Risks and Challenges for International Educators

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Being an international educator brings some wonderful opportunities to travel, to live for extended time in some amazing and fascinating parts of the world, to earn good salaries  and to engage with other cultures. Also, generally, a lot of international educators believe that they get more freedom professionally within their schools and more opportunity to use their voice to shape educational approaches.

However, it’s not always a soft ride and people need to be aware of. the issues – it’s not a decision to go in to with rose tinted glasses. Some of the issues are really quite serious.

In some recent blog posts I’ve touched on a couple of important issues. Teachers have found themselves in very troubling situations when confronted with cultural differences – for example, coming to know about child abuse, but not having access to the support services and facilities to protect the child (or where family and local perceptions will be that this is a matter of family private choice and that the educator needs to stay out of it). i shared the evidence of even online teachers from the US experiencing trauma after witnessing child brutality at a distance, but having limited ability to do anything about it. It’s even more challenging when you can see the results of abuse almost daily, but have few direct tools with which to confront it.

Some teachers choose to take up roles in countries that subsequently become volatile and sensitive politically.  I had some of my own experiences with this. When I first went to Bangladesh in 2005 things were relatively calm. However, within months the tension levels ratcheted up significantly. What made it worse was that both geographically and for reasons related to the owner’s political affiliations, the school (and my apartment across the road) were right on the front line of the battle for power that was unfolding in the country. Some evenings while working late in my office I was aware of the inherent risks caused by meetings taking place in the room next to my office attempting to create a third political front to challenge the existing two party system. Thankfully they were never caught in action!

In many weeks i was only able to open the school for three days. Each evening I would spend hours on text and phone with a parent who was news editor for a local TV station. He was my eyes and ears to understand the issues, the risks and on which days i could offer an education for children and on which days the risks were too great. The daily stress was there very evident in the parents, pupils and teachers. We even had to deal with the ‘disappearance’ for some days of a teacher who was known to be politically quite active. When rioting broke out, chanting protesters armed with knives, machetes etc would pass the school front door, even as mothers clutching their children’s hands weaved through them. Then would come the tear gas as the protesters were dispersed.

Over the last 10-12 years one of the most rapidly growing communities of expat educators is in China. However, there’s evidence of a political/ cultural shift there which is now bringing their job security in to question. Whether it’s linked to the trade war with America or not would be near impossible to deduce. Around a year ago the Chinese government announced that they expected to enforce rigidly a law that previously had existed, but had been ignored by all parties. Put in simple terms it said that the private schools in the country were not meant to make a profit (similar to laws in India). However, some of the school groups expanding rapidly in China were quoted on US stock markets – where they openly and transparently reported their profits regularly, in accordance with the law there.

Then there are headlines and stories like the following:

Next Shark Article – China is Arresting, Deporting More Foreign Teachers Than Ever Before
(Click on the link above to read the article in a separate tab or window)

For any expatriate teacher working in China this would certainly be alarming. Likewise for those large numbers working in Hong Kong. The article appears to indicate that there is a specific objective which is about increasing ‘patriotism’ in schools. In other words, ideologically manipulative authorities would be uncomfortable with foreign teachers who encourage and incite ‘free thinking’, global perspectives and student voice.

The truth is that by no means are all international educators saints. Too many schools have rules that are way too lax when it comes to verification and security checks. Sadly, the profession has, at times, attracted some bad elements. Also, it could be said that some teachers who choose to go international really don’t think through the risks that they might be taking if they are going to engage in actions or choices that are out of alignment with local laws, traditions or expectations. Those of us in the field have also heard stories of teachers in the gulf countries, particularly UAE who have inadvertently stumbled in to legal quagmires through careless, indiscreet or other actions that are frowned upon locally.

Teachers have also found themselves getting in to difficult situations with parents and local communities over their teaching where it clashes with local customs or practices.  Issues can arise around gender issues, sex education, issues where the teaching of certain science comes in conflict with religious dogma etc. As the world suffers collective forgetfulness of history, permitting politicians to take actions that separate and divide people, the risks in these areas may well increase. Actions by one country can spark counter actions and international teachers can find themselves caught in the crossfire (hopefully only metaphorically).

I believe being an international educator is still a wonderful career. As a new academic year is getting under way there are experienced and fresh teachers are starting out with new classes, new colleagues and opportunities. Schools and their management can do more to open teacher eyes to the issues before they take up roles. But, ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the teachers to make themselves informed and to be sure that they’re comfortable with the things they will need to contend with. There’s no point believing that you’re going to go to someone else’s country and simply demand your right to openly act or speak in the way you choose, if you know it goes against the local values and beliefs.

