Published on 20/05/13
A quick look around Cambridge leads to the very obvious conclusion that we live in a multi-cultural city. However, what does it mean to incorporate this into a school? More particularly, what does it mean to our staff, students and parents to have a ‘global outlook’? This newsletter takes a journey through our school from pre-prep to the 6th form and has words from students, staff, parents and visitors to the school concerning what this means to them.
Traduttore traditore (traditional Italian phrase) – you are a traitor for translating“
Have you ever tried Google Translate? If you haven’t, I suggest a small challenge – choose a colloquial phrase and let Google translate it into a language that you have some familiarity with. Then translate it back again. Does it work? You’re lucky if it does! This is exactly what we ask our students to do in the senior school so that they get an idea that a language is more than a pile of vocabulary and grammar. Language learning is an adventure, where taking risks and trying out new phrases are to be done at your peril. The jungle of language learning is full of booby traps – if you’re not careful you may end up saying you’re pregnant rather than full in French or that you’ve eaten a kitchen rather than a cake in German.
When we translate it is very hard to keep the full meaning, even if the translation happens to be accurate. Claudia Freeman, Head of Modern Languages comments, “To have a global outlook is to have an open mind – an awareness of nuance and culture as well as vocabulary. German people tend to be very direct – look at their language though – it’s direct “Ich bekomme ein Tuch” – “I get a towel”. The amazing compound nouns convey this precision too – there is a word for everything! Zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl – the feeling of belonging together is my favourite.” By understanding the language, you understand more of the person communicating the language. A foreign exchange is one of the wonderful opportunities afforded to our students in their senior years in the school. Take Anna Dutka’s (L6) work experience in Germany – she had to adapt to the cultural expectations as well as the language needs of working in a nursery school. The flexibility of thought and adaptability of mind that this required is probably one of the most important lessons any student can learn. To work and live outside your comfort zone is always going to be a challenge, but this is great preparation for the world ahead.
To have a Global Outlook is to have some degree of knowledge and acceptance of other cultures and, perhaps more importantly, an appreciation of the impact of your own actions.“
Some of our staff
Vesna Kadelburg and Paul Fannon, both from our maths department (also husband and wife) were recently invited to give a lecture at the Turkish conference of the International Baccalaureate in Istanbul. Paul says, “It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut. We are all a product of our own society. As a maths teacher the most powerful influence on the way I think is my own experience but this is such a small view on the world.”
Paul gives a fascinating example using Cartesian coordinates (as would be taught in the senior school). “The Cartesian plane is a European view. Everything is expressed mathematically in relation to me. The Maoris in New Zealand, would find this both horrific and inexplicable. In their culture, everything must be seen and expressed in relation to you as well as me – they would not dream of being so self-centred.” I asked him, “What has this got to do with being a better mathematician?”. Paul was swift to reply, “To be original you need to be able to get out of your comfort zone – that’s true creativity. Students need to be shown that there is disagreement. If everything is presented as agreed then how can there be advance?”.
I think there’s something of a sense of open-mindedness/being able to appreciate different people’s point of view. In some cases, it’s understanding that one way of doing things (e.g. our way) is not necessarily the best for everyone.“
Damian Henderson is our IB Coordinator as well as Head of French (although also fluent in Russian). A quick chat to him leaves no illusion of the place for a globally engaging education. “A sufficiently broad education is vital for the 21st century. Of course, GCSE provides this, especially when combined with other creative and enrichment options. But you can see the value of breadth for many (if not quite all) students in the 6th form. The likely restriction to only three A Levels in many schools (not ours!) for both 6th form years is simply not good enough – it might have been okay in 1985 but in 2013, no way.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/secondaryeducation/10051657/State-school-pupils-facing-A-level-cap.html)
Our pre-preps are leading the way with some wonderful initiatives with language learning, drawing on the resources of the children themselves. With over 30% of our junior and pre-prep children speaking a different language either all or part of the time with one of their parents, it is the most natural thing in the world to use this in class. Pre-prep have begun to teach each other and staff how to say basic phrases in their own languages. Next term this will be expanded so Madingley pre-prep will be Skype teaching the City pre-prep children – it may not be far but when you are only 4 years old that’s quite far enough to get the idea across.
