Speaking at Relocate Global’s International Education Forum on 19 February, Dr Richard Pearce gave delegates a taste of his life’s work in understanding cultural differences and their impact on globally mobile students.
Education experts and school leaders, as well as HR and relocation professionals, assembled at London's Institute of Directors to discuss emerging education trends and tackle some of the unique issues that internationally relocating families face when selecting a new school for their child.
Richard Pearce has dedicated his working life to understanding cross-cultural issues in education. He spoke passionately about the importance of understanding the inherent cultural values of children in transition.
Having worked in international schools for 40 years, Dr Pearce has seen it all. He now even boasts the status of being an international-school grandparent, having a grandson at Dulwich College Singapore. One thing that has remained unchanged throughout his career is the recognition that a child's deep-seated sense of identity and emotional responses are rooted in early cultural development.
"Culture is central to everything that we do – it is the rulebook for being a human," Dr Pearce told delegates. "It's everything that we learn is right to do and normal to do. It is there to make us do right things. So understandably, if there is a cultural misfit for a child, they're going to be unhappy."
Dr Pearce was a founder member of the European Council for International Schools Cross-Culture Committee, and his doctoral research through the University of Bath, tracing the adjustment of new students in international schools, led to a range of publications and presentations on identity and culture. He is also one of the many expert contributors to the Relocate Global Guide to International Education and Schools
, which was launched at the forum.
While forum delegates are well aware of the difficulties faced by families in global transition and deal with these issues every day, Dr Pearce suggests it is always worth shining a spotlight on the potential trauma and shock that can come with a major cultural shift.
In his extensive research work into cultural identity, he has identified specific areas of cultural focus in an international education setting. For example, he considers Australia, Britain, and the USA to be 'individualist' cultures.
"Their children will sit at the front and stick their hand up and want to be noticed," he said. "And then we've got our 'collectivist' societies – Ecuador, Guatemala, Colombia. Here, the children will help one another. If somebody is having difficulty, they can copy from somebody else. Then they go to an 'individualist' international school, and they're told it's cheating."
"Then you've got Austria and Israel," Dr Pearce continued, "where you talk to your teacher in first-name terms. And elsewhere, you've got people who wouldn't dream of talking to the teacher, but if the teacher talks to them then they must respond. The shock of going from one extreme to another is potentially traumatic."
In practical terms, what can schools do to ease the issues of cultural clashes and potential disaster following a breakdown of understanding? Dr Pearce believes that, in the spirit of parental choice, schools need to be explicit about their own distinctive values.
"Here, I don't just mean the values that they see and they profess, but how can they show in their literature the values which others would see looking at them in the global spectrum?" he said. "Increasingly, in the expat community, we are finding that people come from families with several cultures. So, does the admissions office find out all of those useful things? And do they all get through to the class teachers?"
Above all, Richard Pearce believes the most important thing is getting the right fit, "because a good fit means good learning, quite apart from avoiding the problems that come from a bad fit," he said.
In the Guide to International Education and Schools
, Dr Pearce sets out in detail his advice to anyone searching for a new school in an international setting, and offers insights into what it takes to make the right school choice. To order copies, download an order form (387k)
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