The only answer is education
Today, I have something different for you, a “blast from the past”.
I was cleaning out one of the cupboards in my office this week, and I came across a booklet entitled “Director’s Report, 2013-2014”. This was a document I sent out to the parents at the International School of Dusseldorf, in my final year there as Director (Head of School). Here is part of that report - it’s what I had to say to those parents about technology. And as you read this, remember it was six years ago - back when the latest cutting-edge technology was a relatively new thing called an i-pad, you could buy an i-phone 5 or a 5S (the 6 wasn’t released until September 2014), and the cloud was still just an idea.
“Technology is not a part of our children’s future, it is a part of their present. It influences the way they communicate, the way they interact with each other and with the world around them, the way they entertain themselves, and the way they learn. We, the educators, cannot ignore technology. We must learn to use its considerable power to further student learning. But, we must always remember that students learn best from each other, and they learn through established relationships. Students learn very little of lasting value from staring at a computer screen.
Technology also brings with it a new set of rules and responsibilities. Children now have the capability to bully each other from the comfort and security of their own bedroom. Children now have the capability to access all kinds of inappropriate material. Children are now able to post material on social networking sites that may cause them embarrassment in future years.
And our (school and parents) ability to stop this from happening is limited. We can tell them not to bully, but we cannot monitor what they post late in the evening when they’re supposed to be asleep. We can put filters in place to stop their access to porn sites, but really all a student needs is a friend with a 3G phone and he can access whatever he wants. We can put in place consequences for such misbehaviour, but consequences are seldom considered by children contemplating mischief. At ISD, we used to block Facebook from the school server. This barely slowed down student access. Many of them went immediately to sites with names like myschoolhasblockedfacebook.com and went from there. Blocking, banning and punishing are not the answer.
The only answer is education. In this new technical age, we must educate children to use the available technologies safely, wisely and responsibly. And this must happen not just in IT lessons, but in Life Skills, English, Humanities, Languages, Maths and everything else. It must happen at school and in the home. It is now an essential part of how we raise children''.
It’s hard to believe that I wrote this six years ago! I think it’s as relevant today as it was in 2014 (although we no longer talk about a 3G phone - we have to add a couple more Gs). Technology is still a joy/addiction/danger/opportunity/advantage/risk for our children, and teaching them to use it responsibly has to be a part of how we raise and educate them.
The story about Facebook is a true one. I think it was around 2006 when the board at the school took the decision to block Facebook because they felt it would be a distraction for the kids. And the kids just laughed, because they were way ahead of the adults. Now of course kids aren’t interested in Facebook (I’m told it’s for “old people”) but I am sure the kids are still laughing at our attempts to “control” their use of technology. Earlier this year we came across a child who was talking in class (not at all unusual), but she was talking to her Daddy, through her Apple watch (her i-phone was turned on, safely hidden in her backpack).
The girl was in Grade 2!!!!!
I have written in previous letters about our on-going battle against cheating, the most common form of which is plagiarism. We, and most other reputable schools, use a service called “Turnitin”, which is an internet-based plagiarism detection service. In secondary, all work for summative assessment has to first pass through Turnitin, which "checks submitted documents against its database and the content of other websites with the aim of identifying plagiarism” (Wikipedia). Even if a student substantially changes the wording when they copy, there will be enough left for Turnitin to identify the plagiarism. So our use of technology, in this instance, serves to stop the kids cheating, right?
Wrong! Parents, here’s a little homework for you. Get on to the internet, and go to a website called beatturnitin.com. The first article that comes up is called “How to beat Turnitin in 2019 and get away with it”. Now do a little more exploring, and you will find more sites where you can learn more ways to cheat and get away with it. And our kids have access to all of this.
In 2014, I wrote that “blocking, banning and punishing are not the answer. The only answer is education”. It still is. The answer, I believe, is parents and schools working together to raise young people of integrity.
Head of School - OGC Campus
p.s. I think my writing style has changed over the past six years. I think I sounded more “posh” six years ago, what do you think?
It’s time for a break, isn’t it? This has been a long semester, and we now have almost half the year behind us (19 school weeks finished, 20 to go). But right now, we all have two whole weeks of sleeping in, and I for one intend to take full advantage!
January is a busy month for me because it’s when most of the expat teacher recruitment takes place, so I won’t be around much. I’ll be in school on January 2nd, then again on the 15th and 16th, and then I’m back here full time from January 24th.
But the next two weeks will give us a chance to take a break from school, which I think is important. Although “being at school” takes up only 15% of a student’s year, it’s a very hectic/busy/frantic 15%, and as such it can be tiring. It is for teachers too. So it’s time for a break.
Time to focus on the glue that holds together the other 85% of the year – the family. I hope families are able to be together at this time, with no business trips to get in the way of the “together” time. I am acutely aware of how very quickly our children grow up (my “little boy” turned 32 yesterday), and how much we must cherish the time we spend with them.
And if you celebrate Christmas, I hope it’s a great one. When you have small children, Christmas takes on a whole new meaning as you view it through their eyes. I can still remember listening in to a conversation my little boy (when he really was little) had with his friend Douglas. Douglas was explaining his intention to leave some milk and cookies out for Santa, which gave my son an opportunity to display his superior knowledge of the subject. He turned to Douglas with a look of scorn, and said
“That’s no good – Santa’s a beer drinker”
(Children have the ability to force us to see ourselves as the rest of the world sees us!)
I still have not written my letter to Santa, but one of the Nursery classes has offered to help me with this so I should be in good hands. There’s really nothing material that Santa can bring me (I have everything), so perhaps I’ll just ask for a world in which we all get along.
Yesterday a little girl (JKG I think), took my hand in hers, and ran her fingers over all the veins and wrinkles of the back of my hand that come with age. She then looked up into my eyes with an expression of concern and asked “What happened?”
Honey, I wish I knew!
Head of School - OGC Campus
When I consider that we have arrived at the end of the first semester, I am amazed at how quickly the last several months have gone by! Wasn’t it just the other day that we were all still soaked from the daily downpours of the monsoon? Wasn’t it just a short time ago that our youngest students were still reluctant to leave the embrace of Mom and Dad during morning arrival?
