Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A strategy of international engagement for schools

Can young Muslims succeed in the French education system?
Student A can answer this because he stayed with a Muslim boy and his family in Paris in October 2010.
Does Romania provide for its socially-disadvantaged young?
Student B can answer because she has been part of one of a group of students who have spent a week at an orphanage near Bucharest helping local workers care for children and improve their facilities.
Does education in London offer opportunities across a multi-cultural spectrum?
Student C can answer this  because students from Bethnal Green have stayed in her home twice over the last four years……..
A well developed school strategy offers genuine experiences of international engagement by exploring the issue in three strands: institutional links and curriculum extension, where  intercultural dialogue is the common factor, and working in two directions: students travelling with teachers and students hosting visiting students.
. Institutional links

The strategy on institutional links can be divided into two groups: engagements with established partnerships, eg. Your town’s twinning arrangement, and with other institutions, eg. Comenius or Youth In Action projects.e

Here is the understanding behind the town twinning arrangement within the European Union:

Twinning towns for unity

Town twinning has long been an important mechanism for developing active European citizenship and a sense of shared identity. That is the reason why the new Europe for Citizens programme gives it a prominent position, expands its forms and activities, and allows it to develop its potential.
The modern idea of town twinning in Europe was born as a grassroots initiative in the aftermath of World War II to heal the wounds of that traumatic conflict. It is one of the most visible and lasting ways of bringing people from different countries together under the European banner, which is why the EU has been supporting it since 1989.
Today, thousands of twinning links in Europe create a powerful and robust network of citizens who are playing an important role in constructing an ever-closer Union. Twining promotes mutual understanding, and is a conduit for cultural exchanges across the social spectrum. EU support for town twinning injects a structuring effect and strengthens the strategic direction, as well as the European content, of such activities.
One major advantage of town twinning is that it involves large numbers of citizens directly, driving home the benefits of EU integration at the local level and helping citizens from different Member States to create a strong feeling of belonging and of a common European identity.

Weaving future webs

Action 1 supports citizens’ meetings in the context of town twinning. EU-funded gatherings share three common features: they show a commitment to EU integration; they build friendships in Europe; and they promote active participation.
One major town twinning innovation in the 2007-2013 programme is the idea of networking. Towns co-operate with their own twinning partners, as well as with the partners of their partners. This can help them explore a particular topic or theme, to share resources or interests, to gain influence or to face common challenges.
Support for networking will help them take full advantage of this synergy. In this context, Action 1 supports thematic conferences and workshops involving at least three towns. These should serve as milestones for networking and should encourage the development of long-lasting, dynamic, multifaceted co-operation between twinned towns.


Here are the priorities identified by the European Union, and addressed through the Comenius Programme:
The programme is currently focusing in particular on:
·         Motivation for learning and learning-to-learn skills;
·         Key competences: improving language learning; greater literacy; making science more attractive; supporting entrepreneurship; and reinforcing creativity and innovation;
·         Digital educational content and services; 
·         School management; 
·         Addressing socio-economic disadvantages and reducing early school leaving; 
·         Participation in sports; 
·         Teaching diverse groups of pupils; 
·         Early and pre-primary learning.

I was fortunate to be involved in a Comenius project, even though it did not run the full three years as planned. My students were able to collaborate with contemporaries from Iceland and from the UK, and spent a few days in London, culminating in a performance at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. You can read about this experience in an earlier post Music is Our Language

And here are the priorities to be met in Youth In Action projects: 
A key goal of the programme is to raise awareness in young people that they are citizens of Europe, as well as citizens of their own countries. The aim is to get youth actively involved in shaping the future of the European Union. Projects will have to show a strong European dimension if they are to receive programme backing.
Participation of young people: Youth in Action promotes and supports young people’s involvement in democratic life, spurring them on to be active citizens who care about their communities and understand the value of representative democracy.
Cultural diversity: Respect for people’s cultural origins is at the heart of the Youth in Action programme, as is the desire to fight against racism and xenophobia – forces that undermine European values and people’s solidarity.
Inclusion: The focus is on ensuring that young people with fewer opportunities get access to the Youth in Action programme, as well as on encouraging projects with a thematic focus on inclusion.
Annual priorities: In addition to these permanent priorities, each year the focus is also placed on specific annual priorities.

Additionally, when students  engage with institutions in an international context schools should attempt to facilitate personal encounters with leading figures and decision makers so that students become familiar with the physical environments of such organisations, and understand how these institutions function. Examples of such institutions can range from a municipal authority in a European twinned town to the European Parliament.
An additional dimension to the engagement of students with twinned towns and with other institutions, is that the  strategy contributes to increasing your school’s impact:
 in the home community your school becomes known as a school on the move; in the receiving community your school becomes known as a school from somewhere.

Curriculum extension

A truly global education requires first- hand experience of the places and peoples being studied, and communication in a foreign language is best practised in the foreign country.
School strategy can include students in international travel to provide curriculum extension opportunities in these areas of the curriculum and many more.

Hosting visiting students

An international strategy for student international engagement will address the need to make provision for those students who are not able to travel outside their own country, whether it be due to parental choice or due to physical or financial limitations. The strategy involves bringing as much of the world as possible to the school, hosting groups as occasional day visitors, or involving students as hosts of foreign guests in their homes without a commitment to a return visit.
There are school groups from many countries looking for hosts, and contacts with local, regional or national education administration will be the safest way to achieve this.   
Welcoming performing arts groups is an obvious example, and there are numerous high quality ensembles, especially from high schools in the USA, following their tradition of long-distance travel, who are very happy to come and perform for your students, and stay a day or longer. Locate reputable travel companies who work in this field and make your school known as a host venue.

The digital world 2.0

Of course, even without travelling with teachers and  without welcoming students into their homes, our students can link up effectively and meaningfully with their colleagues around the world. Yes, they might have to sacrifice a couple f hours sleep and get to school extra early to match waking hours in different time zones, but undoubtedly, quality connections can be made and maintained. In the end, though, in spite of Dr. Adams’ enthusiasm for digital connections, I am convinced that personal encounters are the key to real understanding between persons of different nationalities, and the true hope for intercultural dialogue.
Dr. J. Michael Adams, of Fairleigh Dickinson University in the USA, says:
Our students are ready for a global education. The pollster John Zogby has described this age group as "First Globals," and he concludes they are "the most outward-looking and accepting generation in American history" who bring a "consistently global perspective to everything... More than any generation, they see themselves as citizens of the planet, not of any nation in particular."
They have crossed the gateway to the global century. Through the Internet and social networking, they interact with people everywhere. They are tolerant and appreciate differences, and they want to build bridges across the diversity of world ideas, people, cultures and nations.

Finally...plan ahead to take part with your students in the International Education Week organised by the US government. Dates are already set for 2011 and 2012:
International Education Week is an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. This joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education is part of our efforts to promote programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences in the United States.

We encourage the participation of all individuals and institutions interested in international education and exchange activities, including schools, colleges and universities, embassies, international organizations, businesses, associations, and community organizations.
The dates for IEW 2011 are November 14th - 18th.
The dates for IEW 2012 are November 12th - 16th.

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