Thursday, 10 September 2009

The value of global school projects?

Today I had a Skype interview with an independent monitor for the European Commission concerning the AEC-NET projects our school has been involved with. The purpose for this interview was to help the Commission assess the value for their money invested in the various projects of Asia-Europe Foundation.

For me, the value is quite clear. During every single project, whether virtual or a face-to-face student exchange, I have witnessed incredible changes in the mindsets and attitudes of many students. From monocultural, often stereotypical, even prejudiced attitudes they start gaining insights into the urgency of becoming more multicultural in their mindsets. I believe these are invaluable learning experiences for today's youngsters growing up in the globalising world. Not only isolated language training, but also authentic intercultural communication practice as an essential part of it.

All through the interview, I felt I was failing to explain this in terms that the evaluator would understand. On a personal level, yes, he could appreciate the value, but how about the stakeholders holding the purse strings? I doubt it. You can't quantify the development of somebody's mindset in any way. There is no test to prove that any of this will have any concrete value to these youngsters' futures. Deep down I know there is a lot of value in it, but it is only a hunch, a gut feeling - my biased interpretation perhaps? It is this value, however, that drives me forward and makes me invest a lot of my freetime and effort in developing these projects year after year. It is something you can't learn by reading books or listening to teachers or lectures alone. You will need to engage in this dialogue yourself, face differences with an open mind, and grow beyond the boundaries of your own language and culture.

How can we make our governments and school administrators realize the value? Too often I feel that idealism and softer values are dismissed in today's harsh atmosphere of insisting that value can only be measured numerically. In such an atmosphere, the words students and teachers wrote in the final evaluation questionnaire of last year's project, tend to fall on deaf ears:

I could meet new people of different countries which have different cultures. Here, I see that intercultural learning is crucial in order to build harmonious relationships between countries.

I enjoyed the opportunity to be able to learn and understand the students involved in the project. I am also more understanding to certain cultural practices of other countries. I could discuss and know others' ideas in the different countries.

I really enjoyed the fact that I could talk to people from other parts of the world. It gave me a chance to learn about other cultures as well as individual people. I also got to learn how to write a blog. This was something I had never done before.

I have learned about European culture and school lives. I am very pleased to have my students have chances to participate in the international understanding. My students could widen their horizons.

How would you describe the value of global school projects?

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