My sense of time, I find, gets easily confused. I do believe that the older we get, the faster time moves. I also get tripped up by those climatic clues: In the northeastern US (where I spent the first 30 years of my life), December means short days and bitterly cold weather. In Mumbai, by contrast, the weather is always summer-like. So the fact that I went out to lunch last Sunday, December 15, in shorts and a t-shirt amazes me because it feels like August or September at home...but here it is December. No wonder I am shocked that winter break is upon us!
In any event, at the halfway point of our academic year, we as a school community have much about which to be joyful. From a program perspective, we have more good news to share from PYP, MYP, and DP:
And the larger picture is this: Since August, several outside observers have visited our school. These observers know an awful lot, from all angles, about what IB schools should look and sound and feel like. These observers have fed back to us that many, many good--no, great--things are happening in our school. And so we all can take a great deal of pride in the many wonderful things that are happening at OIS - JVLR!
While I love outlining our progress with regard to our programs, there is so much more going on at our school. But I have limited space to work with, and you surely have other things to do. I will end this with something I hope will bring a smile to your face. Earlier this week, a group of our Secondary School students published the first issue of the Leopard Gazette. Brace yourselves...it is 31 pages long and is a very funny, very interesting read! This is a labor of love for this group: It is not a requirement, they do not receive a grade for their work...they do it because they love to write, they love to take photos, they love to design and edit.
I make a cameo appearance at the end: “36 Questions with The Boss.” Without spoiling the fun, I need to make a few things clear for anyone who might be tempted to interpret this literally (I’m looking at you, WhatsApp groups):
I wish you and your family a safe, healthy, restful winter break. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Head of School
Oberoi International School - JVLR Campus
It’s PISA time again! Every three years, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conducts tests on the Reading, Science and Mathematics understanding and ability of some 600,000 fifteen-year-old students from 78 participating countries. This is the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
The students tested have to be between 15 years and 3 months and 16 years and 2 months at the beginning of the assessment period, and must be at school (no home-schooled students). The tests are written in the children’s home language and are culturally neutral.
The results of the 2018 PISA study were released recently, and the rankings are somewhat predictable (attached for your reference).
The survey compares the ability of students to perform in an exam situation. My view of education is a bit broader than that (I do not believe that the purpose of education is to produce kids who are good at exams), so I would be hesitant to equate a country’s PISA ranking with “quality of education”.
And how reliable are the results? Do they really compare representative samples from different countries? If you Google “Why does China do so well in PISA?” you’ll discover that things are not always exactly as they seem.
Some may ask “Where is India?” and the answer is that India does not participate. They did once in 2009, but the results were not very good so they stopped participating. (Google “India PISA 2009”)
India now plans to once again participate in the 2021 PISA study, using students in Chandigarh, from Indian central government schools, known as Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas (I hope I’ve spelled that correctly!). It will be interesting to see the results.
Results from the PISA study can have a profound effect on national education systems. In the 2001 PISA study, Germany was so unhappy with their poor results that they felt they had to do something about it. And they did. They doubled the nation’s spending on education, because they felt that the children were the nation’s most valuable natural resource, holding the future of the country in their little hands.
Somebody smarter than me once said…
“If you’re planning for next year, plant rice.
If you’re planning for the next ten years, plant trees.
If you’re planning for the next hundred years, educate children.”
As always, love to hear your comments – email@example.com
Head of School - OGC Campus
Don’t compare your child to others
I found this little gem this morning, and thought you might enjoy it as you head into your long weekend.
“Popcorn is prepared in the same pot, in the same heat, in the same oil and yet……….the kernels do not all pop at the same time. Don’t compare your child to others. Their turn to pop is coming”
Have a lovely weekend with your children.
Head of School - OGC Campus
What do we want children to learn in Nursery? Now, before you say “My kid’s older so I don’t have to read this”, I would encourage you to read further. It may help you to better understand education in general, and OIS in particular.
Let’s first of all talk about proprioception (a very impressive word), and its impact on children learning to read. The proprioceptive system is what enables children to know where their body is in space. You can tell the little kids for whom this system is not yet fully developed – they’re the ones who have to keep their body moving to get a sense of where they are, or sometimes they’re the ones who sit with their ankles wrapped around the chair legs, to remind them where they are in space.
Just as they have difficulty in sensing the position and movement of their body, they also have difficulty sensing the orientation and direction the pencil (or the eye) has to move to form their letters or numbers. They can still learn to recognize letters and words by sight, focusing on the overall size and shape. It’s a right-brain approach, a rote-learning approach.
In countries like Sweden, Germany, Finland, where learning to read does not begin until the age of seven or eight, the left brain (and, more important, the part which connects the hemispheres) comes into play. Children are able to sense the direction and orientation of the letters (because their proprioceptive systems are developed) and associate individual letters with sounds. They are able to learn to read through understanding, rather than by recognition/repetition.
At age four, children in the UK have reading levels far superior to those in Finland, because the kids in Finland don’t start until at least seven. But, because the Finnish kids start when their neurological development is at the right stage, they learn more efficiently and with a deeper understanding. It doesn’t take long before their reading levels are well above their UK counterparts.
It could be said, though, that learning to read is a slightly easier process in Finnish, where pronunciation rules are consistent, unlike English, where
“A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.”
It’s about waiting until those little brains are ready. It’s about developing those necessary precursors, like proprioception. And what activity best develops proprioception? Play! And what do we do a lot of in Nursery? Play!
Neurobiology has a part to play as well. Myelination is a word used to describe the forming of a sheath around the neurone to allow nerve impulses to move more quickly, and is an indicator of development in the child’s brain. Different areas of the brain myelinate at different times. The visual nerves myelinate by about six months old, but the part which supports the association of sounds with letters or groups of letters doesn’t myelinate until at least five years old, and often later in boys. (Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ed Magazine, Winter 2011)
I once came in contact with a little girl (JKG) who was reading at a phenomenal level, because a dedicated grandmother armed with flash cards had made it so. But when she was given a book with no words, with just a series of pictures, she was not able to piece the story together from the pictures alone, the way the kids in Nursery do. She had learned to read by recognition/repetition – imagination was not a part of that process. She could “read” very well, but her ability to see, feel, and imagine the theatre behind the words was (and forever will be) limited.
