'Make education a force to unite nations,' says international school

John Walmsley, principal of an international school in South Wales, has praised the attitude of international school students following Brexit.

EU, Brexit, international schools
Writing in The Telegraph following the Brexit result, John Walmsley, head of United World Colleges (UWC) Atlantic College in South Wales has spoken out about the principles that underpin a modern international education and how students are responding to the UK’s decision to leave the EU.According to a post referendum demographic breakdown of the vote, nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of 18 to 24 year-olds voted to remain. This came as no surprise to Mr Walmsley.“Nowadays, most of our international students cannot imagine the continent without agreements and organisations such as Schengen and Erasmus," wrote Mr Walmsley.“Even in an unstable modern world, one thing became increasingly clear to me over the campaign – young people simply do not have the same concerns with immigration, collaboration and pluralism that older generations have.”

International students: “world-citizens”

In the Relocate Global Guide to International Education and Schools, published this year, writers and school leaders agree that today’s international students possess an unprecedented global and cultural awareness. “I think we’re starting to see a particular generation where they think of themselves as, quite literally, world citizens,” said the Council for Industry and Higher Education as reported in the Guide. “I don’t mean conceptually. I mean they see the world as boundary-less: that they are able to move, shift, work anywhere, and do anything.”International school leaders agree and support the multi-cultural outlook of many of the students who move through international schools while their parents take up international assignments across the globe.David Porritt, headteacher of the British School in the Netherlands Junior School Leidschenveen campus, in The Hague believes students at international schools are forward thinking and often more culturally agile even than their parents.“International schools are unique environments creating important reflections of the wider world in which we live,” he says. “There is a rich tapestry of variation and cultural expression amongst the students themselves. Watching multilingual, multi-aware and multinational students working together with humility, respect and tolerance is truly inspiring. There is always so much to learn from one another.”

International education: “a force to unite nations and cultures”

The brainchild of German philosopher Kurt Hahn, UWC Atlantic College was established during the height of the Cold War and, according to the school’s prospectus, “with the founding principle of bringing different students together regardless of race, religion or creed.” Like many international schools across the globe, the school teaches the International Baccalaureate (IB) and IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education).“As an international educator in charge of more than 350 students from over 90 countries, you’d be forgiven for thinking I feel the vote was a disaster,” says Mr Walmsley. “But even though around 25 per cent of UWC Atlantic College’s students are from mainland Europe, I see more reason for optimism than pessimism.”“Since 1962, when the movement was pioneered at our college in South Wales, the UWC movement has tried to make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future for the world. What I think the vote does undeniably represent is the appetite among young people for a more internationalist approach to education.”

Promoting multi-cultural understanding

In the Relocate Guide to International Education and Schools, Sebastian Troyon, director of communication at St George’s International School, Switzerland, also believes that students’ exposure to different cultures is a powerful force in advocating and promoting international understanding.“The international school environment gives our students a better global understanding and perspective,” he says. “It encourages them to be less parochial, more accepting, and to show greater interest in other cultures. They often have had the opportunity to develop language skills in a natural environment and are at ease with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.”“International schools have a vital role to play in fostering understanding of, and for, people of different nationalities and belief systems,” says Sue Woodroofe, principal of the British School of Brussels.  “They are a model of how we can all live and work together in a positive, purposeful and happy environment, with mutual respect at its heart.”

Brexit: Getting ready for an unknown future

“When our students leave us," says Sue Woodroofe, "wherever they go and whatever they do in the future, we trust that they will take this model out into the world and lead by example, proving that it is possible to live in peace and cooperation with everyone. You could say that they are all the diplomats of the future!”“In the end,” says the British School in the Netherlands’ David Porritt, “that’s one of the core purposes of international schools. There is an imperative that students not only learn what they require in the here and now, but also learn to be open to new, emergent knowledge – and to be ready for an unknown future.”

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