Focusing on the values, not the value.
In my quarter of a century in education, I have come to understand much of what occurs in the space that is learning is temporary; it ebbs, and it flows.
Be it the latest technological advancement, the recently improved curriculum initiative, the newest dazzling teacher training tool, education is a flooded, chaotic market, full of (mostly) well-meaning entrepreneurs and aficionados (many of whom left the classroom eons ago) in pursuit of their particular dream. This newfound marketplace combined with the explosion of international education choices for families has, without doubt, seen a weakening of substance, of strength, and of scrutiny across the scope and sequences that drive effective curriculum delivery and, ultimately, outcomes in international schools.
Of late I have come to sense a danger in this dilution of learning, the very purpose of education, and the perilous precipice upon which it now sits. New international schools are rising almost daily, not always based on demand, but based on the insatiable appetite our globalised world has for a “private” education.
I caution parents to consider, the veritable differences in private education across the international education marketplace and to do this, I ask them to consider, as they look for a place for the continuation of their child’s learning, to scrutinise the values that underpin their preferred School.
For time immemorial, school’s have been the bastion of secular society; the gathering place where families come in times of triumph and of tribulation. This is particularly true in international education. There can be no price put on the moral purpose of a school who provides for families a real and true community for the duration of their stay in their adopted country – this is something money simply cannot buy.
It is important that parents understand that the danger in commodifying education, means we are deducing that we can somehow put a price on the development of a person.
This is why I encourage all of our prospective families to read our values statement, our family handbook, and to discern for themselves if ours is a school that they want to partner with.
And it is a partnership.
When parents tour a prospective school, they should ask to meet with the Head, and listen to them speak to the culture, to the community, and to the curriculum of the School. A good Head will be able to link these to an innate understanding of their school’s uniqueness and their ability to fundamental shape their child.
When parents consider if the School is the best one for their children, they should ask themselves if they agree with the mission of the School, if they share the values that underpin it, and if they believe that their child will thrive in this environment.
When parents compare two schools against each other, they should not be too quick to look at the landscape over the learning, the location over the lesson structures, or the technology over the quality of the teaching.
Parents should not be beguiled by the bells and the whistles – instead they should search for the substance and the soul of the school. The best way to do this is to observe the students, watch their behaviours, their manner, their engagement with each other. Talk to the teacher’s about why they love their work, and the staff about what makes the school special.
It is unequivocal, next to home ownership, private education will be the single most expensive investment a family makes in their lifetime. However, parents can often mistake this investment as the purchasing of a product, an outcome so defined by the polished advertising pamphlet that promises something that can seemingly be purchased, be it an outcome, a place at a prestigious university, or even a powerful social network.
Ask any good educator at a private school of substance and they will tell you, what you are in fact purchasing is the development of a good and respectful person, who will achieve their full potential only if they have instilled in them the values needed to live a deep and meaningful life.
And what price can we ever put on that.
Each school is unique in and of itself, the question parents must begin to ask is; does this school, and the values that it lives by, align with our values and our dreams for our children.
Once you have answered this question you will realise, a great international education, at a great international school, is in fact, priceless.
Lucy Gowdie is the Head of School at the Inter-Community School in Zurich, Switzerland.