their families of all cultures, backgrounds and experiences from all around the world into one locality. Ensuring a safe and nurturing environment where students can thrive means creating a culture of belonging for everyone.This context instinctively lends itself to the development of a global mindset. Loosely put, the ability and awareness to work cooperatively with individuals and groups that have different cultural codes or beliefs to your own.“One of the main strands of global citizenship is seeing the perspective of the other,” explained Jo Roberts. “It means being aware there are differences and that doesn’t make them wrong. It’s a celebration of diversity and inclusiveness, understanding the perspective of others and respecting different opinions.”In a globalised, increasingly interconnected world that can simultaneously feel increasingly disconnected and disrupted, these attributes and mindsets are critical to bridging the gaps in understanding and creating better outcomes for everyone.“In the decades to come, we are going to need people with these conciliation skills,” says Paul Wilson. “The next generation will be finding solutions to some incredibly complex problems, but the work in international schools around developing global citizenship and those skills does give you hope.”
Schools’ role in developing culturally aware future leaders
To support the development of resilience, a well-rounded understanding of difference and the ability to communicate cross-culturally, the three international schools represented in the webinar spoke about the importance of building the right culture in schools as well as looking beyond the school gates to their local communities in Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia.For Jo Roberts, “The big picture we aim for is students thriving as global citizens and really to develop the skills for them to help create a more peaceful, just, sustainable and more tolerant world. Hopefully throughout their education and what they experience in each of their schools will mean they can help to promote each of these things.”This wider focus harnesses children’s natural curiosity about the world around them. It is an integral aspect of building understanding, awareness and developing global citizenship. “When we talk about kindness, it is very much an outward-looking perspective as well,” said Paul Wilson. “International schools are very privileged environments. We take children outside of the school bubble and develop an education where children become keen advocates of things like the local environment and animal welfare. “We are tapping into their passions by getting alongside them, and helping them to know how to make a difference and increase knowledge of some of these issues.”
A sense of place and purpose
Global mindedness is also about promoting a sense of social justice among its student body. “At Garden International School, we like to think global and act local,” says Robert Stitch. “We are proudly an international school and proudly a Malaysian school. Being at an international school is a great privilege. Our students know that and have that sense of there being a great responsibility to help.“Service learning is an integral part of Garden International School,” continues Robert. “We are a genuine learning community and engage all our stakeholders in the service projects we are actively engaged in supporting.“Partnering with less fortunate parts of the community is not charity – it is service. It’s a genuine partnership and it really does change the culture of the school. Service is part of the philosophy, mission and vision and it speaks to the true values of the school that we live in practice.”
Global citizenship for all ages
It is not just young adults and children of secondary school age that are gaining a wider awareness of social and environmental issues in an international context as global citizens. It is children of nursery and primary school age too.“They are very aware or become aware as they become older of the disparity between the privilege of what they have and what they see outside,” says early and primary years educator Jo Roberts. “Children in general are very passionate about fairness and injustice. Even at a young age a child is aware that ‘if he’s got that, then why haven’t I got that?’ They don’t understand why.“It is our job as educators to be agents of change,” continues Jo. “Children now see more than we did. Having a voice and agency is imperative and schools foster that. We strive very much for this in our school so our students know they can make a difference.”
Can curriculum play a part in developing global citizens?
While the leadership and culture of an international school is clearly critical for developing global mindedness, Michael Perry believes curriculum choice can also play into its development.“One of the benefits of IB is interconnected learning,” he says. “There is no such thing as a subject. It is all embedded and the real world is the classroom. We have to bring the outside world to them, rather than trying to push what we are told we should see.“We encourage children to take action in and outside of the school. Sometimes it might be something like a child bugging their parents to put a bucket in the shower to catch the excess water to reuse. We show them they do have power and that is probably one of most important things.”
Understanding through communication
Language is another vital ingredient in nurturing awareness and empathy with others. “To value the community you live in, you need some functional language in the host nation,” continues Michael Perry. “[Equally] every single person brings something different with their language and your home language is just as important. When parents come and visit us we have multilingual staff and guests can be welcomed in their home language.”The value of immersive language learning for developing a deep cultural understanding is well documented. “We have a dual-language model here at Brighton College, so we have learning without our children realising,” says Paul Wilson. “At pre-school age children just soak it all up. Our context is special. If you learn another language in England, you don’t always see the point. Here, you are learning a language you can be using to communicate with local people. The child gets it.Role modelling is also critical for normalising intercultural interactions. “I talk to our teaching assistants in Mandarin, which shows the children that even someone who is white is able to engage in common language,” continues Paul. “It’s obvious that can happen, but children need to see it in reality. Parents very excited that their children do get these opportunities to learn these languages. It’s an incredible gift.”
Coronavirus as a formative learning experience
In the face of devastation and disruption, the coronavirus pandemic has enabled some of the best aspects of global mindedness in international schools to be showcased in recent months. Not least the resilience and single-mindedness needed to act decisively and with good judgement amid uncertainty.“We closed down in March and have been through various stages of severe lockdown to opening up of economy again,” says Robert Stitch. “We opened in August for all students with new standard operating procedures in place. During this time we’ve seen the community come together and are now an even stronger community.“Communication has been absolutely critical to the success of how we have done this. Communication has brought the community together and today we are now much better prepared. We have developed lots of different things like the wellbeing and activities website Smarter, Stronger, Together for our school community.” For Jo Roberts too, the pandemic has been a valuable learning experience and one that highlighted kindness and empathy in particular. “We have learnt a lot about ourselves,” she says, and “came back stronger and more knowledgeable.” “That shared experience made the whole community more connected and together,” continues Jo. “The pandemic highlights lots of serious issues, but we can take positives from it.”As for the future, international schools are clearly engaged in a mission to develop, as Robert Stitch puts it, “brave, brilliant and inquisitive individuals committed to the positive growth of self and others.”“We have no clue what future looks like, but we are preparing kids for a totally unpredictable world through resilience and team building in academic pathways. Our students can really make a difference.”
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