We don’t always get to tell the rest of the world that we’re right and they’re wrong, or that our way is the best.

 

The Spread of International Education

international schools

There are now over 5.4 million children attending English medium international schools worldwide, revealing just how rapid has been the expansion worldwide.

The following report carries some of the top line data and information that shows the full extent of this growth:

Times Educational Supplement – Report – Phenomenal Growth of International Schools
(Click on the link above to open the link in a new tab or browser page)

There are a whole variety of implications that flow out of such rapid growth. There is no question that over the last 10 years it’s provided a big opportunity to UK educators who were ready to travel, especially those who were becoming frustrated with issues in the UK schools system.  There’s also no question that such rapid growth has thrown up some issues of ‘indigestion’. Schools find it harder and harder to find talent, especially for leadership roles and this has resulted in considerable inflation in the salaries paid to expat educators. Until now, those increased costs have been passed on to parents willing to pay to satisfy their high aspirations for their children and willing and able to pay.

Within many geographies there is a sense now that the ‘low hanging fruit’ has been gathered and that future growth will be more challenging. Also, for a market of over 10,000 schools with over 5 million pupils it is still incredibly fragmented, with little consolidation of market power and ownership. Some geographical variations are quite stark as school models have been tweaked and adjusted to meet local expectations and demands. There are now many markets where the growth potential is still there, but the methods to tap in to it will need to change. Also, the ‘high end’ has been mostly filled by schools linked or associated with prestigious British Independent Schools.

I believe that in many such markets there are still plenty of potential children whose parents can afford an international education, but they have not been satisfactorily convinced of the merits over alternatives – especially when the price differences can be very significant.  Some of the response to this will be about improved creation of awareness and information about what international education is and its benefits in a globalised, rapidly changing world. Some will also be about raising standards and consistency to ensure that parents perceive quality.

It’s also very important to increase the emphasis on ‘leaving a legacy – international educators not satisfying their own ends by making their schools dependent on their presence, but ensuring adequate effort is given to the training, coaching and mentoring of local talent. This should not only be for teachers, but to see locals holding roles in leadership – not as token representatives, but with the full range of knowledge and experience of global mindedness and depth of awareness of the aims and objectives of international education.

Provision of high quality international education is about so much more than swanky premises, white-skinned teachers, good exam results and admissions in prestigious named international universities – or it should be. There’s still much work to be done.

More on E-Sports

E-sports

Readers here will recall that a few weeks ago i wrote a piece in which I set out my reasons why I was unhappy to see schools falling in to the trap of offering ‘E-sports’ as an option – as an alternative to physical sports and physical education in the curriculum.

So, I was interested to see the following article in which the pros and cons are discussed;

Peak – Is E-Sport a Sport?

To be clear, the article isn’t particularly about the issue of E-sports being in schools, but it does go to the core of whether it’s appropriate for E-sports to be promoted as a legitimate sport. My personal reading of the article is that there is little strength in the arguments in favour of permitting it to be treated as a sport.

In my view, this alone would strengthen my concerns about allowing the games in to schools.However, we can add to that a brief snippet of a news item i caught on TV in the last week, as I entered the room. The gist was an investigation and suspicions that E-sports were willingly permitting advertising and other activity that brought gambling to the attention of children. This seems to be a massive red flag and increases my fears that it’s a trojan horse – working to get in to schools and the lives of children under a cloak of respectability for purposes that are not in the best interests of children.

I say even stronger – keep it out of schools.

 

Employers Get What They Attract, Not What They Say They Want

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Firstly, I share here an article and would ask you to read it before going on. It shares the best six attributes of a CV/ resume according to a top head hunter:

Inc.com  – Best Resume Article

When I read this piece, my heart sank for two particular reasons. The reality is that this headhunter isn’t really saying anything that comes as a surprise to most employees in companies or potential job hunters. However, there are two aspects that stand out as going directly against what so many companies claim they want in today’s fast moving and creative work environments.

Let’s remember that the review of a CV by a headhunter or their employees will determine which candidates get called for further interviews and exploration. A CV doesn’t land a person a job, nor is it meant to. Likewise, nobody can claim that the issues I’m about to flag up can be discussed out in the face to face discussions – those won’t happen if the CV/ resume is rejected at the pre-selection stage.

The first issue is in point 2 in the article – a clear story of progression. According to the article, attractive candidates have nice linear careers with every step logically thought out and all steps thoroughly thought out and in the control of the candidate.

