Saturday, June 03, 2006

Building Responsible Global Citizenship at JIS: By Osmosis or Design?

Last Tuesday, our outgoing Headmaster, Niall Nelson, led an interesting review of demographic trends at JIS over the past decade. So it seems timely to revisit the topic of diversity, last addressed by the blog on April 19th.

Charts and graphs highlighted the impact of economic and political instability on Jakarta’s expatriate community and JIS’ student body. As a result of the Southeast Asian financial crisis in 1997, Indonesia’s political crisis of 1998, and security concerns here over the last 5 years, Jakarta’s American population has shrunk as the number of Asian expatriates has grown. JIS’ student body has mirrored these trends in percentage terms. Furthermore, the number and percentage of Indonesians attending the school has increased significantly in part as a result of the government’s relaxation of entry requirements for nationals wishing to attend international schools.

Two issues, among others, surfaced in the discussion that followed the presentation.

1. Should admissions policies change as a result of these demographic trends?

2. Should educational policies change as a result of these demographic trends?

In my opinion, the answer to both questions is yes.

To avoid misunderstandings, I am unpacking some of my key assumptions and values up front.

  • Diversity strengthens and enriches any group or community. That’s why I feel privileged to be able to send my children to an intensely multicultural international school.
  • “Emotional intelligence” is a more reliable predictor of success in life than I.Q. (For an accessible review of the extensive literature supporting this theory, have a look at an article by Professor Cary Cherniss of Rutgers University.)
  • Our school is therefore wise to set goals for teaching non-cognitive abilities or “life skills” such as “Responsible Global Citizens” and 6 other “Essential Qualities for JIS Learners.”
  • Because their student populations represent so many nationalities, international schools have a potential comparative advantage in teaching global citizenship.
  • Another source of comparative advantage in promoting global citizenship, learning about the host culture is best accomplished by admitting students from the host country. Indonesian students are an indispensable part of the demographic mix at JIS. Of course, offering opportunities to study the language and culture is also important.
  • Demographic diversity alone will not produce optimal global citizenship outcomes in an international school setting.

The last assumption is supported by recent trends at JIS. As our Headmaster noted, the school is more diverse than ever before. Yet the ownership perception audit and forums revealed concern over “culture clashes” and “segregation” by nationality. Korean and Indonesian respondents worried that their children’s ability to master English could be compromised if current demographic trends continue. Other respondents voiced the opinion that community feeling at JIS is not as strong now as in the past.

Some of these concerns were echoed in the discussion following Tuesday’s presentation. I believe they are motivated not by prejudice, but by common sense and parents’ desire to secure the best possible education for their children. Rubbing shoulders with people of different nationalities every day is not enough to create responsible global citizens. Paradoxically, unity is necessary for appreciating and learning from diversity. In other words, administrators, teachers, parents, and students must feel a strong sense of allegiance to our international school community, which is defined by core values such as diversity, a global perspective, compassion, and empathy.

While espousing these values is a good start, it can be difficult to internalize them and even harder to put them into practice. Cultural and national identities are very powerful. It is human nature to prefer the ease of the familiar to the rigors of cross-cultural communication and learning.

That is why I believe JIS’ admissions policies should ensure demographic balances at school, campus, and classroom levels. Once the size of any national group crosses a certain threshold, insularity results. In turn, appreciation of diversity and the capacity to learn from it suffer.

Of course, insularity is a tendency across all national groups. However, Indonesian students may be at particular risk because JIS is – if you will – a tiny island of internationalism in an Indonesian sea. The school plays a less prominent role in the lives of local students and their parents because they have a stronger and more extensive network of family, professional, and community ties here.

Though JIS may not be at liberty to impose ceilings on enrollment of students from countries represented by its founding embassies or other “Category 1” applicants, I believe the school should develop an equitable quota system based on nationality for the two other categories of students identified in the current admissions policy. Grandfather clauses are also needed so that no students enrolled before quotas are imposed lose their places at the school.

Some might argue that ceilings or quotas are a rigid policy instrument that could threaten JIS’ survival. After all, the admission of proportionally more Asian and Indonesian students helped the school ride out the fiscal crisis it experienced in the late 90’s. To maintain a nimble posture in the event of economic or political instability, JIS should adopt a nimble admissions policy that allows modification or elimination of quotas under specified emergency conditions.

At the end of the day, however, astute admissions policies are not enough to protect our fragile island of internationalism. Significant demographic changes call for changes in educational policy. As I suggested in my posting of April 19th, the means currently in place for creating responsible global citizens may not be adequate to the task, particularly given demographic trends of the past decade. If so, JIS is not alone according to Bambi Betts, Director of the Principals’ Training Center for International School Leadership.

"To write the notion of global citizenship into our mission statements was the easy part. Many of our schools have been struggling for well over a decade to understand what it really means to be a global citizen, and how we actually produce such citizens from our schools. Check out the report cards in most of our schools....It is unlikely that you will see a holistic, analytical or any other approach to describing student progress toward this all important goal. Our lack of clarity regarding what it really means to be a global citizen naturally translates into very little when it comes to assessing same."

Betts suggests that the bulleted factors below prevent international schools from realizing their potential comparative advantage in teaching global citizenship.

  • Schools fail to identify the specific knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that would need to be taught on the pathway to becoming a global citizen.
  • Teachers and administrators may lack the skills that should be part of an effective global citizenship curriculum.
  • It will be a challenging task to develop assessment tools for measuring global citizenship in part because most schools are far more comfortable assessing content knowledge than attitudes and behavior.

Her conclusion is a fitting one for this posting.

"We have set ourselves a demanding, but clearly worthwhile and essential challenge by including global citizenship in our missions. We cannot rely on the fact that we have the word ‘international’ in our name, that we have X number of cultures and nationalities represented in our schools, or that we hold intercultural events to meet that challenge. These are simply some of the conditions that should make it easier and should allow us, the international schools, to be leading the thinking and practice in this vital undertaking."


At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quotas are the wrong solution. All of the baggage (key assumptions) you uploaded upfront does not take into account the unfortunate student that would be a high achiever at JIS if they were not denied admissions on a pre defined quota.

The grandfather clause will not help. On one hand you are recommending that JIS adopt a nimble and adaptable admissions policy, yet you recommending tying the hands of the decision makers with a policy that does not allow rapid change. The grandfather clause will not allow change, but will hamper it for many years in the future.

Furthermore, the following statement of “Once the size of any national group crosses a certain threshold, insularity results. In turn, appreciation of diversity and the capacity to learn from it suffer" is just a weak attempt to justify an overtly racist position. This position does not measure the academic record of the majority population. It just measures their race and makes flawed assumptions on those conditions.

I agree that educational policies can change to teach true globalization. However, issuing quotas is not the way to teach people to work together.

At 7:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JIS isn't alone in tackling diversity/ demographic issues. Check out this article ("Split Ruling on Affirmative Action") to see how the US Supreme Court and the University of Michigan have addressed the issue.

Demographics and diversity are topics that require a thoughtful, purposeful discussion. It shouldn't be left to chance.

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Catherine Quoyeser said...

Dear Anonymous #1,

We welcome all viewpoints on the blog. At the same time, we expect comments to be framed in a responsible way, particularly when they are made anonymously. Over the past few months of the blog's existence, we have worked very hard to create norms of fact- and issue-based discussion.

For a full response to your comments, have a look at my latest posting, "Raising the Rhetorical Bar: More on Diversity and Global Citizenship."

As I conclude there, "May the dialogue continue!"

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