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Why Do We Struggle for Representation for Diversity in International Schools?

By Juan Jacobs Sheblak
Why Do We Struggle for Representation for Diversity in International Schools?

My journey into the international school scene has been filled with hope, love, and at times naivety when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Often, international schools are viewed as beacons of institutions that lead the way for international education and global leaders. How often have we read the words global citizenry, global leaders, global-minded, open-minded, etc. on many of the schools' websites? However, in my experience, expensive international schools are often the exclusive domain of the children of diplomats and expat executives.

Recent debates around colonialism and Western-centric philosophy based on history and institutions that promote white supremacy have highlighted the trauma international educational institutions can inflict on the local population where they operate. We continually hear how our Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) or LBGTQ+ students have no one to identify with in their teaching community. In South Africa, most of the staff that represented BIPOC students, for example, were local support staff. It was immensely sad that when those students held up a mirror, they did not see anyone that reflected them. Many in those institutions could not understand or relate to the BIPOC experience of those students. The pain, the hurt, and the laughter in navigating that community in a country that has often experienced oppression and colonization were lost in the students' learning experiences.

There are many instances whereby local people have had to work harder to enter these schools. This is complicated across the African continent. In my experience in South Africa, local white people in international schools are given far more opportunities than their black counterparts. On a continent that has a history steeped in oppression, colonialism, and white supremacy, I ask myself, why are there so few BIPOC educators in the classroom or in leadership positions in these progressive and international educational institutions? The notion that there aren’t many out there is one of the biggest farces and untruths I have come to know. These excuses will remain in place as long as these institutions continue to operate by reinforcing white supremacist structural agendas. If institutions do so, please don’t write diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) and global leaders on your website. Evaluate yourself with honesty and integrity.

In one organization where I worked, my picture was never published because of the color of my skin. I was told that people with my skin color would not advertise very well in that country. Every other person in a leadership position was profiled and placed in the advertisements and on the school’s website. The marketing department posted only pictures of middle-aged white men. However, conversely, the school’s parent community accepted me and supported me. I have sat in meetings where it seemed only the white men had the important voices around the table. As a BIPOC individual, I have had to be so much more resilient and have tough skin in the international educational world. Once again, I reflect on the question, why aren't international schools reflecting the current move toward true inclusion, anti-bias, anti-racism, etc.?

I do believe that as educational leaders, boards, and communities, we need to face our truths. If DEIJ is not part of what you do every day as an educator or leader, as a person of color, it is hard not to view this as a means of supporting oppressive, white supremacist institutions and structures. I am aware that this might be hard for some of us to hear. However, without sincere and hard conversations, we are navigating DEIJ work with a sensitivity that may appear to give a pass to those who reinforce these oppressive and privileged structures.

If you have only white and English-speaking faculty, chances are that you are reinforcing to your students that white and Western are ideal. As an international school, part of the job/mission is to teach students to navigate a multicultural world layered with many differences. We can only do that if they are exposed to a diverse, multicultural faculty. This way, our students are nurtured and taught by a globally multilingual-minded community that is not white-centered but community-centered. It is time that boards, communities, and parents start asking questions about how each of their children will navigate the world around them successfully without experiencing how to navigate a multicultural world. What are the student learning outcomes when we ascribe to a homogenous instructional teaching model?

Reflect on the future and reflect on how children will navigate an unknown world by only being immersed in one voice (a white, Western voice), a voice that often does not reflect the diverse students' own experiences. How do we make learning relevant when it does not relate to students' present and future experiences? The parents, school communities, school leaders, and educational institutions have an obligation to create a learning environment that allows each child to prepare for an unknown future.

Juan Jacobs Sheblak is the deputy secondary principal at UNIS Hanoi.

Twitter: @Juan_Sheblak

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07/15/2023 - Agree with Realistic
Thank you, Realistic, for your important points.

1. The ideology that dominates is the woke identity politics that comes out of postmodern thought that has taken a significant hold of the culture, university system, and of course education departments.

On first blush, postmodernism seems to offer a notion of new possibilities. But it is at heart a dark ideology that reduces life to nothing more than power games.

2. " Teachers should not be injecting their ideologies in the classroom. We are all humans." Yes! we are individuals first. Not members of a group. Not oppressors or oppressed. Just individuals who need to develop themselves, not become hypersenstiive navel-gazers who are being taught to take offense to everything.

If enough teachers speak up against the monoculture that dominates, they will keep publishing the same kind of articles in which people feel compelled to think the exact same way.
06/22/2023 - Realistic
Enough of the postmodern, socialist, wokeness. Always claiming victimism and blaming western culture. Western culture has elevated the living standards and education around the world for millions if not billions of people. The current mantra of the woke is diversity, equity, inclusion , exception only the single white male, and/or older people. The woke accept only those who succumb to their delusion of subjective standards and mediocrity. Everyone is not the same, merit should be the deciding factor. Teachers should not be injecting their ideologies in the classroom. We are all humans.