Companies and employers today claim that they are crying out for people with creativity and the willingness to take risks. Some also claim that people should be willing to take lateral or even backward steps in order to gather knowledge and experience so that they can move forward armed with strong skills and abilities. Such a route won’t look nice and linear, with logical progressions all in ‘the right direction.’

What the article says is an admission that whilst companies say this sort of eclectic gathering of knowledge and being able to bring new and innovative ideas to the table is what they want, their actions tell a different story. It says we reward those who are masters at climbing the greasy pole in nice logical self-directed increments.

Secondly, as highlighted in point 4 of the article – we want CVs/ resumes that are honest and reflect integrity on the part of the applicants – no untruths or exaggeration. However, points two and three represent a reality that makes it almost inevitable that large numbers of job applicants will embellish and expand on reality when it comes to their achievements – especially when you take the two points together.

According to this piece, you have to be able to show this lovely linear career progression, with unmitigated success at every step. Yet, we tell employees that they shouldn’t be afraid to fail, that failing is a great way to learn.  We also tell them to subsume their personal identity in the interests of teams. So, if you’re part of a team where the project takes too many risks, doesn’t succeed or is curtailed by the company (even perhaps for political reasons), to admit so on a CV would be the kiss of death.

Yes, employers have to do a massive sifting exercise to decide shortlists for who to interview. But, if their actions tell everyone that the people who get interviewed are those who have trodden a safe, predictable, politically crafty career, especially if prepared to polish the apple a bit – then that’s what they will have to choose from.

Ant then, they can keep bemoaning the lack of fire, creativity and risk taking entrepreneurship in their employees.

Shame.

 

Sun Tzu and the Art of War

It’s sometimes very tempting for people to believe that in a rapidly changing world, what’s new is all that has value. However, I believe that more and more, as fast as the world around us changes, we need to keep one eye on the great learning and wisdom of the past in order to understand how to operate most effectively in the world.

One example in recent years has been the increased interest in the work of the Greek stoic philosophers to understand and make sense of how to live an effective life. Other works that bear study to understand the world we live in include the writings of Plato or the Analects of Confucious. One of my favourites is ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu. Even though the book was written over 2,000 years ago it still has valid lessons today for business or life generally.

For those who want to get a simple taster, or a way to share the work with younger learners, I recently came across a cartoon video series. The thirteen videos each take one chapter of the book and make it very accessible.

Some people are uncomfortable with models related to war, battle or conflict to deal with issues in modern life. however, I believe this is to ignore the fact that in many situations if we are in a situation where, given the chance others would potentially act on a win-lose basis towards us, then it is naive to proceed as though life should not entail competition. I believe one of the greatest strength in this written work is the emphasis on using strategy to avoid battle.

The Playlist of all Thirteen Episodes
(Click on the link above to open a separate tab with the full playlist of all the episodes)

Well worth watching (and hopefully being inspired to go on and read the book)

 

 

 

Building Schools That Reflect Modern Education Priorities

In many parts of the world, educators tell everyone who will listen that they believe in reform, that the old ways of education will no longer work and that children need a different kind of education that develops the whole child for life in the Twenty First Century! And then, they basically build school infrastructure that looks just like the old or merely tweaks old structures gently around the edges. In such circumstances, is it really surprising if parents and students are left doubtful about the convictions behind these espoused changes in modern education?

There are exceptions – the Green School in Bali comes to mind – built entirely from bamboo and very consciously designed with the needs of the children and the environment first and foremost. I’m also aware of projects elsewhere in the world that have sought to bring significant input from educators themselves at the design phase so that schools are developed in ways that realistically support innovative and creative approaches to Twenty First Century learning.

I have had conversations with school owners and promoters who feared that involving educators in the early design phases would expose them to grossly extravagant, expensive and unreasonable expectations. Where I have been involved in projects where teachers were engaged i found there was an element of this at the beginning. Teachers came to the table with high expectations and some pretty lengthy wish lists. However, as they engaged in the process they came to understand more of the considerations at play and were more than able to adapt their initial dream wish lists to realistic prioritized needs. The end result was construction that had 100% commitment from the educators (those part of the process and their colleagues) and with all parties having a clear understanding about what was being done – and why.

There’s another issue that is helped when educators are included in the process of design and planning for new school premises or facilities, that I’ve come across quite a few times. When owners/ promoters and designers sit down to plan the design and creation of a school building there are many equations that go on, with due inputs from the financial advisers. Every decision to create a room or learning space is critical. Under the traditional school structure patterns a standard classroom can be considered a ‘revenue generating space’ (If class sizes are going to be 25 pupils, then that room is worth potentially 25 X the school annual fee in annual revenue). However, a room designated as labs (computer, science etc.) or a music room, drama room, Special Education Needs space, storage rooms etc. are basically ‘cost centres’ as no further children can be admitted in to the school because of the existence of that room.

