All schools should be working on an international dimension by 2012, and working towards the DCSF International School Award. Fiona Taylor discusses the merits of the Teachers’ International Professional Development programme

The government is expecting all schools to begin work on an international dimension. By 2012 (the deadline has been moved from 2010) all schools should be working with an international partner and working towards the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) International School Award.

Recommended resource: Check out our fantastic new book for international schools, International Mindedness: a whole-school development programme (published 2009)

Children live in an increasingly connected world, with an ever-moving and fast-changing economic and political situation, and it is our responsibility as teachers to allow them to develop global awareness, become aware of their place in the world, and begin to see the many international connections that are part of all of our lives. Where are their clothes made? Who makes them? Where does their food come from? How does it get to their plates? These are just a few questions that children may come up with, once an international dimension has been introduced to them. A presentation I saw from a teacher in a school with very strong links to several countries talked of a Y1 child, who had initially asked Zambian visitors the typical questions – eg Do you live in a mud hut? However, on a second visit, he had developed his understanding and, instead, asked, ‘Have you met Nelson Mandela?’ The great thing was that this teacher actually had!

An embedded international dimension also ‘recognises and values diversity’, a key aim of the 2004 DfES Schools’ Race Equality Policies: From Issues to Outcomes. It was also this publication which decreed that schools must monitor and report racist incidents to their LA. Another teacher I spoke to was amazed by the power of having Ghanaian students to visit the predominantly white working-class secondary where he works. He felt you could almost physically feel barriers breaking down as they chatted and got to know one another – a link that culminated in a joint production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, African drumming and all. It would be very interesting to investigate if racist incidents were notably lower in those schools with an established international link that pervades the curriculum and whole-school ethos.

Personal links
Following up on a Teachers’ International Development Programme (TIPD) visit made by a member of staff is one way of facilitating such a link and the way our school intends to move forward with this agenda. It has the advantages of personal links already established, and an initial visit to the school already having been made. This is a particular advantage if you are trying to make a link with a school in the developing word, where the logistics of communication will be an additional challenge. Just as an illustration, we saw only one school with computing facilities in Zambia and this was by virtue of extensive UK links. Knowing about the system and school you are trying to link in with can only be an advantage.

Zambia’s challenges
Zambian education’s biggest challenge was the 2002 move to provide free primary education for all children, and working towards universal primary completion by 2015 (one of the millennium development goals). This is not going to be an easy task, as half of Zambia’s population of 10m is aged under 18, and a tenth of it orphaned children. Most of the school visits we carried out included a visit to the headteacher’s office, which was usually papered with large handwritten sheets of information pertaining to the composition and running of the school. (One memorable list of equipment in the head’s office contained the item ‘two sharpeners’, which served to bring home the lack of basic resources, and left you wondering about our appreciation of what we can, all too easily, take for granted.)

The office of Mulwani (meaning ‘fighter’ in Chitongan) Basic School was no exception. They had 2,689 children on roll, of which 1,069 were listed as either ‘orphans’ or ‘vulnerable’ (151 had lost both parents, and some of these lived in ‘child-headed’ households). This was the highest level in the district, reflecting the level of difficulties in the area the school served. But desire to help these children is high. My colleague met a teacher who donated heavily to a home for orphaned children, and lived there helping to care for them, while also teaching full-time. Dedication, well beyond the call of duty, was obvious at every turn.

One quick way to improve education is to employ more teachers, and Zambia has begun to do this, though it also relies heavily on efficiency methods, such as operating shifts in schools and increasing classroom sizes to maximise the number of pupils that can attend. Global Education’s Campaign for Education report of 2005 comments that this type of ‘efficiency’ needs to be limited if confidence in, and desire for, education is to be maintained. From what we saw, it certainly has. The children were absolutely committed to their own learning, and had great ambitions for their own futures. One boy of 12 expressed a great desire to become a doctor and return to help his community.

Of course, in an education system with so many challenges, there are also significant problems. With class sizes up to 50, some children are simply put to one side. If they choose to opt out of the learning, or struggle to access it, they can be left to struggle alone, while the teacher concentrates on those who can and do – a terrible choice for a teacher to have to make. However, we did see some specialist provision (in this case for deaf children) in one school, and were told of other units for children with different types of difficulties.

