Why students need an international education?

A truly international education is about taking the opportunity to engage our students in cultures and perspectives beyond their immediate environment, writes one English teacher

Phil Brown

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At a time when many countries are rethinking their international relationships and Britain is re-evaluating its position on the world stage, it has never been more important to help our students look beyond their own bubbles. As teachers, educational leaders and parents, it is vital that we allow the values of internationalism to inform our practice.

At their best, schools are miniature communities which engage with, and teach their students to engage with, wider local, national and international communities. As educators, we of course have a responsibility to strive for academic achievement in our students. Yet we also have a duty to prepare them to engage with a global economy, experience a range of cultures, broaden knowledge of foreign languages, understand the issues faced by people in other countries and, just as importantly, understand the solutions we may find internationally for issues faced in this country.

It is also vital that educational leaders allow our teachers to benefit from the breadth of innovative pedagogy being pioneered by practitioners around the world. By providing teachers, students and school leadership teams with the opportunity to collaborate at a national and international level, we create space for innovative responses to the changing demands placed on the modern school.

Classroom resources

As an English teacher, I have often used classroom displays and wider-reading tasks to help students realise that great literature is not the sole preserve of the English-speaking world. When creating schemes of work, I often seek out opportunities to place the British canon alongside that of Franz Kafka, Roberto Bolaño, Elizabeth Bishop, Victor Hugo, Margaret Atwood, Les Murray, Beverly Naidoo, Chinua Achebe, Bertolt Brecht, William Blake, Leo Tolstoy and many others as we search for the universal and the unique across different cultures and traditions.

I also find morning tutor-time to be a great opportunity to give students the chance to engage with news stories from around the world. Whether it is Catalonian independence, American Football protests or the devastation of Syria, these events form an important part of the morning dialogues I have with my tutees. I also like to add a bit of cultural variety to my regular “word of the week” quizzes by including obscure foreign words that do not have a direct English equivalent, such as the Spanish word querencia or the Japanese Yūgen – have fun googling those if you are hearing them for the first time!

Online activities

There are plenty of other ways to bring the wider world into your classroom, starting with the British Council Schools Online website which has plethora of excellent classroom activities to help students engage with international perspectives. The Football Remembers pack, for example, is designed to offer support to pupils learning about the Christmas Truce that took place during the First World War in 1914.

Or why not try  Queens of Syria which shares the story of 50 displaced women who came together to stage Euripedes’ The Trojan Women. Resources such as these provide an insight into the realities of life as a refugee from a more empathetic, unbiased perspective than the 24-hour news cycle often affords us.

The British Council also offers some fantastic activities for schools that have already established a relationship with their counterparts abroad, such as Culture in a Box. This encourages partner schools to exchange culturally significant artefacts with each other and discuss the different ways of life they represent. Another activity that always catches students’ interest is Our School Meals, in which schools from different countries share photographs and commentaries on their school lunches.

The British Council has a selection of themed activities and resources to help you mark International Education Week from 13-17 November 2017. Alongside videos, quizzes and top tips to help you put an international spin on teaching and learning, you can also download The Great Schools Online Challenge – a series of themed activity sheets that encourage and challenge students to find out more about different languages and cultures.

Global connections

As well as producing classroom activities, the British Council provides some excellent schemes to help schools form meaningful partnerships and enrich the development of their students and teachers.

The Connecting Classrooms initiative is particularly effective for those who wish to reach out to teachers and schools in different international contexts. In addition to offering training for practitioners wishing to develop their pedagogical skills, Connecting Classrooms allows teachers to network internationally. In some cases, it will even provide funding for them to meet face-to-face to work on projects.

The British Council Schools Online platform also offers schools the chance to connect with Partner Schools across the globe to form professional relationships, start joint curriculum projects and mutually benefit from their shared educational perspectives.

Cultural exchange

Another powerful tool for creating international connections in the classroom is through the Language Assistants scheme. These are native speakers of French, German, Spanish, Italian, Irish and Chinese who are placed within British schools to support the learning and cultural development of students.

As well as helping pupils to prepare for oral assessments, language assistants can play a crucial role in cross-curricular learning and bring languages to life.

For teachers who wish to collaborate on specific projects with schools across Europe, eTwinning is the perfect platform. More than 180,000 schools have already registered to join this learning community, and a quick skim through the various projects that they have managed to produce is testament to the power of international collaboration in education.

One highlight is  Health4Life, a project that spans four subjects and seven countries to instil the importance of positive lifestyle choices. Another is LYPS (Let Your Passion Shine), a fantastic initiative to help nine- to 11-year-olds from Greece, Italy, Poland and Romania discover their hidden talents.

And, of course, there is Erasmus+. For 30 years, the European Union’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport has been providing opportunities for students and teachers of all ages and backgrounds to travel, train, volunteer and learn in Europe. No matter where you are in your educational journey, the Erasmus+ website will get you thinking about your next destination

Serving our students well

International perspectives in education are not simply about the acquisition of new languages or naming countries on a map – although this is certainly part of it. Rather, international education is about taking the opportunity to engage our students in cultures and perspectives beyond their immediate environment.

At the core of UK culture is an ability to engage with and assimilate influences from across the globe; we do our students an incredible service when we reflect this quality in our schools.

Phil Brown is a writer and English teacher from South London

Phil Brown

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