Grace Kelly’s belief that experiences outside the classroom are a vital component of ‘the hidden curriculum,’ prompted the idea for an innovative school exchange – a dream which then become a reality.
Interests prompting action
‘I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand’- Confucius.
The teachings of the Chinese thinker have interested me for some time. As a teacher of RE and Philosophy the study of culture, international relations and the beliefs of others’ are essential if a society in is to diminish stereotypes, discrimination, racism and radicalisation.
Being raised and educated in Northern Ireland, teaching in England for the past twelve years and having an array of friends teaching around the globe, has led to an interest in international education and making comparisons in educational systems. I have become very interested in how some countries achieve amazing outcomes with their young people in comparison to others, what constitutes their educational norms, values and practices and what makes a teenager on one side of the world different or similar to a teenager on the other side of the globe.
A combination of these factors and a belief that ‘some of the best learning takes place outside of the classroom’ started me thinking about possible international exchanges and has resulted in visit by students from a school in the Fuzhou district of China.
This week long visit, like any other educational visit, required meticulous organisation following a number of meetings with key people to get the idea off the ground. We paired up with a local international organisation called Edunion, who are skilled and experienced in this field and who co-ordinate up to seven China/UK exchange visits per year. Their skills, expertise, and commitment were impressive and I would highly recommend any school in the NW of England to get in touch with them if you are considering a similar type of exchange visit.
The visit – a learning experience
This exchange visit exceeded my expectations, I was unsure what to expect but was not disappointed – quite the opposite. Our visitors were delightful, full of character and like any teenager in any part of the globe, caught up with friendships, relationships, social media and music as well as studying and exam success.
This exchange allowed us to learn from each other, make international connections, communicate both verbally and non-verbally and occasionally place ourselves outside of our comfort zones.
The exchange taught me that International learning and knowledge propels students towards acceptance and understanding of an array of different cultural and community perspectives, enhancing community cohesion, acceptance, enhancing values as a citizen at local, national and international level, whilst diminishing racism and discrimination. It enhanced interest in global issues as well as a broader general knowledge both prior to and during the visit.
Our students who were directly involved have grown in many ways since being part of this experience. They have a greater sense of self-development and awareness leading to enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem. I am expecting this to increase further when we make our return visit in October.
The exchange has enhanced the development of life-long friendships, fostering an appreciation of home and family. This was a community experience with numerous parents getting in touch to inform me of the positive impact the experience has had on them and their whole family. The visit also had a wider and very positive impact on our whole school community, from office staff, teaching staff, parents and other stakeholders; it was an experience for all.
Our students received Mandarin lessons in preparation for the visit and each one of them made significant progress in this new language and their communication with their host child as the week progressed. This week fed into our whole school citizenship agenda, as well as the Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development of each child. Not only has it developed each child involved, while the experience has enhanced their future opportunities as prospective employers often look favourably upon experiences gained while travelling overseas and knowledge of another languages and cultures.
A fitting record
In addition to the visit, we also teamed up with the production company ‘Red Pencil’ in conjunction with the Confucius institute to make a documentary of the week’s events, highlighting the importance of international exchange visits and the benefit they have on our young people. This is due to be aired this summer both in China and the UK!
We benefited immensely as a school from this exchange visit and I cannot recommend the experience highly enough.
Grace Kelly is the China Exchange Co-Ordinator at St Bede’s CHS in Lancashire