A little bit like Yogi Berra said so many years ago, it seems like deja-vu all over again. The year 2021 was supposed to have been a bit easier and display more of the light at the end of the tunnel than it actually did. There has been too much ‘more of the same.’ I think most will agree that this past year has been harder in many ways for international educators than the previous one. And, frankly, it may be just about the most challenging time in our lives to be a school head.
That being said, there is still much to be grateful for in the East Asia Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS) region. While it is true that many of our schools remained closed to in-person learning for much longer than anyone ever expected, a few managed to stay open for all but very brief interludes, and nearly all found their way to successfully bridging the road between virtual classrooms and hybrid structures and a return to full in-person learning. Overall, while enduring the unusual and abnormal, the vast majority of schools have managed to persevere thanks to the dedication of teachers, families, Boards, and thinly stretched leaders.
A number of our member schools have taken hard financial hits; some, but certainly not all, have been able to rely on healthy reserves to sustain them through the pandemic. A few have received urgent support from the Office of Overseas Schools, enabling them to remain open, while a small number of very small schools were sadly unable to continue.
We have been very fortunate to have had a steadily increasing number of new member schools. We are pleased to share with you that the number of member schools has now grown to just over 200 schools in 22 countries. EARCOS serves 168,000 students and nearly 25,000 teachers and administrators
Our efforts over the past year-plus have focused, as always, on building three major conferences: one in partnership with CIS for university counseling and admissions, one for Teachers and one for Leadership. All three were postponed in 2020 and in 2021. The University Admissions Conference is now scheduled for September 15, 16 and 17, 2022 in Bangkok. The Leadership Conference will now be held from October 27 to 29, 2022 in Bangkok while the Teachers’ Conference has been rescheduled for March 23 to March 25, 2023 in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Suffice it to say that people across the region are eager to gather again after over two years without opportunities to do so.
As a direct result of travel challenges and quarantine requirements, our focus on professional development has shifted from in-person to virtual events, as it has for all of the regions. Perhaps this is one silver lining of the past 22 months of disruption. Since the late spring of 2020, EARCOS has organized well over 100 webinar sessions. Many consultants/speakers have been incredibly generous with their time, recognizing how difficult things have been during the pandemic. We are grateful to everyone who has given their time and shared their thinking with the educators in the EARCOS region.
One initiative that has proven very helpful to the region’s leaders and counselors has been a partnership forged with the Truman Group, thanks largely to the groundwork and generous support of Dr. Larry Hobdell in the Office of Overseas Schools. The project now serves five cohorts of EARCOS school directors (Heads/Superintendents) and three cohorts of counselors. Each cohort is comprised of five participants, led by a clinical psychologist from the Truman Group. A cohort meets twice each month online. Feedback has been tremendously positive. The only downside is that nearly every Head in the region ought to have this kind of support and we are only able to fund approximately ten percent of them, and a much smaller percentage of counselors. Even in non-pandemic times, I believe the value of these small, confidential, professionally guided cohorts is beyond question. We are looking for ways to increase the number of Heads we can serve as we move into the future.
The past year, especially, has seen a considerable amount of activity in the area of DEIJ. It is a topic that will continue to resonate across our region’s schools, and we are committed to continuing our efforts to support open and honest conversations across the region on this critically important topic.
The EARCOS Leadership and Mentorship (ELM) project has grown tremendously over the past couple of years with over 100 school leaders now actively participating in the program. The program is led by Dr. Chris Jansen of the Leadership Lab in New Zealand and overseen by Bill Oldread, Assistant Director of EARCOS. During these challenging times, the program has become a lifeline for many leaders in the region.
Brent International School, where the EARCOS office is located, remains closed but may hopefully be able to reopen by the end of January. We have been operating in full virtual mode for a very long time and I am as pleased as I am surprised that we have been able to maintain so many initiatives with so few hiccups.
Like all other regions, we are hoping that 2022 will bring more opportunities to reopen our schools and our annual events.
Edward is the Executive Director of the East Asia Regional Council of Schools.