By Dr Ashika Chapman, Khartoum American School SEN Coordinator
What is it that precisely constitutes an international education ‘system’? Defining this is indeed complex. International education is about a commitment to universal values and one that transcends national borders by the exchange of people. There are many definitions as to what international education means, but in short, it is about understanding and learning the different cultures, respecting them, living together, developing global citizenship and accepting the differences in a world that is vast yet very small. Internationally-minded schooling corresponds with the promotion of international education and the key aspect of such an education is rooted in the promotion of intercultural understanding.
International schools highlight the importance of cultural diversity, but many fall short of considering all stakeholder groups. This affects the school environment as they omit to consider the communities within which international schools operate. Diversity among the teaching community within a school helps to ensure “international education”. Students, teachers, parents, board members and the leadership team each bring their own experiences to the institution from their personal cultures and histories. All who work within an international school environment contribute through their diversity. In many international schools, diversity only refers to students.
Many non-native English speakers with international experience and education are turned away from international schools because of where they are from. International schools should place more emphasis on the human resource potential for increased diversity amongst teachers and administrators. The need for cultural diversity amongst educators is necessary to ensure an environment for international education. Cultural diversity brings differences into international schools. This includes teaching style, leading style, learning style, differing opinions which will encourage higher order thinking, understanding what learning a new language may be like for students, developing trust because of a common language, and so many other positive benefits of internationalism. Take, for example, school boards in international schools on which many international schools parents sit and even chair. If international schools accept students from diverse backgrounds and nationalities, why do they not accept teachers from various backgrounds and countries?
Looking across the board in the international school circuit, the most senior administrative positions within international schools are held by those from a small group of western nationalities. This may also be the case as heads are also looking for teachers with experience; preferably native speakers. Everyone has an accent. Whether someone comes from the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa or wherever, we all have an accent. What is key is that we are qualified, and can be understood. The world is no longer vast. English has become an international language. Why is this an issue when it comes to recruitment? International schools are clearly operating at various levels of discrimination. Therefore they are working in segmented labour markets. Preferences are given to native English speakers and yes, perhaps parents too may play an important role in influencing appointments of both leaders and teachers. This change can perhaps only occur when there is a change in who holds the leadership position. International schools must first address characteristics such as international-mindedness, tolerance and cultural sensitivity. International schools must also consider the most appropriate forms of recruitment. The heart of international education lies in the appreciation of differences, by valuing both diversity and calling into question previously unchallenged assumptions and prejudices.
Trust, respect, learning, understanding, and acceptance are what we as educators teach our students. In order to be a true international school, we first need to learn to accept diversity amongst not only our students, but also our educators before we can move forward and call ourselves a truly international school.
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