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Socioeconomic Diversity: the KIS Bangkok Experience

By Peter Carlson

As I sit here planning my latest unit of inquiry about sharing the planet, its opportunities, and resources, I am reminded of the responsibility teachers have to engage their students in matters of social justice.
As educators, we strive to model what fairness and equality look like and instill a sense of respect in our students that breathes beyond the walls of the school. But it is the walls of the school that help create an incubator for action-minded citizens. Within these walls we have the opportunity to model what fairness and equality can look and feel like. The more students get used to that feeling, the more likely they are to make it reality outside the walls.
This is why socioeconomic diversity in schools is so powerful, why schools that provide it have a real understanding of their responsibility. What better way for a school to demonstrate such a powerful concept? It is no secret that, statistically speaking, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to receive a lower degree of education and are faced with many more challenges in life’s road to success.
Social class has been consistently related to educational success through time and students from higher social class backgrounds tend to receive higher grades and stay in school longer. These factors are problematic in a world in which education has an increasingly important role in determining access to powerful positions and steady careers. The limited access to quality education for lower socioeconomic classes perpetuates the cycle of inequality.
For a school to completely embody the vision that it promotes, it must consider all of the factors that contribute to that vision. Therefore, the need for socioeconomic diversity cannot be overlooked. Additionally, those who receive a poorer education are not the only ones being cheated out of a fully rich educational experience. Just as a school with a homogenous ethnic makeup is missing opportunities to experience and appreciate diversity, so is a school that is homogenous socioeconomically.
Fear of what we do not know is a dangerous factor in life, and tends to limit the quality of diverse relationships. If students lack opportunities to build relationships with others of different socioeconomic classes, then the chances for positive relationships between the groups are slim.
This issue is of particular concern because it is not limited to any single school or district; it is an issue that spans across continents and shoots to the heart of many social issues.
There are measures that can be taken, which would enable schools to maintain their high quality of education while allowing for a more equitable division of the educational “pie.” This is why I am so proud to be working at KIS International School in Bangkok. KIS is the only international school in Thailand, out over 200, to offer scholarships to refugee students.
There are numerous benefits to creating a school culture that is diverse in its socioeconomic status. For one, the student from the lower social status group who is given educational opportunities has the power to uplift their own chances of success and in effect create a wave of change for their family and community. Additionally, the students with higher socioeconomic status benefit from exposure to individuals who were born less fortunate than themselves, yet have within them the drive and passion to get themselves out of poverty.
In a recent interview with a former KIS refugee student, I learned about a young woman who was awarded a scholarship to attend KIS after her family was forced to leave Sri Lanka due to the civil war. The family ended up in Bangkok, but due to their status there was no opportunity for the children to go to school, until KIS offered the children a full scholarship.
She expressed how proud she was of her education at KIS, and recognized the power of the opportunity that she was given. After graduating with an IB Diploma from KIS, she is now pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor! She indicated that without the opportunity to come to KIS, she likely would have lost her dream. Now, she is reaching her goals in medicine and giving back to her community through volunteer work.
This type of story could be more common if schools recognized, and used, their power for positive change. On one hand, it is sad to think that KIS is the only international school in Bangkok with a refugee scholarship. On the other, it is a great source of pride for the school and an opportunity for KIS: open your hearts, and break down walls.

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