From education to employment

What is life like in a school where every student is encouraged to be a global citizen?

Fergus Rose, Advancement Director at ACS International Schools with campuses in Cobham, Egham, Hillingdon and Doha

Being a global citizen is not just the latest catchphrase in education. It is a shift in thinking that spans every level of education, from early years to university. It’s a subject that is circulating even in royal circles where Prince Harry and Duchess of Sussex are reported to have said they want their son Archie to grow up a ‘global citizen’ taking ‘an active interest in the global community’.

But how are we to realise this in school and what does it actually mean? What is it that attracts families to opt for an international education, and what role do our teachers play in preparing students to be good global citizens?

The demand for international education is growing

Recognition of the importance of global citizenship has come at a time when the UK’s place both in the EU and global community is in a state of flux. Whatever truth emerges from all the ‘facts’ and figures being bandied about in the current Brexit debate, one thing has been made crystal clear – the UK’s prosperity depends on our ability to continue to trade and work with our international partners. For this to be successful we need an often-overlooked quality: cultural awareness.

Businesses want people who can work in culturally-diverse teams. The Harvard Business Review [1] suggested that cognitively-diverse teams solved problems faster than their homogenous counterparts. A study by McKinsey [2] identified that public companies with a diverse board of directors had a 95 per cent higher return on equity than non-diverse.

This is where an international education comes into its own. It is a system that ensures future generations remain competitive on a global stage, and encourages students to go beyond their comfort zones, be curious and collaborative.

I’m particularly fond of Nicholas Tate’s definition of an international education, that it is an education that encourages students to foster an international or global understanding; to be active on a global scale; and to increase tolerance.

Contrary to popular belief, an international education is not solely the preserve of the children of expats or diplomats. Figures from the International Schools Council show that a dramatic shift has been taking place. Before 2000, eighty per cent of all international school children were from expat families. Now in 2019, that figure is just twenty per cent and the majority, eighty per cent are from local families. A complete switch around.

At ACS Egham, we’ve seen that local British families are now choosing an international school education over other heritage private schools in the area.

What is life like in a school where everyone is prepared to be a global citizen?

An international curriculum is the bedrock of our school community. The International Baccalaureate, or IB, encourages every student to develop the ten attributes of the ‘IB Learner Profile’ so they are inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced in approach, and reflection.

These attributes go well beyond an expectation of academic success, and beyond the characteristics of grit or resilience that a traditional national curriculum might include. They set an expectation that the student will learn to think with a broad perspective.

This thinking is then applied practically across the subjects a student will learn. At IB Diploma level, a student studies six subjects, which must include learning a foreign language. Three of these subjects must be studied at higher level, each equivalent to an A Level.

At the start of each year, the heads of each year group will examine the different makeup and nationalities of the cohort. We can often have up to twenty different nationalities represented in one class. The teacher will then adapt the curriculum to reflect the makeup of that group.

Our staff will identify the literature and supporting material which relates to those nationalities and the curriculum. Rather than just the usual World War narrative from a British viewpoint, teachers might explore the theme of conflict from a range of different national and cultural viewpoints and experiences.   You can see how varied and enriching this would be for the children and the teacher and how it builds understanding and connections.

We assign extra time for the teachers to collaborate and share ideas about how to teach subjects in new and engaging ways. At our Egham school, our head, Jeremy Lewis, explained that he is reducing class time for children on Tuesday each week specifically so that teachers have more time to collaborate: “Collaboration time for teachers capitalises upon the broad range of knowledge, skills and expertise within our community, and this will help to further extend and enrich our curriculum by planning authentic, connected and challenging learning experiences.”

Students also identify the importance of developing this three-dimensional mindset. Alumna, Miho Wakai, comments: “When you watch the news you see stories from all over the world, one country is suffering an earthquake, another a political change. At ACS Hillingdon, you meet so many people from different nationalities, you hear a completely alternative viewpoint on these topics, which really broadens the mind. 

“My closest friend is from Egypt and during the Arab Spring, she was able to give me an almost local perspective on what was happening there.  Because we are all able to share our different life and education experiences from all over the world, you find that you develop a really international perspective of events.”

Teaching global citizenship goes beyond an international curriculum

Developing students to become global citizens doesn’t just start and finish with an international curriculum. At ACS, it starts from the moment they join the school. Every new student is assigned a buddy before they arrive. We welcome the whole family, not just the new student, giving each new family that joins the school another family to connect with, to help the whole family settle. It sends a message that says: ‘we want you all to get to know each other, feel happy together and part of our community.’

We offer native tongue enrichment studies for every student who speaks another language, so that while everyone speaks English together, we ensure students maintain and develop their mother tongue. This might mean, for example, reading books together in their native language or debating with a teacher or another student in their mother tongue.

Although we take these practical steps, and they are important, another powerful way we encourage international mindedness and understanding is also in how we look.A REMAKING OF EMILY BRONTË’S WUTHERING HEIGHTSBy MINAE MIZUMURA and JULIET WINTERS CARPENTER We don’t have a uniform, very deliberately.

Apparently 99 per cent of schools in the UK have a uniform. What message does that give – that we have to look the same to be acceptable to each other? We can only behave well if we’re wearing a certain type of clothing? That the only way to feel part of a community is by having a shared badge and blazer? Not having a uniform celebrates that we can be different and yet be a strong community.

Opening doors worldwide

The IB is often referred to as an ‘educational passport’ and it is widely respected by universities across the globe. In fact, a decade of ACS research has shown that admissions officers cite the IB as the best preparation for university above any other qualification. Our students have the confidence to pursue opportunities in higher education and the world of work, wherever they may take them.

Filmon Tekle is a recent student from ACS Hillingdon, who has won a scholarship to a prestigious US art college. He previously attended a British school and moved to ACS for his final two years of sixth form.

“Although I went to a London school before, all my friends are doing the same thing together, looking at the similar careers there. I felt like a huge door opened up for me, showing me that there is so much more in the world when I came to ACS.”

To best serve the next generation of global citizens, educators need to adopt a curriculum which encourages students to develop an understanding and tolerance of other cultures; which fosters student’s own curiosity and independent inquiry skills; and lastly, imbues them with a confidence to pursue opportunities the world over.

Fergus Rose, Advancement Director at ACS International Schools with campuses in Cobham, Egham, Hillingdon and Doha

[1] Harvard Business Review 2017, ‘Teams solve problems faster when they’re more cognitively diverse’

[2] McKinsey & Company 2012, ‘Is there a payoff from top-team diversity?’

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