06 Sep 2019

Alex Hems: Head's Blog September 6 2019

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Global Awareness at the Heart of a 21st Century Education 

This past week has been a tumultuous one, even by recent standards in British political life, and will undoubtedly have left many feeling unsettled and anxious about the future. By contrast the routines of school life, resumed now after the summer break, seem especially comforting, and the daily surprises that are an inevitable and joyous part of working alongside so many bright and creative people, are refreshing and uplifting. Just as this term was about to start we heard the exciting news that St George’s has been successful in bidding for a grant to carry out an Erasmus + project. With the title Community and Culture, our project will enable us to work with and visit partner schools in Austria and Italy over a two-year period. This sort of international collaboration, which seems particularly relevant at the moment, not only has strength in promoting cross-cultural understanding, but also as a preparation for a working world which will see our students competing on an international platform for future employment. As I write, we have just been hosting a group of visiting Danish students and their teachers in school for the day, and our girls and the visitors engaged in valuable and searching discussion about, among other things, how they would identify Scottish and Danish culture, and their respective nations’ relationship with their immediate neighbours. These discussions seem especially poignant as the United Kingdom struggles to decide its future relationship with Europe and engages in some of the most critical constitutional wrangling that I can recall in my lifetime, which will certainly shape our nation’s future for many years to come.

One of the school’s greatest strengths is its very strong international outlook. Later this month we will welcome the Robert Burns Scholar, from St Andrew’s College in New Zealand, and in the course of the year other exchange students from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA, Chile and South Africa. These physical exchanges are also complemented with a carefully developed programme of digital exchanges with schools across the globe which are closely linked to our curriculum. Most recently we have added the School of Leadership Afghanistan (SOLA) to that list, and I am delighted that our students have the chance to Skype with other young people whose daily lives may be dramatically different from theirs, but whose underlying concerns and interests as young women may well be very similar. I have no doubt that all those who take part in the exchanges, and get to know our visitors while they are here, will find their outlook on life, and perhaps their understanding of themselves, enriched and enlarged by the experience. This gets to the nub of what education should aim to achieve; for us the international dimension to school life is not an added extra but an essential element in a truly liberal education for the twenty-first century.

Whatever the outcome of debates at Westminster and Holyrood, I am certain that many more of our young people today will need to be equipped to pursue their careers across the globe. To have the confidence to pack one’s bag and set off to work on another continent will increasingly be an expectation, and how exciting it is for our girls to have those opportunities open to them! Every year a few of our leavers set off to study abroad, this year one to Paris and another to Amsterdam. To learn to embrace the new and unfamiliar, and also to learn to live and work alongside and at close quarters with others, with tolerance and mutual respect, are vital lessons for life. This is, of course, the very essence of what the best of boarding at school should be about, and Houldsworth, our boarding house, continues to play an important role in school life. We welcome students from across the world, as well as our Scottish and English boarders, to make a home with us in term time, and to make friends here who I am sure will remain with them for life. While the UK seeks to define or redefine itself, and as national identities are asserted, I hope that spirit of openness to an international perspective, which is at the very heart of St George’s, will stay with all our students throughout their lives.

Mrs Alex Hems MA Oxon
Head, St George's School for Girls, Edinburgh

Interested in finding out more about St George's? Join us at one of our Open Mornings on 28 September and 2 October.

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