So if we don’t teach Nursery kids to read, what do we do? What do we teach the three-year-olds?
We teach them to take turns, to be nice to each other, and to communicate clearly and confidently. And we start the development of their ability to empathize – “Why is that little boy crying? Is there anything I can do to help?”
Empathy is something which can and should be developed from an early age. If a child grows without fully developing their ability to empathize, then they will never be able to fully understand a different opinion, which will have an impact on their ability to learn.
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neil A. McWilliam
Head of School - OGC Campus
Something That Made Me Smile
As an educator, from time to time I get the opportunity to feel proud of a child I've worked with in the past. And because I've been around for a while, I've got a lot of "past" so these opportunities happen quite frequently.
Here's a story. For ten years, my wife and I were teaching houseparents at a British International Boarding School in the Swiss Alpes. I taught Math, my wife taught Biology, and together we were substitute mother and father for 65 teenage girls. We lived with them, we put them to bed at night and woke them up in the morning, we ate our meals with them and we made them eat their vegetables and mind their manners. We hugged them when they were good and punished them when they were naughty.
Sabine was one of our girls. She came from Germany, spent five years with us and graduated to some college I'd never heard of in the States. As a teenager, she was a little awkward socially, an average student with an inclination towards naughtiness. I can't remember the number of times I grounded Sabine for being naughty. She wasn't "bad", she was just a nice kid who didn't always get it right.
I lost touch with Sabine after she graduated, but found her again through the magic of Facebook several years later. By then she was married with two lovely kids and, with her husband, had just opened a specialist florist outlet in Knightsbridge (just behind Harrods) called "Only Roses". They had taken a major risk locating in such an expensive neighbourhood, but they both had faith in their vision.
There are now five franchised Only Roses stores in the Middle East with six more in the pipeline, and a second non-franchise store in Beverley Hills, where they live now. Little Sabine has done very well!
Did you see the Academy Awards?
Did you notice that the statues were made up of roses, and the backdrops were made up of roses. In all 40,000 special, long-lasting, red roses were used for the occasion.
And yes, you guessed it, they're Sabine's roses. That made me smile.
Neil A. McWilliam
Head of School - OGC Campus
Learning for the future
Like many of you, I spend a lot of time sitting in traffic. As a way of amusing myself, I have started to note what I see on the sides of school buses.
- Excellence in education and all round development
- Ready for the world, ready for the future
- We inspire our students to write their own future
- Enthuse enlighten empower
- From knowledge to life
- An educreative way
- Dare to dream….learn to excel
- Illuminating all with the lamp of knowledge
- Growing learning minds
- Dream learn serve
(no shortage of lofty aspirations!)
“Learning for the future” is a part of the strap-line of many schools, as well it should be. There is no point in educating for today’s world because our kids will be in the world of the future, and I think we can all agree it will be different.
So we all “educate for the future” – or at least we claim to. But we can’t see the future, so what we’re doing really is educating kids for our “best guess” at what the future will be like.
Now, I’m in charge of educating your kids for the future, so it would be reasonable to ask about my “best guess”. These are my thoughts:
1. Change: I think the future will hold constant change, and I think that change will happen at an ever-increasing rate. Change is happening right now. Our washing machine at home broke down recently, so the repairman came, with his laptop. He plugged it into our machine, typed away for a while and the machine was fixed. Washing machine repairmen used to bring a screwdriver, now they bring a laptop.
The skills are changing, but the values are not. What is good now will still be good in the future, and what is evil will still be evil. The challenge for educators and parents will be to balance valuable traditions with necessary changes.
2. Technology: I think computers will continue to get more powerful and more accessible (perhaps until component sizes get down to a molecular level). I think Moore’s Law will be with us for a while yet. I find the notion of artificial intelligence a bit disquieting. When I hear that my smartphone will, within ten years, have more intelligence than the combined intelligence of every person on the planet, I worry. Are we, educators and parents, doing enough to prepare our children to use this enormous power responsibly?
Already, the conversations are changing. Last week our JKG kids were discussing “Is Alexa living or non-living?” One little girl pointed out that Alexa can make jokes, and only living things make jokes. A little boy disagreed with her. He thought non-living because Alexa does not go to the washroom!
3. Employment: Robotics and artificial intelligence will bring a level of automation that will improve productivity and reduce employment. We’re all aware of this scenario on the manufacturing assembly line, but it’s not restricted to there. Look at the growth of medical apps, teaching apps, look at how we book flights and hotels. Jobs are disappearing, and new jobs are appearing. Will there be enough jobs to go around?
A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated the segment of the working-age population which is unemployed, inactive or underemployed to be 30-45% globally. The data on unemployed recent university graduates in the UK and USA is alarming. Developed countries are reporting a growing population of second and third generation unemployed. We have unemployed people with PhDs.
Are we (educators and parents) developing young people with the ability to pick up the skills and attributes they will need to be gainfully employed, and the agility to move between professions? 85% of new jobs in the UK last year were in the creative industries – is STEM still the answer? Are we doing enough to enable our children to use leisure time productively and creatively? There is much to indicate that they will have more of it than we did.
4. Information: Ian Jukes, the Canadian futurist, estimates that the amount of “information” in the world doubles every 72 days. That’s five times a year. That means
32 times as much information next year
1,000 times as much in 2021
1,000,000 times as much in 2023
There is going to be so much “information” – I use quotations because not all of it will be true. Fake news! Should our schools focus on learning information, or learning to evaluate information?
Recently, one of our MYP classes was set an interesting homework assignment. The students had to gather evidence for a presentation they would give the following day to support the hypothesis that the world is flat. The students found plenty of evidence – so much so that a couple of them were beginning to doubt if it really was a globe. It seems that, whatever you want to believe, you will be able to find evidence to support it.
