A visit to China: Taking Educational and Cultural Exchanges to the next level

Tomorrow I am headed for a week to China, first to Shanghai and then to Beijing, to participate in the annual conference of the World Leading Schools Association. I feel very privileged to be able to attend – partly because it is my first visit to China, and partly because it is always a privilege to be able to discuss with fellow educators how we can push the boundaries of what we currently do in schools in order to give our young people an even better springboard to leading a great life.

I shall be speaking as part of a panel on ‘Taking Educational and Cultural Exchanges to the next level’; school exchanges (whether as part of a group, or more individual) bring with them enormous benefits, and we need to discuss, together, how to develop them further. Every child who has ever been on an exchange will testify to these benefits: a greater understanding of self, of others and of a different culture; and a greater appreciation of self, of others, and of a different culture. Going abroad, living with others for an extended period of time, and immersing oneself in how other people do things, all add a real and deep diversity to life.

Why, though, are these experiences so important? My understanding of the world as an educator has two key elements: first, schools have a responsibility to educate about the world. Schools are designated by society as the place where our children learn about others and the world; they are there to impart the values of our society too: about being part of a whole, not just an individual. Secondly, this is a changing world, connected in ways that were not possible even a decade ago. Travel is easier than ever before. The possibilities for our young people to be able to connect and learn from one another are numerous. We – and they, especially – need to learn that this is a world of diversity – a world of many and varied cultures. So … it is important that we bring these together. Young people need to see and understand the world beyond their own four walls, their own towns, cities and nations. They need to meet other people, and understand from the inside what it means to be part of another culture. They need to walk in someone else’s shoes.

There is an enormous amount of injustice and inequality in the world. There is an enormous amount of poverty too. We have limited physical resources as a world, but this is compensated for by our unlimited capacity as a human race to think creatively in order to solve the problems of the world – the conflict, the disease, the cruelties and unkindnesses. All this is much more likely to happen if we can work effectively together, and this starts with understanding others. It is incredibly important for schools to ensure that our students have this opportunity, and that they are able as a result to help change the world for the better.

Long live the educational and cultural exchange.


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