Today is Thanksgiving and it is a normal school day here. We will celebrate Thanksgiving tonight, but I thought I would compose a new post as a way to connect to the USA on this holiday. I want to share some insights from an article by Bernard Hugonnier, Globalization and Education. He is the Deputy Director for Education in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) based in Paris. Some of his points relate to the in-service day on Monday. His article was one of the few articles that I have read that focused on teachers as well as curriculum and students. He had three points about continual learning for adults, mixing foreign cultures, and poverty.
Hugonnier argues that with increasing world economic interdependence, “people need to acquire or update their knowledge and skills more often than before.” You all have probably felt that recently. In the technology world, for example, Holderness has installed SmartBoards, adroitly switched from First Class to GMail/Google Docs and moved from Wikis to Moodle. And all these ICT platforms will probably all change again, soon. It can spin one’s head. In addition, the increase of international students is pushing us all to “update knowledge and skills” to work with these students from foreign cultures. The informal survey the faculty completed last spring raised important questions such as: how do we effectively teach students whose mother tongue is not English, or how do we respect and work with different cultural norms? I imagine that next Monday’s in-service will address some of those points. As Hugonnier concludes, “educators must possess intercultural skills if they are to pass these on to learners.”
Several responses in the faculty survey also expressed worry about how the increase of international students could affect the traditional culture of Holderness. That’s a good question. Hugonnier points out that “societies worldwide are integrating elements of foreign cultures at an unprecedented speed,” but he also emphasizes that “the introduction of a foreign culture is not a threat to the host country’s culture but, on the contrary, an asset on which the country should capitalize.” I take a biological perspective on this one. The healthiest ecological systems include a diversity of species. This diversity of species promotes the evolution and growth of the system. (My apologies to biologists for that crude summary) Similarly, education happens when people interact with diverse ideas, people and experiences. New interactions with international students will help the school evolve.
On the flip side, as I have travelled and watched excellent international schools in action, they all establish their own core experiences that are unique to their school. The programs can range from mountain expeditions, to committing to an equal spread of nationalities, to emphasizing multiple language fluency, to promoting design and technology, or to consciously weaving the traditional culture of their city into their program. These schools create a dynamic interaction between diverse international cultures and the school’s long-standing core experiences. For Holderness, that can mean recognizing how programs such as orientation hike, pantry, special programs, Halloween costumes, etc. need to be part of every student’s experience.
Hugonnier then discusses poverty. He explains how over the past twenty years, the number and percentage of people living in poverty in the world has decreased. At the same time, the per capita income of the wealthiest ten percent of the world has grown even faster. In other words: while total poverty has decreased, the gap between the most wealthy and the most poor has increased. (I think we need some graphs to help explain that point.) He warns against two pitfalls: elitism and mass education. Education cannot only be for those who can afford it, nor can there be a one-size fits all education as a means to educate everyone. His point about mass education connects to the previous paragraph: schools need to build upon their core experiences and not try to teach to one big exam or teach exactly like other schools.
Maintaining the uniqueness of a place like Holderness is easy to understand, but Hugonnier’s point about poverty also illuminates a difference between diversity at Holderness and at international schools. All of the international schools make a smaller commitment to financial aid. The people I have met are astounded when I tell them that 40% of our students receive aid and that we give out about $3MM of aid each year. The schools I have visited have made a huge commitment to international diversity but a negligent commitment to economic diversity in their student bodies. All these schools do have impressive outreach and service programs, but I am proud of Holderness’ effort to extend its education to many economic levels. In fact, many of our celebrations of alumni profile students who received aid from Holderness. We are trying to avoid elitism and mass education.
So, on this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful to work at a school that commits full days to faculty education, that works to interact with different cultures, that shares wonderful core experiences, and that reaches out to people from different economic levels.
This post was more philosophical, wasn’t it? (And no pictures) I always appreciate hearing any of your thoughts via email or on jorymacomber.com.