Verdala International School (VIS) was recently invited to a round-table discussion on multiculturalism with President George Vella at Verdala Palace. It was a wonderful opportunity for one of our students and staff to participate in the ongoing conversation around “creating and maintaining tolerance and inclusion”.
With 54 nationalities on our campus, diversity is at the core of our being, bringing with it a potential hotpot of contention but also an opportunity to consider different perspectives.
Education itself brings diverse opinions, as everyone has personal experiences. When choosing a school for their child, some parents take a step back and trust the institution, others want to be more involved, as a critical friend or paying customer. Some prefer traditional education with a teacher lecturing the students, others are excited by our inquiry approach, where the teacher acts as facilitator.
Added to this are the students themselves, who may hear their parents’ views at home and then independently reflect on matters arising from an internationally-minded curriculum. It can be difficult if they find themselves questioning their parents’ perspective. Indeed, it can be equally hard for parents who understandably don’t want their child to lose connection to their home values.
We need to educate students how to recognise and challenge the bias and discrimination taking place
We need to find a way to have constructive debate and discussion that leads to an understanding that we all want the same thing, peace, care for our planet and for each other. This lands squarely in the shared-values paradigm, where we find what we have in common while also acknowledging that we can be different.
However, underneath that difference of opinion lies a fundamental agreement to honour our diversity of race, identity and access to learning.
At VIS, our anti-discrimination policy helps those joining us and is a reminder to those already within our community of how we expect to be treated, respected and communicated with. Every year, we sign our codes of conducts, so there is no misunderstanding of what we have mutually agreed to stand for.
Hanging a policy on a wall, however, does not mean we all live by it. The world is full of many perspectives and social media pushes algorithms of fake news and conspiracies into our lives. We need to educate students how to recognise and challenge the bias and discrimination taking place.
VIS embraces this through its IB curriculum, which uses critical thinking to encourage global-mindedness and the knowledge of understanding, but also through a diversity-inclusion-well-being calendar which ties closely with social justice standards. Our weekly Friday Focus hour (early years to sixth form) takes all our students on a journey that tackles the tricky issues of today. Age-appropriate and with a shared theme, we aim to raise awareness, share experiences and deep-dive into current issues that matter to our young people today. We engage in topics such as serving others, neurodiversity, race and bias, gender equality, LGBQT+ awareness, and eco matters. These initiatives are championed by staff, with the older students taking leadership roles, as we build our mutual understanding of our planet and humankind.
Our theme this month is ‘community’, with the aim of fostering the feeling of belonging. We shouldn’t have to fit in but should feel part of the community. This is especially important as new students and staff join us on an annual basis. Real inclusion relies on our own self-esteem and resilience but also a sense of belonging.
We all have a story, enriched by personal experiences that influence how we interact; therefore, during this first session, our students will have an opportunity to share their own identity story and think about what they bring to the VIS Venn diagram. One of our student profiles is to be a ‘contributor’ as we hope to instil an ethos where everyone is safe and empowered to contribute.
While we work on these values as a community, we are aware that the world is a complex place where idealistic values can get mixed up with polarising points of view. However, if we educate young people to share and learn from each other, there is hope for common language, collaboration and discussion, the first steps to finding a way through our differences.