5. Networks: I grew up in an analogue world, my son grew up in a digital world, and the OIS students were born into a connected world, where everyone has the potential to connect with everyone else all the time. And the power of the networks generated by this connectivity is awesome. This is how I think it works:
Suppose I have something really important/interesting/funny/hateful/enraging to say, so I send it out to my 500 social media friends (Yes, I know, I don’t have many friends). If half of them find it noteworthy enough to pass on to their (say 500) friends, my message has already reached 125,000 people. If half of this group passes it on to their (500) friends, my message will have reached 31,000,000 people.
Are we doing enough, in school and in the home, to develop our children’s communication skills and attitudes to enable them to leverage the power of digital connectivity productively and ethically?
6. India: India is seen as a developing country because that is exactly what it’s doing – developing, and deciding how it wants to develop. I think that India has the opportunity learn from the way other countries have developed. Perhaps India will never have to address questions like “Should we give our teachers guns and train them to shoot bad guys?”
What will India be like in 20 years, or 50 years? I think it will have the largest population (and people represent a country’s most precious resource), the largest economy, and it will be growing and developing at a pace we cannot imagine. I look forward to the day when India’s abundant sunshine will be providing electricity for the world, and when affluent Indians will not be sending their children to American universities any more. Instead, affluent Americans will be seeking admission for their kids in the top Indian universities.
The one thing of which we can be certain, is that our kid’s world will be very different to ours, and the way we raise and educate them needs to respond accordingly. As John Dewey (one of the truly great educational thinkers) put it, “If we teach today as we did yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow”
(It’s more than a little disturbing to note that Dewey made this statement 101 years ago!)
So, this is my “best guess” at the future. I’d be really interested to hear yours (email@example.com).
Head of School-OGC Campus
“Holistic” is a term you hear quite a lot at OIS. I say it all the time!
It refers, of course, to our approach to educating your children, in that we focus on educating the “whole child” rather than just concentrating on academics. Integrity, adaptability, creativity, confidence, curiosity, resilience, etc, etc, etc…. you’ve heard them all from me, many, many times.
I believe that if we focus on just exam scores, that’s all we’ll get. But if we focus on developing the whole child into an outstanding adult, the exam scores will follow (as our results show).
You have also heard me say many times (I’m not very good at saying something just once) that school years are for “education”, not career training. The objective of a holistic (or liberal arts) programme is to produce graduates with a broad, balanced education. Career training happens after kids finish high school (sometimes a long time after – American universities continue the liberal arts education for a further four years before any career specialization happens).
That’s why our programmes require students to study a range of subjects. For the IB Diploma, students have to study language and literature, language acquisition, an experimental science, individuals and societies, mathematics and the arts (as well as the CAS, TOK and EE components). This is what IB calls a “pure” diploma – a truly balanced education, with no specialization.
But there is a loophole! The IB will allow students to study a second science or a second humanities subject instead of a Group 6 subject (Visual Arts, Theatre and, next year, Music). This isn’t a pure diploma, but it is permitted. And it seems to be favoured by Indian students (and their parents) to get a head-start on a chosen career path by specializing (two sciences for doctor/engineer, or economics/business for a corporate career).
In next year’s 11th grade, 13 students are studying both Economics and Business & Management (out of a total cohort of 103 students). One eighth of our kids will be spending one third of their time studying economics/business.
This is not a holistic education, this is specialized career training. And if we look at what these kids did during their IGCSE years, almost all of them studied both Economics and Business Studies. This specialization, this career training, began back in the ninth grade at 14 years old. What could be gained from starting a child on a career path at such an early age? The child might become
- a Social Media Manager
- a Data Scientist
- a Podcast Producer
- a Mobile App Developer
- an Artificial Intelligence Strategic Analyst
- an Employment Brand Manager
- a Cloud Architect
- a Search Engine Optimization Analyst
- a Telemedicine Physician
(For the record, I have no idea what these professions involve – I’ve just been Googling)
There is a widely-held belief that universities will be impressed by kids who have devoted a third of their high school years to one particular subject area. I wondered about this, so I checked out the admissions websites of a couple of the most selective university courses, to see what they were looking for.
“You should be invested in the things that really mean something to you (we’re not particularly picky as to what). Explore!” (This is from the admissions department at MIT.)
“No preference is given to students who have majored in Science over those who have majored in other disciplines” (That’s from Harvard Medical School, where the admissions website then goes on to say..)
“Students are urged to strive not for specialized training but for a balanced, liberal education”.
Top universities want good, well-balanced, broadly-educated young people, not kids with a narrow field of experience. High school is a time for students to “explore” (as MIT advises) their interests, to round off their education by pursuing those areas that fascinate them the most.
My own son is an IB Diploma graduate. His three higher level subjects were Physics (I think he liked the teacher more than the subject), English (he has always loved reading) and History (he has always been fascinated by stories from the past). He’s now a veterinary surgeon, and it’s interesting to note that Biology was not one of his IBDP subject choices.
….because high school is not career training.
Any comments? I’ve had a number of parent comments from each of my last few letters. Please keep them coming – I do enjoy reading them.
Head of School - OGC Campus
Dear OIS parents,
I'm sorry to have been out of touch recently, but January is always a crazy month with teacher recruitment. It's a time of travelling, hotels, recruitment fairs, and living out of a suitcase. It's one of the most important things I do as a school head (putting the best teachers in front of your children), but I'm always a little bit relieved when January is over. I have done four fairs so far, three in Bangkok (which is a major recruiting hub) and one in London. The two smaller fairs I managed alone, the large ones I teamed up with Steve.
On the international scene, China is the major growth area with so many new international schools starting up, all with big tuition fees and big salary packages. It's a competitive market. The Middle East is still growing, albeit more slowly now. Currently, there are more than 300 international schools in the city of Dubai alone.
European schools are becoming more popular than they were. When I was a head in Germany, I became accustomed to seeing short queues at my table, because candidates were worried about the high taxes and living costs there. Now, this seems to have changed, and my conversations with candidates suggest that this is being driven by concerns over air pollution, which are moving candidates away from places like China and India.
This has been a good recruiting year for us so far, both locally and internationally. Indian schools are relatively new to the international recruiting scene, but becoming more involved. At the London fair last week, there were seven Indian schools represented (OIS, DAIS, ASB, Ecole Mondiale, Stonehill, American Embassy School of Delhi and British School of Delhi), and I can say with confidence that we were the most sought-after. I asked one candidate if she was interviewing with any other Indian schools and she said "No, yours is the only one I've heard of".