In the junior school, it is impressive to see pupils in year 6 choosing and researching an international charity, partly with the aim of understanding how this particular organisation tries to interact with the global community. It’s a long way away from a text-book study of a randomly chosen country – St Lucia or Brazil was always the geography teachers’ favourite 10 or 20 years ago – for no other reason than a handy series had been produced on them. With the world at our finger-tips and with Commander Chris Hadfield reports from the International Space Station, the boundaries have certainly shifted. The junior school prefers to learn about other places on a topic approach – for example through climate or through the study of ecosystems. Year 4 have a ‘money week’ when the curriculum is collapsed to examine a range of issues such as the meaning of fair trade and well-being and how people in different countries relate to this. Year 3 give impromptu ‘soapbox talks’ on issues that concern them and the world – real global outlook and awareness from 8 year olds.
Meanwhile, the Kenya expedition group from the 6th form had a big impact when they delivered their assembly to the juniors.
6th form students wrote on their return, “Our time in Kenya will be valued by us all throughout our lives. We are honoured to have been able to be part of a such a wonderful community, and to see that life can have different priorities to those that we are used to. It was also a reminder of how education can transform lives, and determines the quality of a life for a family.”
global outlook is becoming more interconnected internationally through acquaintances with people from different countries. This encourages advancing knowledge of a country’s culture, as well as furthering understanding of the linguistic elements in question.“
It’s something that our Comenius Project students and staff share (we have recently been designated a ‘gold’ standard provider). Dr Christine Mullen has led our project for several years. “It’s all about Empathy. Challenging assumptions and realising how different people see the same issues. It’s only then we can really think critically.” The project partners schools across the European Union to run joint projects – our latest produced the amazing Virgem Shake.
The next is being planned and will examine images of power and the power of images in a project that connects Roman emperors through to 20th century Italy. It was no coincidence that Mussolini chose to create an exhibition all about the Emperor Augustus! Other iconic images are recreated today. more on Comenius in our news online.
Students from across Europe – Finland, Belgium, Italy, Germany etc. all bring different perspectives to the table. The discussion that results is on a completely different level from that which would be achieved with UK students alone. There’s an appreciation – an understanding, as well as an element of risk that is involved when crossing cultural barriers.
Meanwhile, Helen Stringer (Vice-Principal) is preparing a Global Outlook course for year 8. If you are wondering what might link Balinese puppetry with naked long-jumping, year 8 will discover more in September.
view from a parent
Stephen McGann, actor (you may know him best from ‘Call the Midwife’) and scientist, has written a piece for us. His son will be joining our 6th form in September.
Here’s a fun way I like to look at the concept of a global outlook in education. The following is a very famous image beloved of science philosophers and constructivists – the duck-rabbit (http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Rabbit-DuckIllusion.html)
The fixed image clearly contains information. But what does it signify? A duck, or a rabbit? In fact, if one gazes long enough, the image can switch between the two! Yet the image stays the same. The information on the page does not change. The data is constant. But our perception of the data alters according to our own subjective cognition. Then consider this. How would, say, an Inuit hunter respond to the image if they’d never seen a duck – only rabbits? Or neither? What would the data be worth to them then? Would it still be data in any meaningful sense? Again, the data hasn’t changed. But our understanding of that data is value-laden, local, subjective, culturally specific. So what – in a global sense – does the above symbol teach? Perhaps it teaches that there is no single ‘global sense’ to knowledge.
That the most global outlook one can have in education is to embrace the myriad ways that one can look at the same thing – and respond to learning in a spirit of curiosity, openness and self-examination. Simply translating or transmitting assumed universal knowledge does not get to the subjective heart of culturally-situated meanings.
This, for me, is what a global outlook means in education. To see beyond narrow, culturally-specific – or even subject-specific – interpretations of ‘fact’ or worldview, and to explore the multiple, fascinating ways that knowledge can be combined, comprehended and applied in our world. Global outlook in education is not a question of geography, or language. It is a questioning of perception.
We are developing a relationship with an IB school in Oulu, Finland – right near to the Arctic Circle. Our Finnish friends came to visit us for the second time in April and we took part in some activities together and shared our experiences of education – integral to the Theory of Knowledge course, taken by everyone in the 6th form. We discussed the understanding (or lack of it) that the British students had of Finland and its culture and vice versa.
One of the Finnish students, Alex, wrote afterwards: “During the master class we accepted the fact that our personalities, fundamentals and life experiences were quite different from one another, and that most people would think that the stereotypical societal stigmas attached to being either Finnish or British would limit our capabilities of working together. To be honest even I thought that the task of forcing such different groups of students to work together was a task that would fail to meet its expectations. I was, however, wrong. As it turned out the contrasts of our two cultures created a harmonious, fully-functional and mutually-beneficial companionship where we proved that accepting our differences would ultimately showcase our similarities.”
This is why having a global outlook is so fundamental to our school – I hope that whether you have first-hand experience of the pre-prep, junior, senior or 6th form you are able to recognise a little of what is included here.