International schools, global citizenship and elitism

Zach and Anthony

Zach has never travelled outside Burkina Faso. His siblings and mother have been to neighbouring countries like Mali and Niger but no one in his family has been outside of Africa. Nor has Zach seen the sea. It is one of his projects, to get down to Côte d’Ivoire to see the coast one day, maybe after he has finished school.

Zach feels proud to be from Burkina Faso. In his classroom, there is a poster of his country’s flag, flanked by two white horses. At the foot of the image are the words Unité, Progrès, Justice. It is difficult for Zach to envision what life outside Burkina Faso might be like but he imagines skyscrapers, lavish cars, vistas and glamorous images he has glimpsed occasionally on other people’s iPhones.

On another wall in the classroom there is a map of the world. It is weather-beaten and tired but children still gather around it often, pointing at different countries, speaking their names out loud, testing each other on capitals. Zach’s favourite country on the map is Brazil. When he looks at it he thinks of his favourite football player Neymar and the great Brazilian footballers that his father used to talk about with so much passion: Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka.

For Zach, travel is a far-flung dream that hardly ever enters his imaginary orbit. The major towns of Burkina Faso and its capital seem far enough away for him to look at them with some awe and bewilderment, let alone the prospect of travelling to another continent.

In class, students have discussed other parts of the world and what is happening in them. Zach has been told that the COVID-19 pandemic started in China, that it is dangerous to be a black person in America and that the recent terrorist attacks in Ouagadougou were carried out by extremists in Mali. He can sense that the world is connected and that while he might not be able to travel to see the world, the world travels to see him, even if it does so indirectly.

For Anthony, on the other hand, travel is second nature. Anthony has been to four continents and travels internationally every winter and some summers.

His father is constantly travelling although more recently, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he has been working from home.

Anthony’s favourite country is Australia. He has been twice and loved surfing in Torquay, south of Melbourne. He also has fond memories of Hawaii as it was one of those trips that took place so long ago that it remains in his memory in a faded, nostalgic manner that is pleasing to recall.

Although Anthony holds a Russian passport, he doesn’t really feel Russian: he considers himself more as a citizen of the world. Most of his classmates are the same—they are “global citizens”. Anthony knows that whatever industry he chooses to enter in the future, it will involve working with people from all over the world and that it is therefore in his interests to speak more than one language and to know how to communicate with others well.

In his school, the headmaster talks about collaboration and soft skills a lot, explaining that these will be necessary for the future and that the students are lucky to be learning them from a young age. Anthony understands that soft skills are things like knowing how to listen to other people, how to negotiate and leadership qualities.

There are over 60 nationalities in Anthony’s school and at the entrance there is a large screen that often plays a promotional film. It says, “At our school, we learn to be global citizens”.

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