One of the great pleasures in being asked to construct the Academic Plan for the Arcadia Preparatory School was the emphasis Mr Valrani placed on teaching and learning in an international context. It was doubly refreshing to have extended conversations with him about the importance of children from different backgrounds sharing a common educational opportunity.
I hold a belief that, if you put any child under the age of ten in a classroom with another child from anywhere else in the world, they would find a way of communicating based on their shared interests and, possibly, values. They would share the common human instincts to both make sense of their immediate situation and to extend their knowledge by discovery. I do not say this out of somewhat idle theoretical rhetoric but out of watching this very process happen on too many occasions to quantify. I have had the absolute privilege of observing and aiding the development of numerous young people from different backgrounds in various learning environments. My first experience was as a housemaster in a famous English boarding school, having 17 nationalities amongst the 60 boys in my care. As a headmaster of a similar school, these figures increased to 42 nationalities in some 200 international students. So impressed by their ability to work, sustain and thrive in a different environment, I actually decided to do the same and work overseas myself. I truly grew by this experience.
So what is so special about the international classroom? After health and happiness, the foremost requirement we, as parents, want for our children is educational relevance. We have a right to presuppose the school will cover the stipulated curriculum and, beyond this, nurture our children in a wider sense. However, what could be more relevant than to have a microcosm of the wider world within a single classroom? At this point, it is important to forget the pejorative meanings that some would attach to the words ‘global’ or ‘international’, pare them away to young people learning with each other regardless of differences of culture, colour, disability, race, religion or any other roadblock adults seem pre-occupied about, and simply glory in diversity and the promise of learning together.
One of the more remarkable things I have seen is two boys, the firmest of friends, enjoying learning together when their respective countries were at war. International education in this sense gives us all real hope for the future.