Taking the lead to change the way we teach
For Abigail Reed, a new report from UNESCO’s International Commission on the Futures of Education is a clarion call to action for international schools.
Why the report matters
On November 10, 2021, UNESCO’s International Commission on the Futures of Education launched Reimagining Our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education, a major report meant to catalyze global dialogue about the future of education. This report, only the third in UNESCO’s history, “calls for a major transformation in education to repair past injustices and enhance our capacity to act together for a more sustainable and just future.” This initiative has exciting implications for international schools, ideal incubators for convening conversations and driving forward the report’s most visionary elements.
According to the report, “our world is at a turning point.” Climate change, disruptive technologies, and widening social and economic inequality threaten our individual and collective rights and our planet’s health. We must reinvent education to unite us in collective action and provide the tools that will shape more sustainable futures rooted in social, environmental, and economic justice.
The report argues for the following:
- Pedagogies characterized by solidarity and cooperation. Schools incorporate strategies like project- and inquiry-based learning and embed empathy in how we learn, enabling us to unlearn bias and listen to communities while sustaining diverse and indigenous histories, languages, and cultures.
- Curricula emphasizing ecological, intercultural, and interdisciplinary learning. We need to reject narrow fact transmission and educate students to mitigate climate change, counter misinformation, and foster human rights.
- The transformative work of teachers supported as a collaborative endeavor. Teachers should be supported through collaborative environments, professional development, and career advancement, assuring professional autonomy and social respect for teachers while embedding their voices in public dialogue and policy.
- Schools protected as key institutions to support inclusion, equity, and individual and collective wellbeing. School timetables, architectures, and spaces encourage collaborative work and model sustainability. Digital technologies support, rather than replace, learning
- Creating societies where all can enjoy rich learning opportunities throughout life.
International schools’ alignment
When considered as a system, international schools already align with many of the report’s recommendations. Teachers are highly-trained, and school structures typically promote autonomy, collaboration, and professional development. Curricular frameworks like the International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement offer some avenues for interdisciplinary and intercultural learning, including opportunities for students to learn about mitigating climate change and countering misinformation through multiple literacies.
In international schools, physical infrastructure is safe and well-maintained and digital technologies support innovation. Moreover, private funding and autonomy from governmental oversight position international schools as nimble institutions that can move relatively quickly to pilot new approaches or innovate in pockets.
Opportunities for international schools
UNESCO’s previous reports reflected a top-down view of progress. However, this report recognizes that broad social dialogue in and across communities offers a powerful lever for change. In light of this notion, and their unique affordances, international schools should view themselves as leaders with a serious role to play in the global movement to co-construct the future of education.
The first step in embracing this vision? Read the report!
Second, we should harness the power of our diverse communities. International schools are “global” by virtue of the people who study and work in them, but how often do we intentionally and sincerely capitalize on the fact that students forge powerful friendships across national, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and ideological divides, carrying those connections into universities and workplaces around the world?
Our schools are microcosms of global society. Given the report’s call for international solidarity and cooperation around critical topics like climate change and social inequity, international schools could function as “labs” where students from often-divided cultures engage in collaborative dialogue and action to address the world’s key challenges. Dr. Christina Hinton has identified five evidence-based learning activities to support this process. By embracing a shared vision of international schools as incubators of global collaboration, we could position the proverbial “third culture kid” as uniquely capable of enacting the report’s call for global solidarity.
Since the report invites a process for co-construction, let’s also bring this conversation into the international school network. Put the UNESCO report on the next regional conference agenda so educators can translate the report’s aspirations into concrete policies and practices for their contexts. We can further embrace our role as convenors of conversation by partnering with local schools and organizations and serving as hubs for local dialogue.
Opening international schools to the influence of local culture
For these ideas to work, however, we in international schools must embrace the report’s call for solidarity and critically examine our roles within the social, historical, and cultural contexts of our host nations. Initiatives to take meaningful DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) action are a step in the right direction. International schools should also acknowledge legacies of colonialism and inequities that continue to play out in both our host countries and our schools, including practices that explicitly or implicitly devalue local educators, communities, and histories.
Through training and professional development, especially for overseas educators, we can cultivate more culturally-sustaining environments that foster cultural pluralism. We can create more porous boundaries between schools and communities, ensuring that students are actually influenced by — not just exposed to — local cultures. We can invite community partners to share indigenous approaches to topics like environmental sustainability while capitalizing on the flexibility of curricular frameworks like the IB to diversify our curricula.
Time for action
The time is now for international schools to leverage our autonomy, global communities, and networks to foster solidarity, convene conversations, and anchor our leadership in humility and respect for host nations. In so doing, international schools can use our platform to help shape more just and sustainable futures for all.
Abigail Reed is a graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education studying Learning Design, Innovation, and Technology, specialising in Global, International, and Comparative Education.
With nine years’ teaching experience, she has taught high school English in international schools in Singapore and South Africa.
The report, Reimagining Our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education, is now available.
Support image: by geralt at Pixabay
International Commission on the Futures of Education. (2021). Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education. Paris: Unesco pub
Paris, D. (2012). Culturally sustaining pedagogy: A needed change in stance, terminology, and practice. Educational Researcher, 41(3), pp. 93–97
Shanker, A. Hinton, C. & Cheung, L. (2020). Developing Students Global Competence: An International Research Study. Round Square