EDUCATION

EDUCATION

Channeling the UN’s values of sustainable development in children from a young age © Ecole Int

An international education
An insight into the importance of peace and development in schools with Conrad Hughes, Director of the Ecole Internationale de Genève
31 Jan 2024

In 2024-2025, the Ecole Internationale de Genève is celebrating its centenary. What are the main events that have marked 100 years of this school?

We are the world’s oldest international school with 143 student nationalities, the highest student nationality count for any school in the world. The school was at the origin of the International Baccalaureate (IB) in the late 1960s and the very first IB diplomas ever were presented to students in our iconic Greek Theatre in 1971. This goes back to our commitment as a school dedicated to international mindedness and peace.

Some inspirational figures have graduated from our school including Indira Gandhi, Queen Sirikit of Thailand, Pulitzer Prize winner Douglas Hofstadter, artists such as Joe Dassin and Christophe Lambert, as well as numerous peacemakers associated with the UN such as Álvaro de Soto (UN Senior Political Adviser) and Bob Rae (Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, who will be our keynote speaker at the World Alumni Reunion this June). Among the brilliant teachers to have worked here were Jeanne Hersch, the philosopher and the French novelist Michel Butor.

Our school has developed a unique competence-based curriculum framework, the Universal Learning Programme, in collaboration with UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education and recently the Ecolint Learner Passport, an alternative transcript that presents the profile of graduates as much more than a series of academic grades, celebrating all of their achievements, be they in the areas of sports, the arts or social impact.

Our focus as an educational institution is on a relevant curriculum that enhances understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals and action within those goals. As such, we run a strong programme on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Anti-Racism and are dedicated to sustainable development and education for peace. Our mandate is to provide a high quality international education for the international and local community.

Next academic year we celebrate our centenary, the program of which will be released in the upcoming months. It promises to be a year of community building but also careful reflection on the critical role international education has in shaping future decision-makers of our world.

Conrad Hughes, Director of the Ecole Internationale de Genève © EcoleInt

In Geneva there are many international schools. What distinguishes the Ecole Internationale de Genève from other schools?

Firstly our extraordinary student diversity. Growing up with so many different cultures, languages and viewpoints enhances intercultural competence and open-mindedness, which are core skills for today’s complex, challenging world. We are a not-for-profit foundation with strong values. We run a ‘speakers series’ through which we have been privileged to welcome, among others, Nobel Prize winners such as Ben Okri, public intellectuals such as Angela Davis and Germaine Greer, world class journalists such as John Pilger, musicians such as Angélique Kidjo, Barbara Hendrix and the Afghan Womens’ Orchestra and keynote speakers such as Mario Vargas Llosa.

We are an inclusive school and run a scholarship program and many of our bursars are refugees. Finally, Ecolint is a school where teachers go the extra mile, accompanying each student with real care and passion. This is one of the things that make me proudest about our school. The hard work done by our board and leadership teams has allowed us, in recent years, to not increase school fees despite inflation, meaning that we are not the most expensive private international school on the market. Next academic year we will be taking this a step further and actually lowering the fees in our pre-reception and reception classes.

Does the Ecole Internationale de Genève have relations with the UN? If yes, what is the nature of these relations?

Our relationship is historic and stems back to our origins as a school founded in 1924 by international civil servants from the League of Nations and the International Labour Organization. Sometimes referred to in its early days as “The League School”, it channels the spirit and ideals of the United Nations, even before the latter emerged from the league.

In 1953, the school invented the Model United Nations system, which today is practiced by thousands of students across the world. The simulation of the protocol of resolution setting, debate, voting and adoption (or rejection) is a powerful, concrete example of what an education for peace looks like and I believe that this is probably the most significant production that has come out of the partnership between Ecolint and the United Nations. Over 40% of our families work for the UN or UN-affiliated institutions and some remarkable UN people have served our community, notably Kofi Annan, who was on our board in the 1980s.

The Ecole Internationale de Genève is among the few schools to offer programmes to children with disabilities. What are the main features of the programme and do you intend to implement measures the programme more affordable and therefore more accessible to parents with children with disabilities?

As an inclusive school, we are committed to opening our doors to different styles of learning, including students who are neurodivergent. We have a Learning Support Programme for students with mild learning needs and an Extended Support Programme for students with severe learning difficulties, who very often will not be accepted into other mainstream schools. We are proud of this but recognise that, given the ratio of adults to students, the price is high. The school is exploring ways of making it more affordable so that this exceptional service can reach even more learners.

The Learner Passport was created at the Ecole Internationale de Genève in 2021. What are the aims of it and how do you think it benefits your students?

The whole idea of the passport is to describe learning not just through academic knowledge and technical skill alone. Although knowledge and skills are important, there is much more to a human being than their academic pathway – what the world needs is an educational program that develops attitudes and values as well as aptitudes and knowledge. 

These are the seven core areas that we aim to develop in each learner:

Lifelong Learning

Self Agency

Interacting with others

Interactively using diverse tools and resources

Interacting with the world

Multi literateness

Transdisciplinarity

We have grouped over 50 schools and universities across the world dedicated to this fundamental work of redesigning school transcripts in a coalition to honour all learning. I believe that reforming transcripts is one of the most fundamentally important things schools can do to make education more holistic and inclusive.

How do you predict generative Artificial Intelligence will enhance the learning experience for students and in what ways will it be used?

Generative Artificial Intelligence is a game-changer: it is forcing schools to think differently about the production and distribution of knowledge. One of the first things Ecolint did after its explosion in mainstream circles was to partner with UNESCO experts to write our generative artificial intelligence policy, something all schools should have. Essentially, our goal is to work with and not against technology. For example, we encourage students to use artificial intelligence to generate responses to prompts and then to analyse the quality of the response, to know how to create salient prompts and to have AI give feedback on their work.

GenAI is also pushing us into deeper human thinking for us to live with technology in such a way that we are driving it and it is not driving us. At the end of the day, welcome back to the idea of human flourishing: technology is not teaching us to be machines, it is reminding us of what it means to be human.

* Mollie Fraser-Andrews is Editorial Coordinator for UN Today.
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