This is very important. We need to continually raise the profile of OIS internationally (as well as locally). Candidates are attracted by our special status within IB Asia Pacific, the importance we place on professional development, our holistic approach to teaching and learning, and our reputation as a happy place to work. When I asked one candidate why she was interested in OIS, she smiled shyly and said "I've seen the happy video."
When I make an offer of employment at a fair, I immediately put the candidate in touch with an existing OIS teacher so they can ask all those questions they'd be uncomfortable asking at interview. Where possible, I put them in contact with someone who's leaving, because then they can be sure that they're being told the truth. I'm told that this level of transparency is very unusual, which is OK by me - we're not like other schools!
We have hired 13 new expats so far this year (We still have two fairs in San Francisco, which Steve will be attending). And it's a varied group we've hired, with four Americans, four from the UK, two from South Africa, one dual passport (Zimbabwe/France), one from Spain, and one Australian. Among them is the daughter of a fellow Head of School I knew in Vietnam and later in Europe, and the niece of a couple I hired in Germany. The international school world seems to be a small one sometimes.
Locally, recruiting good teachers is getting easier every year for a number of reasons:
1. There are more IB schools in India, so there are more candidates with IB experience.
2. Our reputation is very strong within India - more candidates want to work here, and more want to get OIS on their cv. This means I get to interview more of the really good local candidates.
3. The status of the teaching profession seems to be changing in India. Teaching has become a first-choice profession for many.
4. International schools in India are more connected, through organizations like TAISI and SAIBSA, so international teachers in India have more opportunity to talk to teachers from other schools (and when they talk to OIS teachers, they want to work here). On a number of occasions I have asked "Why OIS?" and the response has been "I know someone who works here".
5. More local teachers visit OIS for IB training, SAIBSA workshops and other professional development events. So we get more IB teachers on our campus thinking "This is a cool place - is there anyone I can talk to about working here?
I always talk about expat and local recruiting separately, but there is some (increasing) overlap. Our local teachers are now good enough to compete with expats at international recruitment fairs.
Of course my main goal is to increase the quality of our teaching faculty every year because, as I never tire of saying, the quality of a school is measured by the quality of its teachers. I think we're making good progress, by providing guidance and training to the teachers we've got, and bringing in new, top-quality educators to join them. Thank you for reading. I would be interested in hearing any of your comments.
Neil A McWilliam
Head of School - OGC Campus
Could "Wait Until 8th" Work at OIS?
For those of you who attended the sessions by Allison Ochs way back in September, you will of course remember that she spent quite a bit of time talking about the effect of smart phones on the lives of our students. One thing she mentioned was a campaign called Wait Until 8th that seeks to empower parents to wait until at least Grade 8 before giving their children a smart phone.
Neil shared this very interesting, sobering, enlightening article with me a few days ago, courtesy of the Wait Until 8th blog, and I thought some of you might enjoy it as well.
Also, just before Diwali, I also spotted this article in the New York Times regarding how the tech titans of Silicone Valley manage their own children's use of devices...very interesting reading. (Spoiler alert: Most of the people who are intimately involved in designing and building smart phones DO NOT allow their children access to this technology!)
I do see a few students with smart phones in our building each day, primarily in the Secondary School (in case you're wondering, I see the phones in students' hands when they enter the building, at which point they disappear into school bags, since we do not permit their use during the school day). I often wonder how our parents have made decisions about their child's use of technology...in this specific case, whether to allow or deny their child access to incredible power of a smart phone. I do out of curiosity, not in judgment. I have a soon-to-be-4-year-old at home, and already he understands how touch screens work. I think quite a bit about how all of this technology will shape his life experiences, in both good and bad ways. How will I manage this for him until he can make his own decisions?
Most of our students, it appears, do not have a smart phone, and I often wonder why that is the case. On quite a few levels, I think this is the harder decision to take: There seems to be lots of pressure for parents to allow their kids to have these devices, so I am curious how some have bucked the trend and said no.
Have a look at the articles I have mentioned and feel free to comment:
About the author...
Steve Augeri is the Head of School at the Oberoi International School - JVLR Campus.
Some thoughts about university...
Head of School
One thing that I have learned from the parents at our JVLR Campus is that it is never too early to plan ahead! During my frequent interactions with parents--whether they have a child in Early Years, Primary, or Secondary--the topic of university study typically comes up. It used to frustrate me that the parents of a 4-year-old would ask about something that is 14 years into the future. Now, however, I appreciate that our parents have a real interest in the opportunities and challenges that their children may encounter well into the future and want to know how to best prepare their children. Overall, in fact, I am very pleased to be part of a school community with such active parent involvement!
Of course, there is a dark side to this anxiety about something so far off in the future. We have said repeatedly that it is impossible to predict with any certainty the kind of world our kids will enter at the end of either their secondary or university studies. This could lead parents toward latching onto the most “useful” subject, language, program, etc., that they think will provide a soft landing in an uncertain future. (For example, when I was in university, everyone was packing into classes to study German and Japanese, as these were the hottest economies at the time. It was impossible then to predict that Japan’s economy would soon stagnate for the next 20 years!) Similarly, pushing kids along a particular path or into particular fields is something we actively discourage as it can derail the learning process and harm kids.
For many of our parents, enrolling their children at OIS represents a good-sized leap of faith. We know that our school is a fairly large departure from the way in which education is “done” at most schools in Mumbai and in India. We know, as well, that our students receive an education that is vastly different from their parents, and how they learn at OIS is typically quite different from how they learned at their previous school. Understandably, many parents can be anxious about how the IB education their child receives will impact future prospects and options, particularly when it comes to university admissions and employment opportunities.
Here are a few questions I have been asked:
Many of you now know that my wife, Tiffany Goulet, is one of our university counsellors at the OGC Campus, and by listening closely to her (she may disagree with this assertion) I have been able to pick up on some very good information that allows me to give reasonable answers to these questions and others:
For those of you who worry that your child will be unable to study in India for university (even after my answers above), I can share with you some very encouraging news.
