We trust that you have read a blogged perspective shared by Nunana Nyomi on the structural racism in international schools, as well as the open letters by Safaa Abdelmagid to Search Associates and Doline Ndorimana to the international community. These were all excellent reads, deeply personal, full of uncomfortable insights and data into the structural racism in international schools to support our thinking in framing this conversation. Most recently, a student from American International School of Bucharest, Omotoyosi Ariyo, also wrote a lived experience, a perspective and call to action, that we should all listen to and learn from. It also goes without saying that many of us also have deeply personal stories and lived experiences of racism and the trauma that suspends with it. We know there is more than what has been shared publicly.
All of this, along with tens and thousands of individuals and communities across the world clamoring for racial equity and justice in support of Black Lives Matter, risking their lives against police brutality and the institutions that condone it, and at the height of a pandemic no less has made us feel uncomfortable, compelled us to reflect, and made us wonder about concrete actions we can develop to address systemic racism in international schools.
"The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “antiracist.”
— Ibram X. Kendi
The petition we are sharing is independent and grassroots, amplifying the voices of educators and leaders around the world, without necessarily representing schools and organisations but rather as anti-racist individuals, allies and co-conspirators who value the need for anti-racist systemic change in international schools and are committed to do the work.
The growing number of signatories to this petition include educators, leaders, recruiters, organisations, allies, and co-conspirators who are calling for change in international education at a systemic level.
The change we are lobbying for is beyond the confines of schools’ accreditation membership, because of the intersectionality and interdependent nature of international schools. International education has been called out. So we work to do better!
The petition calls to address structural racism in international schools through intentional and structural reforms by explicitly including anti-racism in accreditation standards. While agencies are non-prescriptive in accreditation, the proposed reform ensures systematic accountability in matters of child protection, because anti-racism is child protection and well being.
It will also hold international education accountable within our purpose, policies, and practices, so that there will be systemic anchors, grounding us in sustainable anti-racist work.
International education is an evolving learning community that is responsive to the crises of our times and its own reflections. This is evident in the work that has been done in different schools, the active development of policies and actions on child protection by the Council of International Schools, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion work led by The Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC) and Diversity Collaborative. We are primed to work on anti-racism. When schools engage in accreditation standards that explicitly includes anti-racism, we hope to observe some of the following:
- People and Relationships: There is diverse representation in governance, leadership, students, teachers, and families. The governance and recruitment policies ensure that race, background, first language, family structures, gender, religion, and nationality are not limitations but opportunities to break "single stories." Students see themselves in their teachers in their identities and stories. As an example, we would observe intentional pipelines and amplifications for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQI+ leaders mentored, supported, and promoted in international schools. Search Associates agreed to remove the “non-native English speakers'’ and photo requirements for candidates as result of a petition by S. Maldonado. We would also expect growth in actual placement of diverse qualified educators from across the world. International schools will reach out and partner with a range of high-quality teacher education programs across the world, as opposed to limiting recruitment options to privileged universities and recruitment fairs.
- Student Learning: There is intentional documentation, engagement, provocation, and curation of resources in the teaching and learning of anti-racism, grounded on the understanding that racism is systemic and has generational and long-term trauma and impact on BIPOC. In order to dismantle racism, students are going to leverage their skills, knowledge, dispositions, and mindsets of global citizenship, internationalism, "culture of inclusion," interculturalism, and intercultural competence not only as goals, but as means to solving core problems on racial inequity as a result of systemic and institutional racism.
- Child Protection and Adult Protection: Policies and procedures, developed collectively by the schools' stakeholders, will support and protect students, educators, non-teaching staff, and families against all forms of racism, overt or covert.
- Community / Professional Learning - Adults in schools will have trusting and genuine conversations around power and privilege, microaggressions, and both implicit and unconscious bias; they will understand that racism is a construct, a mindset that we can unlearn so long as we are willing to listen and learn to become anti-racist.
What else might you wish to observe? How might you change your own mindsets and systems to support these intentions and actions?
International education is not perfect. We are all learning and growing as individuals and as a community. Anti-racism is also a vulnerable work, as we have to hold on tight to our individual and institutional humility, because we are holding up a mirror for ourselves and the international education community to which we belong.
We also understand that all of this comes with limitations and barriers—the “yes, but...” However, unless we make anti-racism explicit, we will continue to flounder in the labyrinths of "racial equity detours" and continue to perpetuate international schools' structural racism with its privilege and power rendered inutile. We have to name racism, call out racism, and own up to our privilege and power. We have an opportunity here to structurally dismantle racism and shape the present and future of international education so that it is fundamentally equitable, just, diverse, inclusive, and anti-racist.
Joel Jr Llaban is a Learning Specialist and Instructional Coach at The International School of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Find him on Twitter @JoelJrLLABAN.