The world of international education, once composed of small and isolated school communities, has radically changed over the past two decades. What was once a few hundred schools scattered around the globe has now become thousands of institutions catering to students of varying backgrounds, beliefs and experiences. In this uncertain phase of growth, the Alliance for International Education (AIE) has taken the lead in shaping the future direction of international education. The AIE brought that conversation to NIST as the school, through The Professional Learning Hub, hosted the 2016 biannual AIE conference from 26-28 February with the theme Engaging with Difference.
Attended by many of the field’s foremost teachers, administrators, academics and consultants – and even student participants – the conference upheld the AIE’s mission “to bring together those involved in the promotion of intercultural understanding and international education, including researchers and practitioners at every level of education throughout the world.” Keynote speakers at the event included M.L. Pariyada Diskul, founder and former president of the International Schools Association of Thailand, former director of Bangkok Patana School and Deputy Secretary to the Minister of Education; Mechai Viravaidya, former Deputy Minister of the Interior and former Chairman of the NIST International School Foundation, and founder and director of the Population and Community Development Association; and Nick Alchin, High School Principal at United World College of South East Asia.
Throughout the three days of the conference, participants grappled with many of the most difficult questions facing international schools, as well as nations around the world. What does it mean to engage with difference, both as individuals and communities? How do we strive to be inclusive in international schools that can sometimes be exclusive by their very nature? What role should international education play in a diverse world that faces intercultural tensions and conflict? The conversations generated throughout the day offered valuable insights into the ways NIST and other international schools work within their greater communities. Holding true to the spirit of the AIE conference format, NIST students also took part in the sessions and represented the youth voice in a special panel in which they reflected on the themes of the conference.
At NIST we believe diversity does not merely represent engaging with difference in respect to nationality and culture. Though interacting with others in this sense is an invaluable experience, we also must recognize that it represents a limited view of the term. Diversity encompasses far more: gender, age, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, physical capacity, ideology and other fundamental differences. Engaging with those differences requires going beyond charity or sympathy, recognizing that we can all respect and learn from one another.
We strive to create learning opportunities that encourage our students to truly understand, empathize and work with those who are different than them. The development of the creativity, action, service (CAS) element of the IB programme over the years helped shape this at the school, and our own unique programmes such as the Global Citizen Diploma have driven it further. NIST students have created social entrepreneurship projects, become activists for various causes and launched their own non-profits. This arguably represents a central aim of international education: the development of informed, empathetic individuals who engage and work alongside others to find common ground and shared solutions.
For more information about the AIE conference and its aims, visit intedalliance.org.