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Q&A: International inspirations

Serena Alexander and James Dale-Adcock discuss using international examples in the classroom to inspire a global way of thinking

Posted by Stephanie Broad | January 18, 2016 | International

Recent studies conducted by voluntary organisation Moving Worlds have revealed that undertaking international experiences, both professional and personal, will enrich life experiences and enhance employment prospects in the future. But with interest in modern languages at GCSE level decreasing and fewer university students showing an interest in studying abroad, there are clear indications that more needs to be done to encourage international aspirations in young children. But what can teachers do to foster this all-important interest? 

How can introducing international ideas into schools enrich learning and experiences?

Serena: We are a global society and we should be doing all we can to encourage children to be involved with communities overseas. The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme and community service are a great way of inspiring this mentality at home, and by doing this internationally young people can broaden their experiences while making a difference for other people in a safe way.

The big hitters in global markets need to think internationally, but there is no point in simply telling children this, as it won’t necessarily mean anything to them! In order to encourage students to think multiculturally, you have to show them how international responsibility and sharing ideas is important.

History can help to contextualise this thought process as our country has been greatly influenced by the Norman invasion, which improved the cuisine and enriched the language. Even the seemingly archetypal British fish and chips were brought over by Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal.

James: At Cranleigh Preparatory School we use a range of approaches to embed international concerns and awareness across the curriculum and age ranges. Whole-school events such as ‘French Day’ – during which all subjects, including geography, mathematics and food technology, base lessons around French culture and news – are simple but effective initiatives to place the understanding of one country at the centre of a day’s learning. Some teachers at independent schools may resist such ideas due to the pressure that falls upon them to get children through their exams, but the best learning can happen when you allow yourself to look at what’s going on in the world.

The humanities model comprised of geography, history and religious studies is often seen as a watering down of disciplines, but there is more and more demand in schools to combine subjects for a more rounded approach to learning, whether that’s through applying skills or absorbing knowledge. We have replaced year eight exams for each of these subjects to develop a modular course that comprises all of them.

International ideas can be webbed across the entire curriculum and will help children to think critically about their environment and enrich their understanding of the world. Issues like the migrant crisis can sometimes be difficult to discuss with younger children, but by addressing such concerns, you help to develop their social, moral, spiritual and cultural awareness. In September, for example, the Cranleigh Schools community came together in support of our ‘Beyond Ourselves’ movement and undertook a sponsored walk for our community partners in Zambia.

What skills do children develop through incorporating an international outlook into lessons?

Serena: Looking at certain elements of our culture and how they’ve been adopted from other cultures helps children to better understand their own environment as well as teaching them to be critical thinkers and decision-makers, selecting the best models of practice from other cultures and adapting them to ours.

James: Maintaining an international outlook at the centre of pupils’ learning helps pupils gain a true calibration, at a young age, of our privileged position growing up in a western society. All independent schools naturally tend to focus on their exam result success; however, the most important thing for young people is learning how to present and express themselves, as well as how to relate to others in a global context. At Cranleigh we foster this through assessed presentations and decision-making exercises and through examining issues such as the global economy through cultural awareness.

Do you have any practical tips for teachers looking to inspire their pupils to think globally and outside their own area of culture and understanding?

Serena: The best way to deliver an engaging and inspiring lesson is to present something that you are passionate about. By doing their own research to find something new and different, teachers can broaden their scope and find what inspires them. Often teachers are specialists in their subject, but by taking your subject further you can learn to be a better teacher. Bringing an international element into your lessons may give you a new passion and interest which you can then disseminate to your students. There is no one right answer here as what inspires one teacher may not inspire another, but if you take the time to do so, your pupils will get a rich education delivered by teachers who are passionate about their subject.

James: Implementing international debates or bringing in alumni who have worked in international occupations are excellent ways of generating enthusiasm around the subject. Internationalism should transcend year groups, so be sure to address the topic in your curriculum planning group so that this focus can be established. Technology now affords teachers endless opportunities to develop ‘connected classrooms’ and truly explore the opportunity for connections to be made between sister schools if your organisation operates any. Cranleigh recently opened a school in Abu Dhabi, and now that all aspects of its operation are in place, we are examining avenues to share international experiences between students.

Serena: This can inspire children who may not be particularly strong or interested in the subject and increase their engagement with the material through things they care about and enjoy.

Serena Alexander is author of Galore Park’s mathematics common entrance book W:

James Dale-Adcock is director of studies and former head of geography at Cranleigh Preparatory School W:

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