First, last week I attended the first meeting of the India Global Higher Education Alliance, a partnership between the College Board, a handful of prominent universities in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, and a dozen (as of now) Indian universities. The College Board is a U.S.-based, not-for-profit organization that seeks to improve access to quality higher education, and it has formed the alliance to expand opportunities for Indian students. The Alliance brings together not just leaders from these Indian and international universities, but also folks from a wide range of secondary schools here. Much of the forum was dedicated to helping university counselors from schools like OIS gain a better understanding of the opportunities available to their students. This is a very interesting initiative that will continue to grow over the coming years, and I am excited that OIS is a part of it!
Second, the OGC University Counselling Office is hosting its 3rd annual Indian University Fair on Thursday, October 25 for students and parents in Grades 9 - 12. From just a dozen interested universities a couple of years ago, the event now includes over 30 schools from across the country. This illustrates what I mentioned earlier: Universities in India are increasingly interested in our graduates, so much so that they are willing to do a bit of recruiting at events such as this fair to attract good kids with an IB education. Keep in mind, too, that each year, OIS hosts visits from well over 300 universities from all over the world.
Taken all together, I hope this gives you a better picture of the opportunities available to your children! I welcome any comments or questions that you might have.
Parenting is really hard!
I found this on my Facebook this morning - I didn't write it so I won't take credit for it, but I'll post it here for your edification/amusement.
How to be a parent in 2017: Make sure your children's academic, emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, nutritional and social needs are met while being careful not to over stimulate, under stimulate, improperly medicate, helicopter or neglect them, in a screen-free, processed foods free, GMO free, negative energy free, plastic free, body positive, socially conscious, egalitarian but also authoritative, nurturing but fostering of independence, gentle but not overly permissive, pesticide free, multilingual home with 1.5 siblings spaced at least two years apart for proper development.
(or, you could just love them a lot and use your common sense!)
March 06th, 2017
This morning we held our annual Careers Day, where we invite parents and other professionals to come and speak to the students about what they do and how they got to where they are. One of the speakers also talked about the warmth of the welcome he receives at OIS, compared to other schools (he speaks at a great many schools). This is what he said:
"There are many good to great schools, and you're one of them. But you're also nice, and that's important"
And that just made my Monday morning!
March 02nd, 2017
It has been three months since my last blog post. Three whole months! That is disgraceful, and I do apologize.
In my defense, this has been a very busy time for me. This is the recruitment season, the time when most of the hiring of new teachers for next year takes place. And with an existing faculty of 276 teachers and a new campus to staff, this has been a particularly hectic time.
Our retention of existing teachers has improved considerably, but we still have some turnover (I think the word is “churn” in this country). So why do teachers leave OIS? There can be a number of reasons:
Recruitment of local teachers is getting easier for me. The OIS reputation has spread among the Indian international school community, and the school’s name is one that ambitious educators want to get on their resumé. I think for the past month I have averaged at least four local teacher interviews per day.
Expat teacher recruitment is a different matter. The OIS reputation is an international one, and any international teacher who wants to come to India will come to my table first at the recruitment fair. The problem is, most of them don’t want to come to India.
In January, I made an offer to a young British teacher I knew well. She had been a student at the International School of Dusseldorf when I was the Head, and after university she started her teaching career at that school where I was still the Head. She then moved on to an international school in the UK, and attended a recruitment fair in London. She was a fantastic teacher, and she had always liked working for me.
She was very excited when I made her an offer, and I was very disappointed when a few days later she rejected my offer. “Dad won’t let me come to India – he says it’s too dangerous.”
Seriously, dangerous?!!! I feel a higher level of personal safety here than I did back in Germany. But she told me her father would not be persuaded.
I blame CNN, and BBC, and all the others. Last week I heard “India has overtaken China as the country with the worst air pollution.” What a meaningless statement! India is a huge country. It has places where the air is very polluted and places where the air is pure and clean. I don’t live in “India”, I live in Mumbai. The air in Mumbai is sometimes OK, sometimes not OK, but it’s not even close to the “worst in the world”.
When CNN reported some assaults on women a while back, they didn’t say they happened in Bangalore – they said they happened “in India”. Everything is sensationalized, and everything happens “in India”. I asked a candidate if she had ever considered Mumbai as a destination, and she said “Oh, no – not India. You have all those rapes in India”.
International teacher candidates have literally the whole world at their fingertips. At the major fairs there are jobs on offer in London, Paris, Rome, Germany, Switzerland, Hawaii, Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo……….and India. There are schools on the Riviera, there are schools in the middle of ski resorts. And with all the bad press surrounding India, Mumbai schools are a pretty hard sell.
There’s another factor influencing expat teacher recruitment. There are now sooooo many schools. I’ve been on the recruitment fair circuit for many years now. In earlier times I could wander around the fair and recognize every school – I knew most of the Heads. Now, more than half the schools are ones I’ve never heard of before. New ones keep popping up.
For the past five years, the People’s Republic of China has averaged one new international school per week!! The city of Dubai now has 254 international schools. 254 – in just one city! So many new schools are emerging, hungry for teachers, and offering good packages.
This is why the international reputation of OIS is so important. Many candidates have heard about this school, some have friends who teach here, some have attended IB workshops here, some have seen us and heard our presentations at conferences and recruitment fairs.
The most important influence on school quality is the quality of its teachers. And the most effective way to attract good teachers is to have a good reputation
What the PISA results tell us
I have not been a very regular blogger of late, and I'm afraid I'm not going to improve any time soon. From now until at least the end of January is the busiest time of my year, so I'll be quiet for a while.
Did you see the PISA results? PISA is a world-wide study carried out every two years, which compares the effectiveness of national education systems around the world by randomly selecting students to set tests of numeracy and literacy. Over a half million children around the world take these tests, which are written in such a way as to eliminate any cultural or language bias.
Now those of you who know me well will be aware that I am not a great fan of exam results (because they tell us so very little about a child's learning), but in this country the ability of children to perform under test conditions is highly regarded, so I thought there might be some interest in the results.
