Why should parents choose an international school?
Once every year at my school, on each of the three campuses, an international evening takes place. Parents bring dishes traditionally associated with their country of origin, for guests to sample. This year, a stall run by a Ukrainian couple was, by chance, set up alongside one offering guests beef stroganov, knish and shashlik – managed by two Russians.
If anyone had been expecting a major international confrontation over the borshch and deruny they may have been surprised: there was animated conversation between the two parties for sure, but – judging from the good cheer and exchanges of dishes – a friendship appeared to be being forged.
Harmony with diversity
Such is life in an international school. To continue the analogy, such schools are melting pots that some might expect to boil over as the social, cultural and political ingredients react to cause bitterness and division. But what is striking about these schools is how harmony sits so easily and comfortably alongside diversity, for the benefit of everyone in the community.
Of course, it would be foolish to deny that there is never any tension between students from, in our case, 76 countries from all over the world (with no one nationality dominant) and forging a school identity, which stands for a common and agreed set of values. But, of course, the two are not irreconcilable, and indeed can be mutually beneficial.
International evenings; attendance of Model United Nations conferences; trips to Tanzania to take part in service projects; the display of the students’ national flags in the school canteen; academic curriculum projects on global sustainability and international human rights; these are all features of international schools for which the International Baccalaureate provides the ties that bind such institutions together.
For the IB is not just a school curriculum offering qualifications. It is a 3 – 18 programme of learning, underpinned by a philosophy of education, which permeates every day life in schools that offer it.
Contained in that philosophy is the promotion of academic rigour, a concept often associated only with the 11 – 18 age range. But the IB Primary Years Programme, which students start to study as young as three, provides the foundation on which the Middle Years (11 – 16) and the Diploma programmes (16 -18) are built. Whilst it is not necessary to start studying the IB at this early stage, research suggests that it is more likely, all other things being equal, that such students will eventually secure a high IB Diploma score, to which entry to top universities around the world is a condition.
But the IB is also so much more than points scores and results. It is as much about ‘process’ as ‘outcome’, as its mission statement confirms:
The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect……(Its) programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.
There is no necessary conflict between the practice of this uniform set of values and the existence of a diverse community, as the example of our Russian and Ukrainian friends illustrates. May the guardians of our international order take note.
The 21st century is already providing the globe’s occupants with some extraordinary challenges. International schools provide a model, and their students with the necessary qualifications and values, to meet those challenges. And they are fascinating environments in which to study and work.
By Graham Lacey
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