How can schools from diverse backgrounds teach a global curriculum?
The homogenous school
Mahatma Gandhi International School Ahmedabad, India
Mahatma Gandhi International School (MGIS) may have a predominantly Indian intake, but for the staff and students, identity is about more than the country you come from. “For us, internationalism means diversity,” explains IB Diploma Programme Coordinator Ravinder Kaur. “Not just in terms of cultures, but in backgrounds and socio-economic class.”
MGIS offers an IB education to a mix of students, including those from very poor backgrounds (20 per cent of students are on full scholarships), pupils from India’s many
sub-communities and a small but rising number from other countries.
As the first IB World School in the Gujarat region, MGIS has worked hard to embed international-mindedness, but it hasn’t always been easy. “Parents resisted initially,” recalls Ravinder. Workshops and engagement sessions helped to change attitudes.
“Internationalism should not be an isolated activity,” says Ravinder. “It needs to be integrated into everything.” That includes lunchtime; students run the cafeteria and explore different cuisines from across India and the globe. Mother tongue support classes in Indian dialects and other languages also keep diversity high on the agenda, while international speakers engage students on global issues. Exchanges with schools in France and Australia mean students who might not have travelled abroad before get to experience different cultures first-hand.
Such a focus on international-mindedness has led to many students choosing to study outside India, while a deep love for the school draws them back. Many return to teach during the holidays, and some stay for good: three members of staff are ex-students. All of which creates a circle of global thinking that gets bigger each year.
The isolated school
UWC Red Cross Nordic, Flekke, Norway
In the frozen wastelands of the shores of Flekke on the Western coast of Norway sits perhaps the most geographically isolated IB World School. Not that it stops UWC Red Cross Nordic (UWCRCN) celebrating the global at every opportunity.
As a United World College, UWCRCN works to use education as a force for peace. Given its remote location, the school’s residential students from more than 80 countries have no choice but to get along.
“We want to celebrate aspects of where everyone is from, but we are mindful of the limitations of nationalism,” says Alistair Robertson, Director of Education. As UWCRCN is fully funded by the state, the leadership team are able to strategically choose students from all over the world, creating a multicultural melting pot. As in all UWC schools, dormitories house students from five different countries. “That’s where much of the learning happens,” says Alistair, “when you wake up and there’s someone praying to Mecca.”
Some students have strong religious views, which can create issues around subjects like sexism or homosexuality. “Respect is culturally relative,” says Alistair. “We have to be mindful within these limits.” Running sessions on controversial topics, offering conflict management programmes and promoting informed discussion helps UWCRCN overcome these issues.
By the end of their experience, some students have formed unlikely friendships. “A Chinese girl and a Tibetan girl have become so close I think they will be friends for life,” says Rector John Lawrenson. “And after meeting Palestinian students, Israeli students become more understanding about people who they had previously seen as enemies.”
The new school
John F. Kennedy School, Maryland, USA
“It’s been an exciting ride,” says Stacey Warham, IB Diploma Programme Coordinator at the newly IB-authorized John F. Kennedy High School. Since becoming an IB World School, it’s been able to take international-mindedness to the next level.
“The kids have become more outward-looking,” says Stacey. “The seniors recently organized a Cherry Blossom festival celebrating Japanese culture. That wouldn’t have happened without the IB.”
Staff have been keen to involve global thinking in all areas of the curriculum. “It is more natural to some subject areas than others,” admits Stacey. “Foreign language teachers have had no problem, but it’s harder to figure out what international-mindedness looks like in the maths classroom. But we soon realized that maths is an international language, one of the few things all people can understand without sharing a linguistic vocabulary.”
In Theory of Knowledge, students are looking at how the world views the USA. “We’re not the centre of the universe,” says Stacey. “We need to look at not only how we see the world, but how the world sees us.”
JFK’s journey to global school is just beginning. “I want our students to go further than cultural exploration,” says Stacey. “I want them to think about conflicts and beliefs, taking things to the next level.”
The politically aware school
Ahliyyah School for Girls, Amman, Jordan
Conflict in the Middle East has created talking points across the world. But what is it like to be a student in the region, trying to look outwards? For the girls at Ahliyyah School for Girls (ASG) in Jordan, there’s no way of escaping international-mindedness, according to Head of Global Issues and Humanities Kariman Mango.
“Our students, whether they like it or not, are involved in what’s going on in the world,” she says. “They are bombarded with information and politicized from a young age. The issue for us is: how do we channel that and turn it into a positive, rather than stressful, experience?”
At ASG, the main focus is on empowering students, making them aware of major events. Using IB courses like Global Issues and being involved in the Model UN help to give a more balanced perspective. Healthy debate is encouraged.
“Students are too often exposed to a single narrative of what’s going on in the region,” says Kariman, “When it comes to the Arab-Israeli crisis, for example, we have students whose grandfathers remember having to leave Palestine. That creates a one-sided view. Our biggest problem is getting them to think from a wider perspective. In the Middle East, it’s often not okay to have different perspectives, but we want to give them the opportunity to debate.”
ASG has a largely homogenous Jordanian student body, which can make drawing out different viewpoints tricky. “It is a challenge to get them out of the habit of thinking as a group,” admits Kariman. “They share so much. But I don’t think we need more international students to be international.”
Frequent video exchanges with a school in the USA helps bring other parts of the world to Jordan. “As teenagers, I think they’re more international than we are,” says Kariman. “They’re totally connected online. Middle Eastern teenagers tend to have one foot in the east and one in the west. And we’ve found that wherever they’re from, young people can understand each other.”