Lyn Cheetham, a seasoned international educator and current director at the International School of Lausanne (ISL) in Switzerland, was a guest speaker at the Positive Economy Forum in Paris recently. The mission of the congress, to bring different parties together to emulate a better future, is very close to what the vibrant Australian has dedicated her life to.
Educating young people in their most formative years.
Following is an excerpt from the 12-minute Ted-like talk Cheetham gave to the audience of approximately 700 educators, legislators, media and students:
Taking a long-term perspective of today’s political and social actions with a keen view to the future is essential. Therefore, we must educate our young people to act differently.
The International School of Lausanne, with 875 students from the ages of 3 to 18 years of age and from 68 nationalities has a tremendous opportunity to change young people’s minds and shape them into the citizens of the future.
To best educate our young people, we need to fully understand the major trends shaping our future.
Firstly, the future will be even more multicultural. Many of today’s societal issues are all products of no tolerance and a limited respect for diversity. At our school, every day I see that children embrace diversity. At their young age, they coexist in harmony with each other, and take an interest in each other’s cultures. So the big question for me as an educator, is how can we nurture and retain the tolerance and openness we all seem to be born with?
Secondly, another fundamental shift we see is the need to collaborate more. This requires a new universal set of values that foster the right behaviour. This takes dedication by our staff and a clear Mission and Aims and set of values we teach our students. Our mission says: We strive to develop students who will build a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. So for us it is not just about academics, it is about those values we model and teach every day.
The third big shift is that increased awareness and care about sustainability will be key to the citizens of the future. I really sense much more realism and an impatience to create a different world amongst my students today, than I did a decade ago. Young people are more aware of the challenges, and the responsibility we all have. And, I think we, as educational institutions have a huge responsibility to nurture this consciousness for sustainability and the future of the planet.
In the context of these three big transformations that we see now, we must educate our children differently.
One way we do that at ISL is to provide a holistic education to increase the consciousness of our students for the world we live in. As an International Baccalaureate school, we encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.
Part of the International Baccalaureate curriculum is our Community, Action and Service (CAS) Programme that operates from Primary through to Secondary school. Service is really becoming a part of the DNA of our school, and in creating this culture of service, we strive to employ teachers from around the world who subscribe to this. We select service opportunities for our students which fulfil three criteria:
- fulfil a genuine need;
- enable students to develop their understanding and advance their learning beyond the classroom; and
- take them out of their comfort zone to take action in situations they would normally avoid.
Our students engage in various service opportunities in Switzerland, our home country, and through service trips to Tanzania, Cambodia, Morocco, Poland and Romania. These activities have a profound impact on our students thinking about the world and also their educational and career choices.
We have been running our programme in Tanzania for the last 10 years. Our students teach English to Tanzanian students, who have had all of their primary education in Swahili. This exposure to English helps them prepare for their secondary years, where they will be educated in English. For the Tanzanian students this is a highly valuable. For our students, it was an equally, if not but valuable experience. They were also exposed to Swahili and learned it from their hosts. Most importantly they learned about themselves. Our students learned that their reality is not the same as everybody else’s reality.
We also raised approximately 70,000 CHF and, working together with the Tanzanians, helped build and paint classrooms and a preschool, a kitchen block for a school ,including an accommodation block for teachers. Our experience is that the more real engagement and service, the more life-defining learning. We have a sustained relationship with the community and there is just as much a real learning for us, as there is for them. We also organised a microfinance project which entailed supporting local businesses, and provided scholarships to educate a number of students who would not normally have been given the opportunity of any education at all.
Through service we teach hope and confidence.
The following quote is from Rachel Call who graduated from ISL in 2008:
“I can honestly say that the people I met in Tanzania changed my life. I wish there was time to tell each of their stories. The woman who took care of us, the little orphan girl I carried on my back, the second headmaster of the school, our guide, the family who showed us their home made of mud. If only I could show you what each of them did for me.”
Rachel wrote to me last week about her experience from a service trip to Tanzania. The essence of her note is that she found that she could learn so much from the people she encountered in the service. Our goal is exactly that: to create a mind-set that you meet as equals in a situation of different cultures and get an understanding of what the various cultures are like. For Rachel the visit to Tanzania defined her educational choices and work from there onwards.
ISL also engages in Service Programmes in Switzerland with such organisations as Terres des Hommes, EVAM, working with student refugees, and Cecily’s Fund, for example.
Tsunesaburō Makiguchi, a renowned Japanese educator said that ‘Real education only begins when you go beyond the classroom’.
When you inject students into the community they have no choice but to navigate who they are, and to understand their relationship with the community, whether it is building homes for habitat in humanity, dog walking or working in a hospice.
According to Makiguchi this means students understand what their role is and what their obligation is as a member of the whole community and to their fellow man.
This is what we hope to instill in our students at ISL through our CAS programme.
About the Author
Lyn Cheetham has been the Director at the International School of Lausanne since 2007. Under her tenure, she led a major 46 CHF million expansion project. Now completed, the campus is world class with a new Early Childhood centre for students ages three to four, a multipurpose auditorium with seating for 400, a broadcast recording studio, new libraries, triple-sized Olympic gymnasium, new café and cafeteria, expanded playground facilities, and much more. ISL has a top ranked IB Diploma Programme with an extensive range of subject offerings. It includes the arts with Music, Drama and Visual Arts. ISL has a history of its students achieving IB results which are ranked in the top percentages in Switzerland, and in the world.
For more information about ISL, please visit: www.isl.ch
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