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UK international schools “major asset” in international strategy

International schools are in a unique position to foster intercultural learning and understanding, and the UK anticipates it schools sector will “grasp the opportunities that lie ahead” to expand globally, delegates heard at the 2021 Council of British International Schools conference.

About only nine in 100 15-year-olds can reliably distinguish fact from opinion in complex text. Photo: iStock

"When you look at the literacy skills of young people around the world and the principal industrialised countries... we've basically seen very, very little educational improvement"

Held digitally, attendees from the organisation’s 450+ member schools in some 80 countries welcomed the UK’s international education champion Steve Smith.

“You are genuinely world leading and an absolutely major asset for the UK’s global positioning,” he said.

“As we emerge from this crisis in the months and years to come, in government we are determined to help the UK schools sector grasp the opportunities that lie ahead.”

“There is of course already a particularly strong representation of UK schools in the Middle East, China and parts of South East Asia, and we think that there will be further opportunities, not only in these geographies, but also elsewhere,” he explained.

“Schools are the biggest player in transnational education, with £1.2bn of earnings compared to only £650m of earnings for universities”

As part of the International Education Strategy, Smith will initially focus on growth in India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia, and international schools will play a key role in the UK’s transnational education, he suggested.

“There will be additional countries added to that list and I shall also look to be playing a role in some countries where there is already a well-established UK education presence, but where it is crucial that we maintain and increase our engagement,” he said.

“I now expect transnational education to grow significantly in the next few years, and of course it was in that area I must confess, a surprise to me to learn that schools are the biggest player in TNE, with £1.2bn of earnings compared to only £650m of earnings for universities. For schools that represents growth in the TNE income between 2010-2018 of 106%.”

Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills at the OECD Andreas Schleicher highlighted challenges in the digital world “where education has a very, very important role to play”.

“Technology is great because it connects all of us… But at the very same time, also, it tends to connect us with people who think like us, who work like us, who look like us. In a way, it’s harder for young people to actually see that plurality and diversity in our society’s economy.”

While technologies such as smartphones, social media, artificial intelligence and big data has made “massive changes”, development in learning has stymied, he suggested.

“When you look at the literacy skills of young people around the world and the principal industrialised countries… we’ve basically seen very, very little educational improvement. More or less, the capacity of young people to access and manage, integrate, evaluate, reflect on information, is the same in 2018 as it was in the year 2000.”

About only nine in 100 15-year-olds can reliably distinguish fact from opinion in complex text, he said – a small increase from 7% who could do the same in 2000.

Schleicher also noted the strong aware of global issues among school aged children, but the sense of agency is “very limited”.

“For almost eight out of 10 young people, issues around the climate, the environment, have become personal,” he said, quoting PISA Global Competence statistics. But asked if students feel they can do something about it, numbers in agreement fell.

Nonetheless, international schools do present students with unique opportunities, he continued.

“Awareness is something that is easy to generate”

“COBIS schools are in the privileged position that diversity is just on their doors so that you don’t have to send students very far… [to] engage students in community activities.

“Those activities will be a powerful predictor… to shape not just the awareness, but ultimately also their competency, because, again, awareness is something that is easy to generate… But I think the bigger question is how do you get young people develop that sense of agency?”

Schleicher also suggested in some countries that “tend to have a kind of more inward looking nationalistic perspective”, data shows lower levels of global competency and often quite negative attitude among young people, students towards diversity in other cultures.

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