Why Global Britain, Education & Europe will continue to connect Young People in the 2020s. The Freedom to travel, study, work, live and retire will remain an inalienable Human Right for the 21st Century.
“One of the most powerful things…having an education in a different country opens your eyes, not only to the World and the country you study in it gives you a perspective on your own country as well”
Sir Ciaran Devane, CEO of the British Council speaking recently to a House of Lords inquiry.
I have been quietly grateful for the burst of winter sunshine that has greeted the Wyedean School community this morning back after the Christmas break ready for 2019 and the new academic term ahead. It’s always a good sign, and one of the best moments of the job, when students return after any break smiling, saying hello and looking eager to start a new term. The contrast in weather here in the UK with my colleagues in Siberia, was made clear to me when I looked at photos sent over the break showing temperatures in Tomsk down to minus 34c and the River Ob completely frozen over with thick ice. I was cheekily asked a few times by returning students though “any chance of a snow day this term Sir?” I seemed to recall that students were only sent home in Tomsk when the temperatures fell below minus 30c. I think the last time the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley experienced those temperatures were back in the Ice Age. My mind went back to Siberia over the break, and the first time I took A Level and IB students from my then school in Bristol to work with schools in Russia back in the early part of the Millennium as part of an Anglo-Russian British Council Connecting Classrooms project. It was during July/August though and I couldn’t get over how hot Moscow was and how stifling the heat was in landlocked Siberia at the height of summer. Those then A Level and IB students organised activities such as English language summer schools for local children as well as working with summer camps where the cricket was a surprise hit with Siberian school children. But then so was the Russian bat and ball game lapta with our students. First known in the C14th predating the MCC a little. When we returned via Heathrow airport the HSBC bank had launched an advertising poster campaign aimed at promoting the idea that it was the “World’s local bank”. What worked particularly well was the use of contrasting the same image/value and how that could be interpreted very differently around the globe depending on the culture and the country. For example one poster showed three images of a cow and on each one it either said “leather”, “deity” or “dinner”. Another poster showed three images of a very shaven male head with either the word “style”, “soldier” or “survivor”. One of my favourites was two sets of photos showing a man with a suit and tie and one wearing jeans. Both had the words “leader” and “follower” across the images. It was a very thought provoking idea and HSBC were very kind to donate a set of these posters to support global learning education when I established the South Gloucestershire International Education Centre. At the start of this year HSBC launched a new ad campaign “Together we Thrive”, with what some, according to which comments thread you read on social media, believe is either a clever social awareness message or a very overt political one adding to a very divisive climate already:
“We are not an island. We are a Colombian coffee drinking, American movie watching, Swedish flat pack assembling, Korean tablet tapping, Belgian striker supporting, Dutch cheers-ing, Tikka Masala eating, wonderful little lump of land in the middle of the sea. We are part of something far, far bigger.”
Probably useful at this point of the blog to make a couple of things clear. This is not a pro or anti Brexit piece. This is also not a political blog. I am a public servant, tax payer funded educator. The motivation to comment about what we are potentially losing in education and from the experience of young people as the UK moves forward to whatever future it has in the 2020s is far more important than any of these things. I have made the point over the last three years in my blog that too often debates are presented in a false binary zero sum way and from an educational and critical thinking point of view this is not how dialogue develops and we live in a World where people seem far too concerned about being disagreeable than actually just disagreeing. It is actually dreadful to witness so many of the “debates” around key issues that will impact their lives conducted often in such narrow, nasty and violent terms. Hardly a shining example for young people.
What I found encouraging in the sentiment of the HSBC ad as well as every time the Prime Minister, or anyone, or any organisation similar talks about “Global Britain” is that it reminds me that we are not, and have never been insular islands cut off from the World. In a globalised 21st century where the very imminent and real World issues ranging from climate change, to refugees, to poverty impact all countries and citizens “we are all very much part of something bigger”. It is this sense of global perspective that we have to recapture and re-enforce in our educational ethos and culture as we approach the 2020s whatever the confines of the current political debate. The UK will need Europe and the wider World and vice versa. There is an almost inexhaustible list of positive contributions this wonderful lump of land in the sea has made to science, music, art, literature, technology, the international order framework and so on. Now is not the time to allow a small minority to control the debate of the outward facing country and education debate confining it to a false binary choice between two extremist points. Back in May as I stood in the main foyer of the hotel adjoining the O2 arena in London waiting to speak to a COBIS international audience about Wyedean’s approach to education as an “outward facing school”, I noticed the old West India dock hidden amongst the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. The history student in me thought about the global links, people, trade and influences that have been coming in and out of the British Isles and old docks like this one for so many centuries. Ironic that modern global capitalism is now juxtaposed against Victorian mercantile trade on this stretch of the Thames in East London as a natural progression.
