Schools prepare for the future. We start building children’s skills from the age of three with an evolving end product in mind that will come to light twenty years away. And these skills we develop are required to achieve results and see them through another half century beyond that.
As the head of International School Aberdeen (ISA), which educates students from age 3 – 18 , I am interested in getting out beyond the school’s walls to talk to the community my pupils will join.
Recently, I presented at the inaugural World Gateway during Offshore Europe, on encouraging the next generation in a complex global energy sector.
I shared the stage with Ed Gardyne, Managing Director of Safewell Solutions, an Aberdeenshire company that over the last 30 years has become the leading authority in lifecycle management of safety critical processes for high tech industries like oil and gas, aerospace and biomedical.
Ed is a proud Aberdeenshire local – he can trace his roots in the area back hundreds of years. He now leads a company with an international client base. His business is highly technical, and Ed himself has an engineering background.
However, when he talked about recruitment, he first mentioned looking for “people with strong core values and a ‘growth attitude’” which, combined with “flexibility” has enabled Safewell Solutions to serve a large client base overseas.
Over the last twenty years, there has been an explosion in international education; from fewer than a million pupils worldwide to more than six million today.
Interestingly, 80% of these pupils are not the expatriates the schools were initially created to serve, but locals.
The experience of Ed’s company gives some hints of why this might be the case. It went global in 2005. Ed explained that to grow he “welcomed new clients who educated us in their cultures”. They have to cope with new sets of challenges some of them technical like “new legislation” but many of them purely human, such as “cultural differences and communicating values”. In fact, a big challenge has been to “ensure that values are aligned.”
ISA has experienced the same change in demographic as international schools worldwide. 10 years ago, it had few locals, now more than 40% of its pupils are Aberdonians.
Talking with Ed I got a sense of the tremendous changes that have taken place in his industry from technology to clients. Yet he constantly referred back to the importance of strong values. Schools like ISA are used to dealing with change.
Like Safewell Solutions, we understand that if you don’t have a clear sense of purpose and a strong sense of values, change isn’t development. It’s chaos.
ISA’s mission is to provide ‘excellence in education’. We want our pupils to reach their maximum potential and to become socially responsible active global citizens.
ISA educates fifty nationalities in an environment that encourages not just mutual tolerance, but active learning from peers.
The collaborative skills that companies like Safewell Solutions value are encouraged by lessons which routinely encourage discussion. By an active student council and by after school activities like the Model United Nations, which encourage debate and engagement with a wider world.
Having pride in our identity but thinking beyond our borders is key to success in modern life. That requires adaptability.
Ed told me that “It is important for companies to move away from a fixed mindset to create new opportunities” and “to recruit people with a growth mindset”.
This mindset is exactly what an international education promotes.
ISA does not rank pupils. It expects each child to improve, to focus on their own next steps to develop and to work with others to achieve this. They talk through what they have learnt, consider its relevance and reflect on its significance.
The culmination of an international education is the prestigious International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB) welcomed by universities in Scotland, the rest of the UK and the world beyond.
Recognised by universities for promoting independent enquiry, an open mind and self-management, its graduates routinely outperform those with a background in ‘A’ Levels and Scottish Higher in achieving the top degrees.
IB has its own value – “To make a better and more peaceful world”. Research also shows it is more effective in providing students with the skills they need for the workplace. I am sure Ed would agree that soft skills are increasingly important, but they need to be backed up by genuine expertise. The IB Diploma develops both.
ISA boasts world class facilities, a highly qualified staff, internationally recognised curriculums, but what has got it through the last few years of rapid change is a strong sense of values and an eye on the future.
Just like Safewell Solutions, our graduates have the ability and the mindset to thrive in a fast changing and complex world.