Am I Chasing an Ideal?
My son began school at an international school last year and on the very first day of term I must have been the most nervous adult in the school building. As I spent the preceding evening frantically ironing name tags into his uniform, I realised it would mark his first formal step into society and even now, an entire year after the hurdle of the first day, I brood over the prospect of him spending the next thirteen years being measured against a series of social and academic norms. I shouldn’t be losing any sleep over this. As a teacher I am one of the people laying down the measuring sticks. I’ve spent almost two decades doing this very same thing to other people’s children.
So why does it trouble me now? It took my son’s first day of school to force home the realisation that schooling is citizenship; there are rules to follow, even at four years old. And while in a perfect world education is a right, the reality is that it remains a privilege. Are teachers and parents simply chasing ideals when referring to ‘global citizenship’ and ‘international mindedness’? Afterall, the current political climate remains one of deteriorating relationships. For example Brexit, a US border wall, and the suspension of the Russian-American Nuclear Arms Control Treaty (1).
Looking at the British Curriculum
Growing up in the UK in the 1980s, terms such as ‘international mindedness’ were not widely used in an educational context and when I embarked on teacher training everything I learned was within the context of the British National Curriculum; a more global context was simply absent from the course. Even now, the International Baccalaureate (IB), a curriculum programme favoured by many international schools, has been viewed by some in the UK (2) as for the more privileged independent private sector. However, according to ib-schools.eu (3) as of 2014 there were 155 schools in the UK offering the IB. Only 83 of these were independent.
The IB has also been criticized for its frontloading of the IB Learner Profile; non-IB adherents, for example those schools favouring British A-levels, may ‘prefer character-building to be a by-product of education, rather than a target’ (4). I can understand the sentiment when I remember back to the British school I attended as a student; it gave me a strong sense of national identity and a set of values rooted in history and tradition.
Third Culture Kids
However, as a parent I am acutely aware that my son does not and will not have this bedrock. He has two nationalities and while we are currently living overseas, my son has only experienced his countries of origin during short visits. As an international teaching family we will eventually move and we do not intend to return to the UK so our son will be classed as a Third Culture Kid (5). Whatever the case, I feel he needs the IB or an equivalent, and he needs his teachers to relate it to his school’s mission statement. All in all, he needs his parents to work with his teachers to present these things to him as something realistically attainable in all areas of life rather than simply as an ideal in the classroom.
Global Citizenship as a Universal Term
However, my reading of different publications (6) serves as an encouraging reminder that terms such as ‘International mindedness’ and ‘global citizenship’ are not the exclusive preserve of international schools. For example, PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) (7) is a worldwide survey evaluating education systems by testing the skills and knowledge of 15 year-olds in science, mathematics, reading, collaborative problem solving and financial literacy. According to its co-ordinator Andreas Schleicher, 193 countries in 2015 committed to achieving the of the United Nations. These being “the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice.” (8)
Words from Andreas Schleicher
As Schleicher observes in his blog, “The extent to which that vision becomes a reality will in no small way depend on what is happening in today’s classrooms” (9) and he is presumably referring to a national as well as an international context. He also states that “this has inspired the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), to include global competence in its metrics for quality, equity and effectiveness in education” as of 2018. He also notes that “PISA conceives of global competence as a multidimensional, lifelong learning goal.
Globally competent individuals can examine local, global and intercultural issues, understand and appreciate different perspectives and world views, interact successfully and respectfully with others, and take responsible action toward sustainability and collective well-being” (9). If this is global competence, then it is already a requirement for graduates currently entering the job market. For example, a report published by the Mitchell Institute, Preparing Young People For the Future of Work, states. “Young people without capabilities to work in teams, solve problems and collaborate do not fare well in the labour market.” (10), (11)
Perhaps the IB has already taken steps to address this in a more practical context. For example, in the DP as well as in the Primary Years Programme (PYP) and Middle Years Programme (MYP) cognitive, metacognitive and affective skills are grouped into same five ATL (Approaches to Learning) categories. These are: Thinking Skills, Communication skills, Social Skills, Self-Management Skills and Research Skills. (12) Whatever the case, as a novice parent I look at my son. Above all else I just want him to grow up to be a nice person and a good human being. However, as a teacher I also want him to develop a perspective and a skill set which will equip him for the future. Even now, by virtue of technological development and sheer necessity, this future is ultimately global in both content and scope.
Teacher of High School English
The Anglo-American School of Moscow
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