When new premises are built they are not utilised to full capacity. Over time, educators eye the empty spaces (long term planned as revenue spaces) and come forward with all sorts of projects and ideas for ways to use them (as cost spaces). Then, as the facility fills up, educators start to suggest that it is reaching capacity long before the student numbers envisaged in the original plans. When administrators start to talk of turning these spaces back in to what they were originally intended to be educators can get disappointed and resistant. It helps if there were educators involved in the initial processes who can verify and confirm the original room allocation intentions. Compromise on this can undermine the original financial modelling for the school – the price for that would ultimately be paid by parents through fees or compromises of cost cutting elsewhere.

There is a major caveat. The educators who are brought in to the design and planning process need to be those with open minds and creativity, ready to bring the best of new innovative educational thinking to the table and with a desire to create learning spaces that are flexible and effective to be used for today’s classroom practices and learning approaches.

Needs from today’s learning spaces vary according to the age of pupils. However, I believe that bigger spaces with scope and flexibility to be divided in to smaller areas make most sense across all age ranges. Large open areas allow for dramatic engagement, activities that combine physical movement with learning, project based learning, role play etc.

There is also a need to acknowledge that the introverts among our students need ‘quiet time’ and small spaces where they can work with minimal noise and disturbance. These kinds of spaces are also invaluable for those children working to overcome challenges of distraction.

Promoters worry that such ideas would see far less students in larger spaces, undermining the financial efficacy of the schools. However, I believe that when schools break out from the traditional preconceptions, then we may see far more effective space utilisation. Currently, an enormous amount of built up area in schools is dedicated to corridors (often as much as 20%). This is necessary because of the way time is regimented so that either everyone is in rooms or everyone is out of rooms.

Next, especially in Secondary Schools there are lots of ‘single use’ spaces that spend large parts of the day out of use. In turn, when students vacate a classroom to go to a lab, a PE hall or some other outside activity, those classrooms are empty, wasted space. I have another longer blog post that’s half written right now that explores some even more radical ideas about how we might rethink the academic year. While I believe this carries many benefits, potentially one of the biggest would be to make far more effective use of expensive real estate and infrastructure.
(Watch out for that one coming soon.)

We won’t really be able to claim that we’re serious about modernising education until we reach a situation where most new schools and school buildings include innovative space use, allocation and design. It’s time to say farewell for good to the block shaped buildings with big corridors and rows of identical doors leading to identikit rooms. We must banish the rows of desks, the bells that mark out identical metered blocks of time where all the learners do prescribed things in rigid orders.

With this in mind, i applaud all those around the world who have the courage to do innovative things in school design. I share here a TED talk from about 4 years ago in which a really very modest and imaginative architect shares the thinking that lead to an amazing kindergarten in Japan. Worth watching for the spirit of ‘what’s possible’ and the responsiveness to the needs of learners as humans of a particular age.

 

Not Such a Baby Any More

First Day of School

Below is a post I wrote a few years ago on which i received lots of really nice feedback personally from anxious Mums and Dads whose children were about to start school for the very first time.  There were also a couple of teachers who told me it helped to remind themselves of what parents are going through as they receive the new children joining school.

The start of the academic year comes at slightly different times on the calendar around the world. In India it already happened a few months ago (The original post was written in April). However, in most international schools and those that follow a western calendar the new academic year will start very soon.

Please enjoy the article.

