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Not a Real International School?

By Gavin Kinch
Not a Real International School?

I was chatting recently with a colleague from another school who shared with me a conversation that they had overheard at their school which had bothered them. The conversation was between two international teachers who were complaining that the school wasn’t a real international school. The premise of their conversation was that the school had too many students, too many staff, and too much curriculum that was from one nationality. What bothered my colleague was that they saw the school as a vibrant intercultural community of open-minded people who were committed to their host country, while also retaining their own cultural heritage. The idea that the school wasn’t an international school really cut deep into their lived experience of the community.

I have heard similar comments about the international school I am Principal of. If you choose to view our school through one lens, you can see it as a Singaporean school. It is part of a group of schools founded in Singapore in 1886, over 500 students are Singaporean, we have Singaporean teachers, and we are deeply committed to serving the Singaporean community. Through a different lens, our school is most certainly international. It was founded by a British-American; we have over 500 students from overseas; we have teachers from all over the world; and through acts of service, we look to make a difference in the lives of others throughout Southeast Asia and beyond. The school is committed to being present in its local community while also developing its students to be internationally minded and inter-culturally competent.

There are many international schools throughout the world who have their roots firmly sunk into two or more different cultures. Schools that are founded after a heritage school from another country but who have laid down authentic, strong, and deep roots in their new culture. In these roots, you will find the history and values of their heritage school entangled very comfortably alongside the culture and connection the school has to its local community. International schools can be built upon multiple sets of cultural roots. Each root provides a different expression of the school, but collectively they uphold the school and make it what it is.

Understanding and embracing the interwoven cultures found within an international school is a beautiful challenge. Viewing a school through different lenses has merit, as it allows us to better identify and understand a particular facet. However, looking through all the lenses at once reveals the multifaceted layers that entwine to create the rich tapestry of culture that international schools are. To never look through all the lenses at once is to miss out.

I’m glad that my colleague was bothered by the conversation they overheard. They were bothered because they had taken the time to dig beneath the surface of the school and they had found something of worth. As educators, we need to develop the knowledge, values, and skills that enable us to dig deeper to more fully understand people, cultures, and communities. My desire is that as we intentionally do this, we become more bothered. Bothered to appreciate others more, bothered to understand issues more fully, and bothered to make our communities better, wherever we may find ourselves.

Gavin Kinch is the Principal of ACS (International) in Singapore and is a member of the International Baccalaureate Heads Council.

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02/11/2024 - PTA
I love and appreciate the teacher's curiosity about the true status of the school. The opinion of the principal is also important. However, i wish that the school can work more on issues that made the surface understanding of the school much unclear to teachers. I might not have to dig deep to know that vanilla flavor ice cream is actually vanilla based on support explanations. It's possible to be holistic.