As independent schools accept larger overseas cohorts, a clear understanding of what is needed to provide the best education possible becomes even more important. Schools are becoming increasingly proficient at creating efficient systems to support students whose first language is not English, who come from different cultures and whose experiences in the classroom are very different from those experienced in the United Kingdom. One area where there may still be work to be done, however, relates to developing a better understanding of what exactly we expect from our overseas cohorts, and extending a belief that they can hugely enrich the lives of UK students.
This key area has two distinct elements. Firstly, all overseas students need to fully understand the ethos, demands and delights of independent education, that the school should not be used as an ‘academic hotel’, merely a grade bridge to the next school or university. Prior to arrival, prospective parents and students need to be made completely aware of the full value of an independent school education, and students be asked for suggestions as to what they can offer to enrich the school experience for all. Schools need to instruct their agents to really push this point and schools should even go as far as translating this message for parents without an agent and whose English is perhaps not strong. The end result should be that students arrive at school not only understanding what is expected of them but are also prepared, and willing, to fully contribute. Aligned to this must be the school’s determination to provide the mechanisms that allow overseas students to deliver such contributions.
Secondly, UK students, their parents and indeed alumni need to be sympathetic to the view that a student’s education can only be enhanced by a better understanding of different cultures, traditions, indeed ways of life. Due to advances in technology and ease of transport, the world is ‘shrinking’ and therefore from both a personal and indeed a professional perspective, appreciating cultural differences across the globe can only be of great value. As well as enriching lives in general, the present and future generation of students may find themselves working in Beijing, Bangkok or Moscow as easily as in London or Manchester.
A school might be a little reticent to fully embrace this approach as it may believe that adopting a more global perspective could alter the ethos and traditions of which it is justifiably proud, and have been successfully built up over centuries. Similarly, past parents and old scholars may see a move to a more global perspective as not entirely positive, and be not quite so willing to recommend the school, as it is ‘not the school I knew’.
I strongly believe that the schools who will thrive in years to come will be those who see globalisation as an enrichment of what is already on offer, who work tirelessly to maintain the excellence they already have, and see the inclusion of a more global approach as being beneficial to all.
Overseas parents, of course, send their children for a ‘British education’, having a genuine belief in our system and values. For that reason, as well as many others, it is important that we do not dilute the excellence we already provide, and overseas parents expect, but enrich it through embedding a global perspective.
Developing a more global approach will also help overcome many integration problems that overseas students may face. A belief that their customs, traditions and cultures are fully appreciated has much more value than students being welcomed yet somehow, despite the best efforts of the school, feeling only partially-included. As well as providing the very best education it can, a knowledge that students feel safe, are happy and truly belong is central to everything an independent school tries to achieve.
As with UK students, the international cohort must believe that they have achieved greatly, contributed enormously, and leave feeling that school life was a very special time in their development.
In short, they must feel it was their school.
For further information in relation to consultancy work, Phil can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org