I have had a whirlwind few weeks, with a distinctly global focus. In the second week of March I attended the British Schools of the Middle East conference, where Heads of British schools gathered to hear Professor Yong Zhao remind us that in a marvellously connected world, where we can reach anyone we want, then young people can truly be whoever they are, and can (and should) develop their passions, because someone, somewhere, will want what they can do.
Then – after a brief venture back in London where I was amazingly fortunate to be invited to the astonishing last night performance of Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Opera House, which made my spirits soar – I travelled to Hong Kong for a curriculum summit of the new Dalton School Hong Kong, a deliberately child-centred, dual language primary school due to open in Kowloon in August 2017, and on whose board I sit. The work that is going on in preparation for this opening is impressive, underpinned by a powerful understanding that children learn best when they are enabled to discover for themselves, and when teachers respond to their individual needs.
Finally, I travelled on Wednesday back to London to present at the BECSLink conference in Wimbledon, which was run in conjunction with the Tim Henman Foundation, and focused on how business, education, charities and schools can work together to facilitate social mobility for children who start life with one hand tied behind their back. Together, the message was clear, we can make a real and visible difference for these children.
My contribution to the BECSLink conference focused, unsurprisingly, on the importance of global mobility for young people, and I sought to energise the participants in thinking about why this mattered, and how we could all do something about it. The adult decision-makers of today have grown up in a very different world from the world in which young people are growing up, and we need to be very aware that we do not – consciously or unconsciously – inhibit the global potential of young people by not recognising the limitless opportunities they have at their fingertips through the digital medium, through cheap travel, and through the immense social and business networks which span the globe and touch us all.
(Where are you today, as you are reading this? Where was your phone or laptop assembled and programmed? With a tap or a click, how many people, in how many parts of the world, could you reach out to?)
The truth is that today, young people are literally only a second and/or a click away from the other 7 billion human beings on this planet. The opportunities that they have to connect, to work, to learn, to experience the world … these exist as never, ever before in our history. They can use these opportunities to discover and do what they are most excited by in their lives – their prospects for work are vast.
But they cannot do this alone. If they tune into the subliminal messages from the adults in their lives that the wider world is foreign, strange and physically hard to access, and if they don’t see people going out and connecting with ease, relishing learning new languages and experiencing different cultures, then they are effectively slashing the scope of their horizons. We have to help them build cultural resilience together with a spirit of curiosity and invention, and we have to show them pathways that others have taken to become globally confident.
Global mobility, social mobility … the two are inextricably intertwined, and the sooner we can embrace this, the quicker our young people will benefit.