Schools can nurture international-mindedness

TFS students in Paris, France.

Toronto, widely considered to be the most multicultural city in the world, is a natural place to nurture an appreciation for all things international. People from 230 different nationalities call Toronto home and, in a place that is known for being welcoming and inclusive, there is easy access to culturally and linguistically diverse neighbourhoods, restaurants, events and media.

But does such access guarantee children’s awareness of global issues, or teach them how different countries connect with one another in international affairs? Does it nurture an appreciation for different cultures, religions and customs and foster values of respect?

Yes and no.

Of course such exposure is important in fostering a wider view of the world, and in encouraging respect and appreciation of other cultures. But in considering how to deepen children’s consciousness about global matters, many parents are now looking to their children’s schools.

Today, some schools in Canada are making
international-mindedness an educational priority. With a focus on developing mutual respect, schools can foster in their students a global perspective through learning new languages, community service, in-class research and travel, to name just a few.

At TFS, Canada’s International School, the gateway to international-mindedness is through language. As a French/English bilingual school that blends the curricula of France, Ontario and the International Baccalaureate (IB), students intuitively learn about other countries and world issues because they are viewing these matters through the separate lens of two foundational languages and cultures.

Families at the school collectively speak more than 60 languages at home — a testament to the school’s diversity, and reflective of Toronto’s own. By learning French, taught by Francophones hailing from all corners of the globe, the stage is well set for students to become internationally minded.

Children are never too young to start learning about who they are, how their heritage informs their life, and about the similarities and differences in humankind. At TFS’ La p’tite école, the youngest students (age 2 to Grade 1) dedicate a day to Right to Play, an international non-profit organization that focuses on how the power of play can help children worldwide overcome adversity. Funds raised during the day help Right To Play send sporting equipment and games to developing countries. To reinforce the importance of play, students are given simple materials and objects, and are challenged to create games that are fun and inclusive. It’s a powerful lesson on the privileges we have in Canada, with access to excellent facilities and sports equipment, and raises awareness of the challenges that children around the world face.

As students become more aware of their place in their community, and develop their sense of citizenship, schools can provide opportunities for learning through a globally aware curriculum, service activities, such as collecting and sorting donations at a local food bank, and other forms of student-led activism.

Taking action is a core component of IB studies, so when students are researching a topic for their Personal Project in Grade 10, for example, they also explore the real-life impact of what they are investigating.

Last year, a Grade 10 student at TFS was researching how sport could help immigrants better integrate into Canadian society. The action component of his research led him to volunteer as a cricket coach at the Go Green sports club, which offers programming for at-risk youth in Toronto. Ultimately, he organized a cricket match, in the middle of winter no less, at TFS.

Attended by a boisterous crowd, TFS’ head of school, Pakistan’s consul general and the co-chair of Go Green, the cricket match raised awareness of a sport with millions of fans.

Travelling abroad can also offer many real-world connections to learning in the classroom. Students at TFS have debated in Model UN conferences at Yale University, toured Cuba as an extension of studying IB Spanish, and this past year the school celebrated 20 years of student exchanges with a school in Paris, France.

At every age, children are able to understand connections by finding the commonalities that transcend borders. And whether it is nurtured at a local, national or global level, developing a sense of international-mindedness is a gift that students will benefit from their entire lives.

Anita Griffiths is marketing manager at TFS (Toronto French School).

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