I believe we are at a crucial moment in 2019 where we are in real danger of losing the freedoms of movement to our continent that previous generations have enjoyed and seen as a normal part of their globalised World. It makes me feel very uncomfortable and saddened at the potential driving aspirations and opportunities lost as a global educator, and someone who has seen daily and regularly for nearly 25 years of being a teacher the transformative power on young people of international education. Whatever is decided now will not last forever and is at best a pyrrhic victory. The case for allowing people the reciprocal freedoms to travel, study, work, live and retire is an overwhelming one and for the younger generations this is not something they want to lose. When they hold the reins of power, as we are seeing the shifts now in other democracies like the new House of Representatives in the USA, these rights and freedoms will come back to the fore as the overwhelming moral, political and social case is allowed to stand in its own truth. In our schools and education daily the positive global influence in learning is ever prevalent and is transforming the aspirations and realising the hopes of young people. Technology itself has transformed our ability to connect deeper and celebrate and reaffirm what we are proud of in our own local identity as well as learn and gain new ideas from the rest of the World. Our nearest neighbours and friends in Europe are central in this experience and putting the political aspect of the EU aside, we need the media and politicians to move on from the demonising language and toxic debate that has blighted the last few years so we can continue to forge our close partnerships through innovative and incredible schemes like Erasmus and networks like ETwinning. This is not in a binary polarised position to being engaged with say the Commonwealth or the rest of the World. They complement and enhance one another. Globalisation has brought many problems which we need to solve but it has also brought many benefits not least to education, peace and prosperity. As I told American colleagues before Christmas, I am very proud to be a “globalist” educator. Young people don’t fear the future. The future is where they will realise their dreams.
I want to conclude with two examples which illustrate the power of our connected continent and World coupled with the freedom to move around it, to experience it, to learn from it and to have the wisdom to know it. From my own adopted city of Bristol, the city that sent Cabot on a voyage of discovery to Newfoundland in 1497, where the name Colston still reminds the inhabitants of the less than glorious chapter of its history through the central role of the slave trade, the city of Edmund Burke, the Frys and Airbus and Rolls Royce where an Anglo-French collaboration designed one of the greatest planes of all time. An example below of how a diverse modern Bristol is moving forward.
Please click HERE to read the article “Essex Uni Lecturer to swim the channel to help Syrian refugees”
“People come, start their life and they make a contribution – both to the economy and to the civic life of the city … Having an international population in a city gives you phenomenal connectivity” – Mayor Marvin Rees of Bristol, UK
On a much more personal level is the example of one of my former IB students who took advantage of the ability to move around her Europe and came to Bristol to study an international qualification from the Czech Republic. At Christmas Sasha asked me to help verify her residence in the UK like millions of our students, colleagues, friends, family and neighbours are facing in these uncertain last few months before the 29th March. Sasha went to university in the UK, pays her taxes, worked for local charities and has made a very successful career in a blue chip financial services company. Sasha embodies the aspirations and opportunities we should be continuing to give to all of our young people. All of our people. I forwarded on to Sasha the link to the original BBC online (please click HERE) article about the movement of young people coming to Bristol to study the IB and it makes me proud to read but at the same time sad at what we are potentially losing:
I will be telling colleagues and students of Moldova, who I am very fortunate to be visiting in Chisinau and Heritage International School later on in January, the very essence of why it important for them to be proud of Moldova but also to be outward facing embracing the deeper connectivity of their education to a global World. Similarly to the senior school leaders I will be working with in Tunisia, in February for the British Council as we look to work together on common issues and share experiences in our education systems. There is far too much at stake, and we have got used to the fact by now that nowhere in our shared World and common humanity is just a lump of rock in the middle of nowhere.
“We’re going to win not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!” Rose Tico, Star Wars VIII