Angeline Aow currently splits her time between working as a curriculum coordinator at Berlin International School and as an advisor at the Council of International Schools, a membership body for over 820 schools and 585 universities.
At CIS, Aow focuses on inclusion via diversity, equity and anti-racism, designing and delivering support materials to help schools become more inclusive. “We need to redesign schools so they are serving everybody,” Aow says.
But the appetite for change among school leaders is mixed.
“At the moment, it’s a little polarised,” she says. “So on one end, you see a lot of uptake and uptick and a lot of engagement. And on the other end, you see some resistance and denial or just complete lack of knowledge.
“That I think is largely because one cannot escape the fact that historically not a lot of people of colour or with marginalised identities – that have always been undervalued – hold positions of leadership in schools,” Aow adds.
This statement is backed up by recent research from CIS, which found that three times more men than women are heads of international schools, and leadership teams are overrepresented by white people from Western countries.
“Historically not a lot of people of colour or with marginalised identities hold positions of leadership in schools”
To help schools change at both staff and student level, Aow designs and delivers professional development programs, including inclusion foundation workshops.
These online sessions help schools to understand the basics. “If you want to enter and do this work, these are the big concepts that you need to consider and these are how you can get started,” Aow explains.
Safeguarding support is another element of this work. “In the past, I think safeguarding has had more of a reputation as being protection from sexual misconduct whereas actually forms of harm exist in multiple ways, including racism, homophobia, transphobia,” she says.
In 2022, Aow co-authored the book Becoming a Totally Inclusive School, and her work is gaining increasing recognition within the sector. She was named as a 2022 “edruptor” by ISC Research and as one of The PIE’s top 50 voices of 2023, Europe edition.
Aow’s commitment to international education and driving inclusivity stems in part from her own experience of education systems. She was born in Malaysia, before moving to Australia as a child. “I know what it’s like to be discriminated against and when a school system doesn’t serve you,” Aow says.
She later trained as a primary school teacher and was placed into Australia’s state education system. “I thought it was really the wrong time of my career to be somewhere where you would go and then stay in that school forever,” she says, explaining that she began to look for overseas postings.
Her first international position was at Nanjing International School in China, where she began to teach the International Baccalaureate primary years program.
“It was something that really matched my values and beliefs about teaching and learning,” she says, adding that this interest further shaped her career trajectory.
“Having a grounding in the International Baccalaureate curriculum, I’ve always worked and done teacher training on different topics, such as promoting international mindedness, which has elements of intercultural understanding embedded into it, promoting multilingualism as well as developing global citizenship,” she says.
“The work I’ve been doing there and consolidating over the years naturally led to more of a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.”
For Aow, redesigning the school system includes redefining our understanding of a successful graduate, which, for many, typically ends with a student enrolling in university.
“I believe that’s not the end path for everybody,” she says. Instead schools should aim to “foster active citizens who are going to be able to have the skills in order to live fulfilling lives”. This includes cultivating a mindset of valuing diversity and inclusivity – not instead of, but as well as having disciplinary knowledge.
“There is a German saying that you can be a knowledge giant but an implementation dwarf,” she says. “So someone who might be good at a pub quiz but someone who’s not going to be good to actually deal with the challenges that are presented to us in society today.
“The end goal is to try and cultivate ethical people who are going to contribute positively to the world.”