From the Principal (Thursday Times, T4 W5, 2017)

16 November 2017

Dear parents,

In Week 3 I attended an International Baccalaureate Organisation Board meeting. In that meeting we found ourselves discussing how it is people now define themselves.

As an international organisation the IB is essentially defined as being beyond national boarders, offering an educational experience that is international. What does that mean? We think it means educating children to develop characteristics, attributes, skills and knowledge that transcend national boundaries and are useful for global engagement. An obvious one is the compulsory acquisition of an additional language to one’s own. A less obvious one is promoting “empathy”, where a student is encouraged to develop the capacity to place themselves in another’s shoes no matter their national, social, religious, economic or political context – acknowledging that others can be right.

The IB thinks that this approach helps to encourage mutually supportive and peaceful co-existence. While the IB is not the only programme that promotes a global perspective, it is the leading organisation offering a complete ELC-12 educational experience in this way. But, the reality is, in many places in the world, attitudes and activities are promoting different views. What happens when other views may ultimately reject what you believe to be true. Can you still face them open to the possibility that they may be right?

This is a great test for the organisation. It seemed easy, self-evident, to argue that nation-states are now fundamentally connected to one another in a way unparalleled in human history and therefore “global”. If that is true then being global in outlook is just a necessary by-product of what is actually happening, not anything more than that. But as we are seeing and experiencing in today’s world, the beneficence of global interaction is not necessarily equally well understood, believed and experienced. It can be a force for good or bad depending on how and in what way you are experiencing it.

So, we tried to reframe the argument. Rather than thinking about IB education through the filter of national versus international we began to consider the filter of complexity versus identity. This seemed to open our thinking more and offer the opportunity to engage with personal as well as collective experiences, and how those experiences interconnect and relate to the complex setting in which we find ourselves.      

It has been a neat idea that has exercised my thinking a lot since. Pembroke students are all fundamentally engaged in the complexity of the “fourth revolution”; they are also encouraged to have an identity. But what precisely constitutes an identity, now? It is a good question and one I would encourage thinking about. We have a role to help define identity. In some ways it is our most important role, but it is surprisingly difficult to do.

We had a terrific evening last Friday acknowledging the remarkable career of Ms Reid, Head of Senior School, Pembroke School. 22 years of excellent service is impressive, especially in such a challenging role. Ms Reid will leave the senior school in great shape and I again thank her for her contribution and now wish her well with all the family time, travel and many and varied activities she will take up next year.

All the best

Luke Thomson

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