(Google "PISA results")
There are two countries I'd like to draw your attention to, Finland and Singapore. Time after time these two countries are ranked at or near the top of the table, and I think it's interesting to look at one thing they have in common.
Finland has been around for some time, but Singapore is brand new. The BBC points out that it became an independent nation only in 1965 (I was in Grade 11), with a poor, unskilled, mostly illiterate workforce.
Both countries have invested heavily in education. In both countries, the teaching profession is the most highly regarded (and highly paid) of all professions. Consequently, the best and brightest of their young people compete for places at university in the most prestigious of all areas - the schools of education.
Both countries, I believe, have made a decision to direct the larger portion of their resources to the development of what they consider to be their most valuable natural resource, their children. And I find it very difficult to disagree with that policy.
I know some of you will be wondering "Where does India stand in all this?", and I'm not going to tell you, because I'd like you to be inquirers like your children and find out for yourself! (Google "PISA India" as a starting point)
This time, Singapore has emerged on the top of most of the tables - but they aren't celebrating. Because the ability of their education system to produce graduates who can think divergently and creatively, who are willing to take risks, collaborate and innovate, lags behind much of the rest of the world.
As I said, tests only give you a smal part of the picture.
Sorry - I've been busy!
Dear OIS community,
Yes, I've been busy (and I had a lovely Diwali break), so you haven't heard from me for a while. The recruiting season is almost upon us, and for me that means busy, busy, busy as I set about the most important part of my job. The most effective way for me to make this school into the very best it can be is to hire the very best teachers I can. That's why recruiting is so very important.
The season actually starts next week, with a recruitment fair in Bangkok which is for international school leadership candidates. I'm looking for a primary principal to help us get the second campus up and running to the same standard as the present school. I think we've set the bar pretty high on this campus, so I'm looking for someone very special.
Actually, the recruitment fair itself is only a small part of the process. Already I have spent hours searching through the candidate database, and I have identified eight very promising educators that I'm in touch with. It's important to make this early contact, to start the conversation, to begin to build the relationship.
Only one out of the eight had even considered a move to India. To the other seven it had never occurred to them that India might be their next career move - in fact one of them confessed that he had been "open to all locations - anywhere really, except India".
Well, their opinion has changed during the (e-mail) conversation! I think they are all quite excited by the possibility now and are looking forward to hearing more about the school, the job, and the country from me next week. They're a mixed group - four from the UK, one Aussie, one Kiwi, one American and one Canadian. Three men and five women.
They currently hold leadership positions in international schools in the Emirates, Vietnam, Oman, Iraq, Canada, Thailand, Australia and China. I've read their CVs thoroughly, and I've checked their references. Now all I have to do is meet them in person and try to evaluate how well they would fit into this environment and this particular job. Being a founding principal is a very different challenge from taking over an established primary school, and it requires a different skill set.
I'm hoping that two or three will stand out enough to warrant my bringing them to Mumbai for further interviews and ultimately an appointment. That's the process.
And of course this is just the beginning of recruitment for the year. I will need a number of new expat teachers, which will mean more recruitment fairs. My January is almost entirely taken up with expat recruiting. From December 30th to January 24th, my life will be made up of flights, hotels and interviews.
Recruiting local teachers takes place over a longer period. Interviews start around this time of year (my first is on Monday), and they usually continue through to June or sometimes beyond. We never seem to be really "finished" for the year, because teachers' situations change sometimes, and when we have a large faculty (276 teachers) we get a lot of changes. Pregnancies, changes to family situations, husbands being transferred......life is seldom "convenient".
Of course, we don't need to take this much trouble. We could get the required numbers of teachers in the right areas quite easily. Our reputation is good, and teachers (especially locals) are keen to have Oberoi International School on their CV. It's easy to find "teachers", but finding "the very best teachers I can get" is an entirely different matter.
If we lower our standards when recruiting, we have a much easier job requiring much less effort. But the quality of the school would suffer, because that is defined (more than anything else) by the quality of the teachers. And if the quality went down, so would our reputation, and consequently our ability to attract the best teachers. We cannot let that happen.
I find it astounding to consider some of the things that are now possible through technology. It's hard to believe how far the world has come in a relatively short time.
I think the year was 1970 when I received as a birthday gift my first calculator. It could multiply, divide...even calculate square roots. And it had a "floating decimal" It was a bit of a luxury, costing as it did just under $200.
Now a calculator like that comes as a free trinket in a corn flakes box!
It all moves so quickly. Computers are getting smarter and smarter. Will they ever be able to think for themselves? Apparently, the answer to this question is a resounding "yes", and this bothers me a great deal.
Because when I consider the manner in which so many children in this country are force-fed information under the guise of "education", I am compelled to ask a question:
"Does it make any sense at all to develop machines that can think for themselves and people that can't?"
Making absolutely sure
I am pretty sure this post is redundant, because I have already sent an e-mail.
Monday, October 17th, will be the first day on which the school's doors will close at 07.45. All children who arrive at school after 07.45 will be sent home.
Please make sure your kids are here in time.
Preparing our kids
We talk a lot about preparing our students for the world they will inhabit. All schools do. But do we know what that world will look like?
A child in Early Years will be at the peak of his/her career in 2050 - 2055. Do we have any idea what the world will look like in 2050? These days, looking even five years ahead is a perilous endeavour. The truth is that we have little idea what 2021 will look like, let alone 2050. And when we try to predict what 2021 will be like, it's usually pretty scary!
2050 will be different. That much is certain. It will be different in ways we cannot imagine. The noted futurist Ian Jukes claims that the quantity of information in the world doubles every 73 days (i.e. five times a year). So this time next year we should be in a world with 32 times as much information - that's a little disquieting. In two years time, 1,024 times as much information - that's a bit frightening. If you do the Math, by 2050 the world should contain two nonillion (that's two, followed by thirty zeros) times as much information.
And that's if the current rate of increase in information remains the same. According to Jukes, it's accelerating, and will continue to do so. So two nonillion is a conservative estimate!
How do we prepare children for this future when, to be honest, we haven't a clue what it will look like? We cannot prepare them for a specific set of conditions because we don't know what those conditions will be, but we do know they will be very, very different.
