25 January, 2011

Last preparations before the start

In the run up to the start of the international class this year, we had a preparatory meeting today with a great number of lecturers who will be teaching part of the programme. It was good to share with each other who was going to teach what over the next 3 months. All in all, there will be around 30 staff members who have taken up the challenge to teach in English.
In the past months it was stimulating to see and hear that so many had responded positively to our appeal to give a few lessons to the coming group of international students. A group (by the way) that has steadily grown over the last few years. When the school of social work joined forces with the social of education a number of years ago, we started out with a small (but highly motivated) group of 7 or 8 students. Since then the numbers have only grown and grown and this year we are expecting around 30 students, although we're still not 100 % sure of the exact number of students turning up.
During this preparatory session we discussed a number of issues, among which: what to expect when teaching in an international classroom. As a teacher / lecturer you are a role model to the students, but students with different cultural backgrounds have had different role models in their respective countries where their teachers employed different styles of teaching. When students are used to one teaching style and their teacher uses a different one, the result can be confusion, dissatisfaction, or cause other problems. This preparatory meeting was also meant to develop awareness of different teaching styles and how they differ from one culture to another.
Generally speaking, many lecturers do not realise that the more casual and accessible approach of Dutch teachers in classroom sessions is completely different compared to the teaching styles in countries like Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Turkey, to name just a few.
For example, when students in their own home education system are primarily taught using a more authoritarian style they may be reluctant to participate in group or pair activities because of fear of making mistakes, or because of the unfamiliarity with the procedures. Students like most people feel uncomfortable with the unknown.
Into our international class will come students of differing cultural
backgrounds and academic histories, bringing with them certain experiences,
attitudes, expectations and preconceptions which constitute their own individual
cultural characteristics. It's then up to the teacher to make sure that the way things are done in the classroom are clearly introduced, explained and clarified when questions arise. It was Geert Hofstede who suggested that there are 2 possible strategies to cope with the perplexities of cross-cultural learning situations: 1. teach the teacher how to teach, and 2. teach the learner how to learn.
He proposed that the focus of the teacher's training should be on learning about his / her own culture: getting intellectually and emotionally accustomed to the fact that in other societies, people learn in different ways.
Here's the presentation I gave:

A few hours after the meeting I came across this webpage, succinctly stating a few common issues in international classrooms, a tip !

16 January, 2011

UNESCO schools, an outstanding initiative

Did you know: the UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network (ASPnet for short) was created over half a century ago? In 1953 to be precise. Convinced of the constant need to construct peace in the minds of men, women and children, a truly international network of schools was set up committed to converting the organization’s ideals into action through new and effective educational practices and approaches worldwide.
It is the largest network of public and private schools around the globe(representing some one million teachers and millions of students, from over 9000 educational institutions in 180 countries, all operating under the auspices of UNESCO and within the United Nations system. It is highly acclaimed by Member States and still expanding.
The ASPnet was set up to help deal with some of the pressing issues facing society and the world at large in the 20th Century. By building peace in the minds of children and young people, the network has kept pace with a constantly changing world and it remains futureoriented. Member institutions – ranging from pre-schools, primary, secondary and vocational schools to teacher training institutions at university level- work in support of international understanding, peace, intercultural dialogue, sustainable development and quality education in practice.
At the moment there are 20 UNESCO schools in the Netherlands and recently Europees Platform activated a specific subsite dedicated to explaining the idea and principles of UNESCO schools. Click here.

Exploring the unesco.org site a little further I came across this very practical toolkit, published by UNESCO, UNICEF and the Arigato Foundation: “Learning to Live Together: An Intercultural and Interfaith Program for Ethics Education”, a programme for educators to teach children about respecting and understanding diverse faiths, religions and ethical beliefs. It aims to help young people and children develop ethical decision-making skills and nurture a sense of belonging, community and values. Ultimately its aim is to shape attitudes for building peace through teaching tolerance and mutual understanding.
In the light of the Grundtvig project that we are participating in this was a welcome find! Another interesting and recent publication is: School Culture: UNESCO-schools towards a peaceful society, showing national and international school portraits around the issue: how can multi-ethnic schools develop a binding school culture? Inspiring examples of the way schools can tailor the UNESCO School profile to their own specific situations ! The idea of becoming a UNESCO school is definitely worth exploring further.