Notes from The Jungle - International education in our time - Excerpt from the book
by John Price
Author of Notes from The Jungle Continued from page 1
February 1, 2009
You have kindly read this far. How can I persuade you to take the book to the till and use your precious Christmas book tokens from Aunt Maud to purchase it? Firstly, you would not believe some of the things that happen in international schools. You could not make them up if you tried. The protagonists in the dramas are a long way from home; small problems seem insuperable and can trigger irrational and extreme responses.
The good thing about being head of an international school is that one is not really the member of any important club. International heads are viewed by the HMC mandarins as a long way below the salt. At the last conference my international colleagues and I were seated at table 26 (of 26) with the band and next to the gents. This was not a cause of resentment; rather it was a liberation. Membership of the East India Club is naturally a perk, but, were one to be thrown out for offences against the establishment, there is always the Planters’ Bar in the Coliseum in Kuala Lumpur - an establishment akin to Rick’s Café, which I would happily cross the world for and where I could drink myself to an early, but very contented, death.
Being in education overseas gives one a certain perspective on what is happening in the UK. You will be glad to hear I have not hesitated to share that perspective with you in the pages that follow. Leading an international school is rather different from running an established HMC school in the shires, as I will make clear. May these pages stand as an honest account of life in the outside lane of education!
International schools are springing up all over the world. They offer a Western education, but stress international values. Many globally mobile parents choose them for their children - the British workforce is one of the most mobile in the world - and some local parents also prefer them.
British education still has a high reputation in countries that were once part of the British Empire. Local parents in these countries often prefer the British formula to that provided by American-style international schools. Most international schools offer a broad, liberal education at a reasonable price. They are very suitable for parents wanting high standards of teaching, but who find that UK boarding schools are beyond their means.
When I started teaching in 1980, I had never heard of international schools. My first job was in Scotland and I had no intention of teaching overseas. I only ever considered jobs in the private sector. I never applied to state schools, although I was the product of one, because I doubted I had the necessary grit. I never once looked at the international pages of the Times Education Supplement.
I began my career in public schools. I loved the old buildings, the sherry before lunch and the intelligent boys. I like their humour, particularly when they are 15 and 16, and the cut and thrust of a lively set. I worked at the Edinburgh Academy, Bedales and Winchester College, but after sixteen years in the independent sector, I felt I needed a change. International schools offered the challenge I was looking for. I have been the head of two international schools: the Yayasan Saad Matriculation College in the state of Selangor in Malaysia and JIS in Brunei. The experience has been immensely enjoyable and I shall probably never return to headmastering in the UK. International schools have certainly come of age in the last twenty-five years. All around the world, in so many different countries, they provide a vibrant alternative to education provided by the state. British, Australian and North American teachers now find themselves in the most far flung places and are providing an education to children of almost every race and religion.
Many of the international schools founded in the last twenty years saw difficult times at the end of the 1990s. They had to sail the turbulent seas of financial insecurity. Most have now emerged from their childhood and adolescence with reputations for high academic standards and challenging extra-curricular programmes.
The number of international schools has risen exponentially in this time and they are very diverse in character and size. They vary from two rooms over a shop in the back streets of Kuala Lumpur and Hanoi to large, well developed campuses. Some have facilities that would make the headmasters of the great British public schools green with envy. International schools are very much a twentieth century phenomenon - perhaps it is meaningful to speak of international education in the Middle Ages, since schools all taught in Latin and had a common curriculum - but the parallels soon collapse. A few international schools predate the Second World War, but the overwhelming majority were founded in the last twenty years.
John Price never meant to be a teacher, but after a short stint as an accountant and rejection letters from the Foreign Office and MI6, he succumbed to the inevitable. But he never looked back. He taught at the Edinburgh Academy, Bedales, Winchester College, where he was Under Master, and then secured his first headship in Malaysia. There he helped to set up a new school in Lembah Beringin, 40 miles north of Kuala Lumpur. After that, he returned to Winchester, but soon got itchy feet again. He has been Headmaster of Jerudong International School in Brunei since 2004.
Price is a linguist (French, Russian and rather rusty Arabic) and writes for the Brunei Times as a feature writer and education correspondent. Notes from the Jungle grew out of weekly missives to former colleagues at Winchester and is his first book.
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