Although I’m not living in the US anymore, it’s hard to ignore the countless tragedies and appalling incidents that’s been happening in the last few months. Unsurprisingly, they are reported through other countries’ news media outlets like BBC and World News Asia, both of which I follow on Twitter. On the other hand, as a side note, Japanese media outlets rarely, if ever, reports school shootings in the United States. It’s just something I’ve noticed recently.
It has been reported that there’s been more than a dozen shootings on school campuses in 2018. More than a dozen, in the first two months. Following the Parkland shooting, the number of posts I’ve seen from my friends and colleagues in relation to gun control, arming teachers with guns, what their lockdown drill looks like, and the political action or lack thereof, have increased significantly.
Unrelatedly, at my school in Vietnam, we practiced a lockdown drill a few months ago. This was nothing like the lockdown drill I had practiced at public schools in the US during my student teaching. “Lockdown” was explained as something we’ll do if there is a threat on campus. And to our students, a threat meant someone who should not be on campus. No one ever thought that a person with a gun could ever come into the school, that a shooting would happen in a school was beyond comprehension to these kids. Guns were something that they only saw in movies and games they played, not something that could actually hurt someone they cared about. This realisation, along with the aforementioned increasing posts about the shootings and a real hard look at the students and families I work with, have got me thinking about the real differences between US public schools and international schools.
The first difference that you’ll notice immediately is the amount of resources we (international schools) have. When I was a student at one in middle school, the school was moving towards a “one-device-per-student” initiative, meaning the school provided a laptop for each student. Currently at my school, there are 4 computers in each classroom of 22 students, 2 computer labs with about 25 computers to be shared across 5 grade levels, and the students at the elementary level are asked and encouraged to bring in their own devices if they own any, and most do. Students’ personal iPads, other tablets, and even small laptops make appearance in the classroom on a daily basis. I’m not criticizing the use of these devices as I definitely see the benefits of using them to enhance student learning. But after working at a school in Boston where we were sharing 20 Chromebooks between 100 students, the difference is striking.
On top of that, we are able to put in a purchase request for almost anything we want in our classrooms within reason. Almost all materials we want printed and made into textbooks for students can be done, without having to worry about the amount of paper we are using. Although environmentally unfriendly, it is super helpful that we are able to compile resources and materials that cater to the needs of our students to make workbooks and textbooks for our students.
Of course, we do experience lack of resources sometimes given the fact that we are in a non-English speaking country. English books are hard to find. Finding grade-level appropriate, culturally relevant (ie, history of Vietnam) material in English has been a challenge.
Another difference is the socioeconomic status of the students at international schools. Many of the students come from very affluent families, having grown up with almost everything they wanted. Many come from two-parent households where one works, one doesn’t. Many also live close to or with their extended family. It is often times true that they’ve never faced any hardships before entering school, and it is likely that they won’t after they enter school either. Many have nannies and cleaners at home who do everything for them, so there is a sense of learned helplessness among the students especially in the younger grades, to an extent I’d never seen in public schools.
Linguistically and culturally too, there is a difference between international schools and public schools. It’s interesting to think that with the growing number of immigrants in the US, there might be just as much of a diversity in culture, heritage, and language at a public school in the United States as there is at an international school. The way these differences are viewed, treated, and valued are strikingly different though. Home languages often are valued in international schools as an asset. Although there is more and more research that shows the benefit of translanguaging and additive bilingualism, non-English languages and culture that goes along with it are still marginalized in the United States. At international schools, differences in culture are celebrated and cherished, with various versions of international day, food fairs, and events.
Every school has its benefits and disadvantages. Neither US public schools nor international schools are perfect, and I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other. But there’s a lot we can learn from each other.
And maybe even more, if we were to look at schools all around the world. Imagine how great schools everywhere would be, if each school took in the highlights from other schools and adapted it to fit the needs of their students…