6th Apr, 2009 | Source : Newsweek Showcase
The growing number of international schools around the world is allowing parents to choose an alternative kind of education for their children - an education for the real world of global communication, international opportunity and cultural diversity. This is an education which goes far beyond the confines of the classroom and sees in the learning process the chance for some remarkable lessons.
International schools are no newcomers to the educational marketplace - but there are certainly different "types" of international school. Some international schools serve a largely expatriate community and focus on teaching a set national curriculum that provides access to tertiary education back in a particular home country. Other international schools have far more diverse student populations and offer opportunities for young people to graduate into a world-wide educational environment.
However, in recent years there has been a growing awareness amongst some international educators and parents about the need for an education that offers far more than a traditional academic curriculum. This is an approach to international boarding school education which offers a more child-centred and holistic approach to learning. These are schools which see an opportunity to specifically develop cross-cultural understanding, an international outlook and an ability to build quality relationships with people from very different backgrounds and creeds.
One international school, high in the Swiss Alps, has students from 60 different nationalities and 30 different first languages. Through a shared holistic approach to education they find out about each others' cultures and views on the world. By sharing everyday parts of their lives; dining, sleeping, and helping each other tackle the challenges of an exciting outdoor education programme, they learn to develop tolerance. What is more, friendships are formed which transcend traditional barriers and differences. Ordinary day to day situations become opportunities to educate the students beyond their own cultural mind set.
Students are exposed to diverse experiences and are encouraged to achieve their full potential across many different dimensions, academically, physically, spiritually and socially. It goes without saying that they are also encouraged to have a healthy international outlook! One of the great advantages of this approach to education is that, in the very fabric of everyday school life, students are naturally exposed to many different cultures, promoting a broad-minded spirit of multicultural interest and acceptance. The college encourages students to reflect on the divisions which characterise so many of the world’s problems to find values which see a common humanity behind the diversity.
Says Dr Jonathan Long, Headmaster of this Round Square school: "The nature of the problems the world needs to solve today cannot be solved at the level at which they were created. We need to see beyond the fragmented differences of culture, language and religion to a more fundamental reality. One of the great advantages of an international education is that you can create an environment in which young people from different cultures, nationalities and languages are brought together in one place. They have the opportunity to learn that what makes them human is not their cultural identity, language, or religion alone but it is also something essentially spiritual that transcends all of these things. In other words, they have the chance to recognise that there is a common humanity which transcends the differences at which world problems are often experienced today."
"This is where an international and holistic approach to education offers some hope. It gives students the chance to rub shoulders with another human being at a more essential level. For example, in the challenges of outdoor education young people from varied backgrounds discover that they experience the same human feelings of fear apprehension and achievement. An international education is as much about the quality of the relationships that can be formed between human beings as it is about a particular curriculum or set of qualifications. These relationships become the soil in which other things can grow. To be effective and fruitful, the curriculum needs this kind of soil, but just as important as the curriculum is the methodology and the values used to deliver it."
There are other more obvious advantages of an international education too. Students can learn a range of languages and become truly multilingual - many international schools, run bi-lingual programmes, and offer language support for non-native speakers. The students hear these languages being spoken by their friends outside of the classroom, thus adding a degree of reality to the language learning process.
Most international schools enable students to graduate to universities throughout the world - offering an enormous variety of experience. Universities are often impressed to see that a student has benefited from the unique challenges of an international education. Graduates also have lifelong access to their school’s international network of social and business contacts. Their multilingual and international social skills can provide a powerful springboard to becoming influential leaders in a global setting.
Academic rigor is vitally important because academic qualifications are still the passport to accessing a good university and professional career. International qualifications are increasingly popular today and certainly help to promote a global perspective. But in addition to academic rigor, successful people often pay tribute to those elements of a more rounded and holistic international education which exposed them to a wider variety of experiences and learning for life.
The main challenge facing education in the 21st century is to educate young people for the 'real world' of diversity and difference. Whether these differences remain as the fragmented divisions of hatred and intolerance will depend to a large extent on the kind of education young people receive. An international education offers the opportunity to celebrate diversity in a spirit of understanding and tolerance and to develop a positive regard and awareness of other people. This must be one of the most important challenges facing the world today - it is certainly a challenge which international education can face with courage and determination.