Exploring the school of life and international mindedness

Why should schools prioritise international mindedness? What is mastery grading? Could green schools be the future? These were some of the main themes at the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) 2019.

Relocate Magazine January 2020
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In an increasingly globalised world, schools are being required to more accurately represent a world that students will come to live and work in. One of the ways to ensure a safe, open, productive, inclusive and culturally diverse learning environment is through ‘international mindedness’, argued one international school in Doha at WISE 2019.“As student communities in education settings of all varieties grow more diverse, issues of cultural inclusion, among others, have gained prominence,” said Lana Al-Aghbar, principal at the American School of Doha (ASD).

International mindedness: an introduction

In an interactive workshop titled: International Mindedness for Cultural Inclusion educators from the Middle East, Asia, Europe and beyond were invited to sit in groups and evaluate what it means to be internationally minded.Participants were asked to engage with ways of advancing cultural inclusion in schools. While others reflected on their beliefs, values, skills and aptitudes to assess their disposition toward international mindedness and its effectiveness in advancing cultural inclusion. Zoe Gare, a counsellor at ASD, also shared some research on neurological behaviours that found that the feeling of exclusion can often resemble physical pain.

What is cultural inclusion?

Ms Al-Aghbar went on to discuss the change of mindset over time when it comes to cultural inclusion policy in international schools, from tolerance all the way to acceptance, respect and appreciation.The workshop asked educators in focus groups: what is cultural inclusion? Educators from schools across the globe were tasked with exercises on what that means to them, how they challenge assumptions and form world views, and how to be aware of and tackle any potential bias and unconscious bias in a classroom setting.The interactive session assisted educators from schools in rural China to India, Qatar and South Africa on how to recognise unique needs in international students and encourage collaboration and inclusive learning.Grouping and avoiding ‘bubbles’ in international schools was another topic of discussion to help students to learn more openly from each other’s unique cultural and global experiences, and ensure they receive equal levels of support. The session also explored the idea that languages are ‘carriers of culture’ – carrying the behaviour of a society and its local customs.Ms Al-Aghbar stressed the role of schools to encourage students to preserve their native language and also master that of their new home, as well as English. “Understanding a culture requires direct access to its language because of the interrelatedness of language and culture,” she said.

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The session also discussed that the dominant culture of international schools may sometimes be a mismatch and that review and reflection on learning methods was always needed to give students the optimum environment to thrive in.“Our school represents 75 nationalities. The key benefit is the international perspective you get, the different religions and cultures and what’s beautiful about that is that a student can finish their education without having any judgements. Living among different cultures is also normalised,” added Ms Al-Aghbar.

Benefits of an international education

With the theme of the conference being ‘Unlearn: Relearn – What it means to be human’, some attendees felt the event echoed the benefits of attending an international school.“This year’s theme of what it means to be human resonates so well because life is like a globalised classroom and you’re always learning from each other; how to collaborate and appreciate. Students at our schools leave knowing how to capitalise on diversity. When you enter an international school you are unlearning original perceptions and relearning a new way of thinking,” said Ms Gare.

From our Guide to International Education & Schools:

Five key trends for international schools

After participating in the workshop, Barbara Carolissen, an IB coordinator at ACS International Doha shared her experience of international schools. She said, “As a third culture kid myself, I have been working abroad for 19 years, both my children were born abroad and there are definitely pros and cons to being an expat. My children have grown up in an international system and consider themselves to be global citizens. They are open-minded and respectful of culture, religion, traditions and beliefs. Some people find it easy to adapt to life like this, but it can be difficult leaving family friends behind. Our family has learned to be flexible and adaptable, and know that home is where we are.”

MEA learning trends 

A separate workshop led by the Tariq Bin Ziad School looked at the trials and tribulations of running a dual-language programme. While an invigorating talk from Bhutan’s former minister of education, Thakur S. Powdyel, highlighted the value of ‘green schools’ that focus on green politics and green skills that cater to understanding and solving global ecological concerns.Other sessions reviewed how international schools in the Middle East are embracing technology and teaching digital skills, and the necessity to prioritise real-world problem-solving was continually raised.Offering a regional perspective on the quality, availability and direction of schools in the Middle East, Sudeep Laad, principal at LEK Consulting said, “International schools in the Middle East are demonstrating growth. Despite the economic softening, the premium segment has continued to show strong growth. However, the supply has also kept pace and is a lot more than what it used to be five years back.“As a result of this market reality, schools are trying to differentiate by using strong British branding (e.g. NLCS, Brighton) and are using other themes such as bilingual education (Swiss International School) or ecological education (Arbor School). Though technology in K12 is more to do with teachers than with students, schools are also trying to embed technology as an enabler. There’s a set of parents who want to avoid too much screen exposure, so tech is being used with caution. As more and more employers require 21st-century skills, the Middle East’s elite schools are adapting their programmes.”

More on WISE 2019

What is mastery grading?

Another seminar looked at how progressive schools are disrupting the educational system in Qatar, with an alternative assessment method that takes a less test- centred approach to study.Sam Abrams, a principal at international school Qatar Academy of Science and Technology in Doha went on to explain the disruptive method called ‘mastery grading’ that is being used at his school to boost motivation and achievement simultaneously. “Traditional education has always produced results, but those results are historically focused on high-stakes testing. But is this ultimately what education is meant for?” asked Mr Abrams.He suggested that educators in attendance review their grading structures and ask five key questions:
  1. Is it fair and student-centred?

  2. Is it accurate and does it communicate what the child has learned?

  3. Is it consistent and does the grading match predetermined outcomes?

  4. Does it support learning and help the student know how to improve?

  5. Is it meaningful and does it provide value for the subject?”
In conclusion and perhaps, more importantly, was the need for conversation shifts between
 parents, students and educators to
  jointly advocate a more supportive and motivating type of school environment.

Read more articles in the Winter Issue of Relocate Magazine or visit our Guide to International Education & Schools 

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