Classes routinely behaved impeccably. A few instances of disruption were minimised, as other children did not engage with the perpetrator. A class of 50 14-year-old-boys had no problems sharing very limited resources to carry out different tie-dye patterns on small bundles of material. (However, it should be noted that it is likely that corporal punishment is routinely used.)

There has also been significant controversy over teacher recruitment and pay, with wage freezes and unemployment affecting the profession. Recruiting teachers to live and work in rural areas is also a significant challenge and can cost extra when housing needs to be provided as an additional incentive to fill the post. One school we visited was in the process of building teacher housing using labour from the community it served to carry out the building, so determined was it to attract and retain good staff.

Zambian education is still heavily reliant on overseas aid to help fund its educational growth. The very first school I visited was started with help from UNICEF, and received food to ensure the children ate every day (and could take some home) from CARE International. They additionally grew maize on the school field, but had run out of fertiliser. On the day we visited there was no food left, but there was a view of the spray from Victoria Falls, a world-renowned tourist spot. The contrast definitely hit home.

Capacity for the future
Building up the capacity to lead the change and expansion of education in Zambia is another challenge. School leaders are not recruited on a western model. Instead, possible leaders are selected by the district, with input from current leaders, and then approached. It is not part of the culture to be confident and push yourself forward for a post, yet this is what Zambia badly needs in many areas – confident leaders with an entrepreneurial spirit. (Part of our trip included a plan to make formal links between the Livingstone District and Wiltshire – it is hoped a joint school leadership programme will be run, drawing on expertise in both countries.)

It was very interesting that, by the middle of the week away, many of us were asking the questions: What are Zambia’s children being educated for? Will there be the opportunities there for them when they leave the education system? This led to an interesting conversation with the deputy British high commissioner back in the capital at the end of the week. She expressed similar feelings that Zambia will need some enterprising people to keep going with this move forward, brought about by universal primary education. On our drive from Lusaka to Livingstone, we saw men filling in potholes in the road in the hope they would be paid for doing so by the passing motorists. This type of work is unlikely to be acceptable to an educated and ambitious young Zambian.

This was not the only way that people made money on this main road. We stopped several times, on route back to Lusaka, to enable our guide and driver to do some shopping. At one point there was a line of about 20 hand-made wooden stools displayed at the side of the road, of which Ackim picked two. On arrival, back in the capital, the boot contained a range of vegetables and two live guinea fowl, destined for the dinner table!

The International School Award
Now we are back, it is our responsibility to ensure we put this incredible experience to good use. So far, we have sent out letters to several schools we visited to suggest a link, held a staff meeting to introduce the international agenda, planned a term’s work around the trip, introduced Zambian music to the whole school and obtained the Foundation International School Award.

The Foundation Award is simply the first step, and only requires that a school has some aspects of internationalism in its curriculum, and is keen to develop this further at a whole-school level. It is advisable, at this stage, to appoint an international school coordinator, and begin to consider what your international policy might contain. See globalgateway for further information.

The Intermediate Award is intended for schools who have begun to integrate the international agenda and have made contact with at least one international school, while the full award is a much bigger undertaking, and includes a plan of activities over the year to promote the international agenda. Gaining the award is then contingent on a portfolio documenting these events being submitted.

The first two steps are available all year round, while there is a yearly deadline for the full award (full details of the award are available at globalgateway).

While local authorities differ in their approach to internationalism, many will have an officer assigned to the role. They can help with practical resources for teaching, Inset days, CPD, support for school linking and information on other international links. Find out who this is in your area, along with other useful contacts, see the globalgateway listings page.

The full award would also be supported by teachers taking TIPD trips – and what better way to motivate staff towards this agenda? One teacher I met had visited and forged strong links with Zambia, the US and Norway. Wiltshire has built formal links with Zambia, China and Spain. There’s no time like the present, so what are you waiting for?

Fiona Taylor has just been promoted to a deputy headship in Wiltshire