Parents choose to send their children to Verdala International School for many reasons, including the type of education we offer (inquiry-driven), our ethos (being internationally minded) and because we are a stepping stone to university education in or beyond Malta.

With each class comprising students from 54 countries, we are a genuine global patchwork. International schools offer a unique scenario whereby students from around the world form deep friendships as they learn, problem-solve and laugh together.

Our school’s philosophy is based around anti-discrimination and an intention of pursuing a world where conflicts are resolved. What better place to start than in an environment that fosters neither prejudice nor judgement. Unfortunately, the current political climate makes this challenging; nevertheless, VIS remains a place of safety and neutrality which our parents appreciate.

We cannot bury our heads in the sand, as we know that some global issues personally affect our students. While many of the current conflicts are steeped in years of history, the reality is that current geopolitics has meant more people are voicing their concerns and perspective through social media and activitism.

Our role is to invest in the people who will hopefully make choices based on the values of coexistence and tolerance

The International Baccalaureate curriculum fosters opportunity for both critical thinking skills and debate through which we can acknowledge where the differences stem from.

Languages can be seen as a barrier or a bridge; therefore, we foster a range of additional languages but also place value on supporting mother-tongue languages, now appropriately re-named home-language learning. As American writer Rita Mae Brown says: “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”

This was highly evident last week when our students proudly sung their hearts out in a range of languages in our very own ‘Verdalavision’, part of our ‘World languages celebration’.

A VIS student taking part in Verdalavision – celebrating languages through music.A VIS student taking part in Verdalavision – celebrating languages through music.

This year we added a Maltese Language and Culture course to our Middle Years programme which, alongside our annual Maltese field-trip week, gives us the opportunity to connect our students to the local heritage.

In preparation for our 2024 graduation, we faced an ethical challenge, as traditionally we would celebrate each of our students by raising their flag as a symbol of their culture and roots. Interestingly, this has historically never been a contentious point.

It is not new to have students from countries in conflict, but this year it has raised question marks. Does the flag tell the story of their nationality or does it represent the government of the time, which one may or may not agree with? Should one flag be removed over another? Questioning members of the community gave responses such as “No one should be ashamed of their roots”, “My country is not the current government but its cultural heritage”, and “I do not wish to see the flag of a country that violates human rights”.

Honouring everyone’s background has always been an acknowledgment of our differences, as we do not aim for a homogenous society but one that, as per our policy, “values everyone’s right to express views and opinions in a respectful manner, however, discrimination on any basis in unacceptable”.

As an educational institution, we have a responsibility to promote humanity, responsibility and peace. We strive to show our students that everyone at the table matters, that perspectives may differ, and it is dialogue that will find the way through to a peaceful solution, not picking up arms.

The OECD says: “Reinforcing global competence is vital for individuals to thrive in a rapidly changing world and for societies to progress without leaving anyone behind. Against a context in which we all have much to gain from growing openness and connectivity, and much to lose from rising inequalities and radicalism, citizens need not only the skills to be competitive and ready for a new world of work, but more importantly, they also need to develop the capacity to analyse and understand global and intercultural issues.”

While we live in a chaotic world addressing antagonism and, in some cases escalating conflict, our role is to invest in the people who will hopefully make choices based on the values of coexistence and tolerance.

Therefore, for our 2024 graduation, we made the decision to raise all 54 flags to symbolise the unity of the students in our VIS community. We are an inclusive institution where no child should feel excluded.


Totty Aris is head of Verdala International School.

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