We must prepare our kids for a constantly and rapidly changing world. We must make them into confident, creative and adaptive learners who will thrive in a rapidly changing environment. We must teach them to be joyful learners, so they never stop learning.
And I believe we should look at what will not change. I believe that things like integrity, humility, compassion, courage and perseverance will serve them as well in thirty years time as they do now. I think that good people will still be good people.
I believe that content-based curricula will disappear. So much of what we are currently teaching will be irrelevant. It's happening already. I can use logarithm tables to help me with multiplication and division. Not very useful. I was taught to use a slide rule - why? I can do long division. I never do, but I can. I can recite the first two lines of the periodic table.
It's fun to read about some of the next-generation technology possibilities. Driverless cars - we're all used to that idea, although I must confess I'm not sure about how they would work in Mumbai. What about micro-chip processors that can be implanted in the nasal passages, and allow us to simultaneously translate spoken foreign languages? Will they come? Should we continue to teach French?
At a conference recently, I was in a group of heads that was asked "What things should we drop from our current curricula?" A lady I have enormous respect for responded immediately "Anything that can be done by a machine".
I can see where she's coming from, but my conservative nature makes it hard for me to agree with her. What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear your comments.
What shall we discuss?
Deputy Head of School
Recently, Neil and I were having a conversation about this blog. As we are both new to blogging, we just sort of hopped in with both feet, not really thinking too much about how we would use this space. However, we did know that, with the demise of the monthly school newsletter, we wanted to make this a must-read space and attract as many subscriptions and comments as we could.
And here’s why: At one point last year, we asked our Communications Team to track the number of times that the monthly newsletter had been opened from our website. During that particular month, the data seemed to indicate that we had a whopping readership of…10.
Therefore, it was soothing to our egos to discover the other day that all OIS blogs have had just over 3,000 views since we went live a couple of weeks ago. We are most interested, however, in subscriptions, and at the current time, there are 50-odd parents who have subscribed to the Heads of School blog. We would like more of you to make this part of your regular reading, and as a result we have had a re-think about how we can best use this space.
Now that we have been blogging for a few weeks, we have decided to continue to use the daily School Announcements sent via email for the “nuts & bolts” stuff: event reminders, operational notices, reminders, health and safety alerts, and things of that sort. Given the high attendance at Neil’s Coffee Mornings, it seems like the blog is a good place to continue the conversation about some of those big ideas that he spoke about…things like how we can best prepare our kids to be happy, successful adults…the nature of education in the 21st century…the things that we hold dear as a school community…and the list goes on and on.
In Neil’s first post, he mentioned our collaborative approach to leadership. We make a very interesting team, Neil and I. He has been a school head for “donkey’s years” (I love that expression!) and has a story for every situation, which to me is a true indicator of wisdom and experience. I am at the other end of the spectrum: This is my first position as a senior-level administrator, and every day at OIS is a learning experience for me. You could say that our level of experience is reflected in the number of posts here: by my count, Neil has contributed 6 posts to my 2…and that seems about right.
In any event, we will do our best to encourage you to stop by our blog as frequently as possible. I am hopeful that we will entertain you, inform you, and help you think a bit more deeply. We welcome comments as it helps to keep the conversation going, and we will do our best to reply whenever appropriate.
Thanks for reading, and please do click on the “subscribe!”
The morning buses - congratulations!
Congratulations! This morning every one of the 31 OIS buses arrived before 07.45. The buses went around their routes as designed, without waiting for latecomers - just like normal public transport.
This morning one of the OIS parents sent me an e-mail she had sent to the school four years ago. In this original e-mail, she protested against the situation where her kids were at the pickup point every morning at the right time, and yet day after day they arrived late to school because the bus had waited at the other stops until everyone had made their way downstairs. In the e-mail she made some very relevant points, which I will quote here:
"Waiting for latecomers is equivalent to a reward for unpunctuality and serves as a positive reinforcement for coming late.
Making punctual students wait is equivalent to a punishment for punctuality, and serves as a negative reinforcement for being on time"
I think this lady has a point, don't you?
Anyway, congratulations OIS. Every bus here before 07.45, for the very first time this year. We're getting there!!!
Something else I learned in Delhi
A small child laughs, on average, 400 times a day.
An adult laughs, on average, 7 times a day.
I wonder what happens as we get older to make us so grumpy?
Not talking about buses
I spent the weekend in Delhi, at the TAISI (The Association of International Schools in India) conference. The theme of the conference was the role of design and design thinking in education, and much of the talk was of the inadequacy of the current, exam-driven system.
I heard about a fascinating experiment which took place early this academic year in the USA, at one of the more prestigious private schools. In this experiment, grade 11 students were required to retake their final grade 10 science test, exactly three months after they took the test for the first time. (The students were not given any notice of the re-take)
First time they took the test, the average grade was B+
Second time they took the test, the average grade was F.
This is why I hesitate to equate exam grades with learning.
Buses not waiting - day 1
Today, all buses were instructed to not wait for kids who were late. The buses were not to leave any of the pickup points before the pickup time, but they were not to wait for kids who were not there at pickup time.
What a difference this has made to the arrival times! Almost all the buses were at school by 07.45 - I think only two were late, and only by a couple of minutes. More importantly, we knew that for any bus child who was late, it was not the fault of the child - he had been where he was supposed to be at the time he was supposed to be there. When our "Closing-the-door-at-07.45" plan becomes operational, those children will be given passes to allow them to enter the building.
Of course, there are still those parents who are unwilling to comply. The Oberoi Spring route is a good example. I believe there are three stops at Oberoi Spring. At the first stop, not all the kids were there at the pickup time, so the driver did as he had been instructed. He went on to the next stop, kids were on time there, then on to the third stop where again everyone was waiting.
Then he proceeded to the main gate to leave the complex, but he was not allowed to leave. Why? Because the parent whose kids were late at the first stop had contacted the main gate and got security to stop the bus, turn it around, and send it back to the first pickup!!!!! (note: This will only work once)
But the good news is that almost all the buses were significantly earlier this morning, and we had a better, smoother start to the day's learning. So well done bus parents! So much better, and all it took was being on time at the pickup.