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The day is fast approaching. Many parents will have lost track of how soon will be the day when their ‘little baby’ gets dressed up in their first school uniform, turns and waves as they head off to start school. It’s one of those momentous landmarks in the child’s growth and development and comes with many emotions for both parent and child.
For the child, nobody can predict how they will react. Some take this event naturally and calmly in their stride whilst some others may struggle in the early stages. Some are excited by the novelty for a couple of days, but then their reaction changes when they discover this isn’t a novel interlude but a new way of life with some limits on choice and freedom.
Let’s be honest – it’s not just all the issues about whether starting school is going to be stressful for the child – there are implications for the whole family. Many mothers, particularly, choose to stay at home until it’s time for the child to go to school. The arrival of that milestone means major upheaval and change for everyone. For a mother who has stayed home to be with her child it’s going to mean a return to work. For the whole household it’s going to entail new routines and attempts to establish new habits.
And those are just the practical issues – there are all the emotional issues as well attached to what this moment signifies – the beginning of an independent, non-dependent existence for the child and the beginning of a diminishing sense of being needed or essential for the parent.
So, those are the challenges and the reasons why this can be a difficult time. However, there’s another way to look at it. It can be seen from the perspective of wonderful opportunities; new friends, new learning, new experiences, passing through a gateway to an exciting future on the road towards growing up.
Different children react in different ways – they are truly all unique. Some are emotional and upset for a day or two, but then find their feet in the new environment quickly, find interesting things and people and start to enjoy the experience. Some others take a bit longer whilst others may be fine to start, but then start to get emotional when they learn that the first novelty wears off (but you still have to go!) and that school comes with a whole set of rules, codes and obligations which are non-negotiable. At such times it can be good to remind ourselves – “This too shall pass”.
So, what are some useful things that we can do to smooth this process and help our child have a positive and enriching start to school life?
• Make sure the child’s comfortable with the place, physically. Take the opportunity for a tour of the school if it’s available. It can even be a good idea to drive past the school a few times, pointing it out and anticipating that it’s ‘your school’. Driving the bus route can also help to make that familiar for the child.

• We may have good or bad memories ourselves when it comes to our experiences as a child going to school. Whatever the memories, it can be important for your child to emphasise the positive aspects and to avoid talking about negative memories around the child. Focus on things like making friends, building friendships, caring and nurturing teachers, the joy of learning (on this point, it’s good if your child comes to realise that learning is still a fundamental and natural part of your life today).

• If there are older siblings and other relatives who play a prominent role in the child’s life they can also be enlisted to support with their ‘good news’ positive stories about school and learning (or at least to keep their negative feelings to themselves for a while),

• Don’t make assumptions about how much your child understands the principles of why they go to school. Instead, use gentle questioning to explore their feelings, their emotions and their understanding of what’s happening. The more they talk and express the better equipped we can be as adults to respond appropriately.

• As the child opens up they may well reveal anxieties and apprehension. Far better than dismissing these fears, it’s good to let the child know that it’s OK and understandable to have those feelings and how we deal with similar types of feelings in our own lives.

• When sorting out admission there are lots of issues for parents, choosing the school you want, securing the admission (just ask parents of young children in Delhi this year!!), then all the administrative issues, fee payments, books, stationery, uniforms. It’s understandable if you get a little frazzled at times. However, it’s a good idea to just limit how much frustration you express about your child’s new school in front of them – you don’t want them starting with negative feelings.

• Routines are a vitally important way of reducing stress and anxiety in a busy day. Don’t wait until term starts to begin the school routines. Adjust bed times, getting up times, breakfast routines etc. some days before the school starts, so that the child makes those adjustments easily. Getting adequate sleep is critically important to the learning process.

In addition, a child who has had insufficient sleep will tend to be more emotional, sensitive and worrying. School starts early and children who take buses to school start even earlier. So, we need to plan for this before the term starts. Make sure as much as possible is done the night before; tiffin, water bottle, uniform, bag etc. so that things can be calm and orderly in the morning. Right from an early stage, involve the child in this process as your helper – in time you can begin to give them their own responsibilities.

• Many schools serve food as part of taking a holistic approach to child development and as part of bringing the children together to learn, bond and grow together. It’s not going to do your child any favours if they have extremely narrow or picky food habits, or worse a heavy inclination towards sweet and salty snacks etc.. Start the process of being ‘unfussy’ within the context of a healthy diet as early as possible so that the child can adapt easily to the diet in school.

• Let your child know that you and their teachers are now going to be in a positive partnership for their good.

• The first days of separation are going to feel hard for parents, especially mothers. Find some things to ‘get busy’ with during those hours. However, plan to make sure you are where you’re supposed to be (school gate, reception, bus stop) well before time so that there can’t be any hiccups that cause the child stress.

• At the end of a school day your knowledge of your child will stand you in good stead. Some will be an instant chatter box, wanting to tell you every little detail of what they did, who else did what, said what …. etc. Others will want and need some quiet processing time before they are ready to open up and share their feelings about the day. Go with what’s right for your child. It’s important at times like this, though, that we make sure we give our child real quality time and quality listening. They shouldn’t feel they have to compete with our mobile phone!

As already said, starting school has the potential to be a wonderful and memorable time in the life of the child and the family. With a bit of careful thought and attention we can increase the likelihood.

Happy school life and great learning wishes for all the children starting school for the first time this year!!

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