Last year I presented a workshop at the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Colour (AIELOC) virtual conference on 14-15 November 2020. I was truly humbled to listen to so many stories of people from different walks of education; it made me realise that these anecdotes have the power to fuel and sustain an entire movement for equity, equality, and justice.
My own session focused on teacher diversity in international schools, and I called my story “A Journey of Voices.” I want to share this journey with everyone to keep the conversation going until we see a visible impact.
The Voices I Have Heard
As a woman of colour, I hear a lot of voices. These voices say:
“Parents prefer white teachers.”
“The board wants a male leader.”
“We have had bad experiences with Indians.”
“The school won’t hire Indian passport holders.”
“You are not educated in the UK/US/NZ/Australia/Canada.”
“You are a level 2 / level 3 candidate.”
“Your salary scale is fixed as per your nationality.”
“You are not a native language speaker…”
I am glad I have forgotten most of these voices, but some of the above statements were sent to me in writing, hence they are hard to forget. Legalizing, institutionalizing, and legitimizing discrimination under the pretext of celebrating internationalism is a crime. In my context, this crime was committed over and over and over until I lost my own voice. In fact, the lies were voiced so many times that it became a truth for me—I had started believing in the lies.
I Struggled to Find a Voice
Hearing these voices, I had lost confidence in the system, in others, and even in myself. This discursive environment had started impacting my self-esteem, as I would assume that I was not “fit for the job” even before applying.
A nagging tiny voice in my head always kept bothering me and pushing me to take the risk to voice my concerns. Initially, it fell on deaf ears. But through persistence, it did ultimately give me the courage to continue to find my voice.
On my journey of voices, I eventually heard those of my sisters across the world. This discrimination we were facing constituted a global pandemic, but no one was trying to discover a vaccine for it. Ironically it fell upon the victims to look for a cure. The victims = all women of colour.
A Voice Stifled Forever
Inspirational stories do not always have a happy ending. It was a voice that was stifled forever—that of George Floyd—that inspired me to share my fears and raise my own voice. It incited me to speak out against injustice and inequality. My voice was heard by people who cared for voices of colour. My article was published by The International Educator and I found the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Colour (AIELOC). I think of this as the power of a stifled voice, that gathered momentum for a whole movement #BlackLivesMatter.
Amplify Melanated Voices
In the AIELOC workshop, I presented the facts and figures related to teacher diversity in international education and emphasized the immediate need to take action. Based on my research, I was able to describe the massive diversity gap that exists in the international teacher population. The objective of the session was to draft an action plan for teachers to empower teachers with ideas that they can implement, to ensure they amplify the need for teacher diversity in international education. Here are a few ideas generated from the workshop:
- Identify the culture of the school; does diversity exist only in the student population, not in the teacher population?
- Is the salary scale decided according to your nationality?
- Does/did the school require a photograph of you before the interview and/or after shortlisting candidates? Stop this practice.
- Suggest creating a diversity ratio for teachers in your school to impact recruitment?
- Does your school advertise to match the job profile or the racial profile?
- Create a diversity handbook
- Create an internationalism committee to showcase and celebrate differences.
- Be sure to have black and brown people on the hiring panel
- Internationalism has to change from “Global to Glocal”
Global to Glocal
My global-to-glocal idea was most well received. While the definition of internationalism is still being refined and redefined, it is time to change our perspective on the word “global.” We would be better off going “glocal.” This means the intention to integrate the local context and culture in global aims, objectives, and perspectives and simultaneously exploring the global perspective in relation with the local context and culture—a truly “glocal” approach. The attributes of internationalism need to include knowledge of local culture and context, otherwise, the whole approach of internationalism is like living inside a bubble trying to create an image of being globally minded whilst ignoring local context and culture, hence being unrealistic. A few things international schools can consider to be more glocal:
- Audit and improve teacher diversity
- Don’t define internationalism as “not local”
- Consider celebrating the host country
- Organise for collaborative projects or events with local and international schools together
- Celebrate local festivities, cultures, traditions, languages
- Audit and eradicate anti-local sentiments
- Finally, include aspects of local curriculum and history before introducing world history
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world”, in my words, “In a gentle voice, you can shake the world.”
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Milem, J. (n.d) The Educational Benefits of Diversity: Evidence from Multiple Sectors.
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US Education Department. (2018). Www2.ed.gov. Available at: