Asian Correspondent » UWC South East Asia Asian Correspondent Tue, 26 May 2015 03:51:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Life as a Boarder Fri, 01 Jun 2012 07:15:40 +0000

More than once in my messages to parents at UWCSEA I touch on two key ideas for our school: diversity and community. Perhaps nowhere are these essential elements of a UWCSEA education brought together more fully than in the two boarding communities – Mahindra and Senior House. One hundred and eighty-one boarders representing 47 nationalities live and work together in close proximity. Sixty-three of the boarders are National Committee Scholars who are selected by more than 130 national committees on the basis of personal merit and potential. Race, gender, religion, politics and ability to pay are not considered during the selection process.

The boarding houses are a direct expression of Kurt Hahn’s original idea that bringing young people from all over the world together could help to overcome religious, cultural and racial misunderstanding and avoid conflict. Evelin Toth, our Grade 11 Hungarian National Committee Scholar, describes life in the boarding house like this:

“So, how is boarding life?” – this is a question that we are usually asked and that we are never able to give a proper answer to, simply because it is impossible to describe this unique experience in a few sentences. Cooking dinner together in the kitchen, swimming with your friends after dinner, running desperately from the guardhouse to the lobby to get our sign-in cards as our we are about to miss our curfew, are all things that characterise our everyday lives very well.

The most amazing thing about being a boarder is that you never feel alone. When you go down to the common room, there will definitely be someone to talk to. No wonder we barely make it to class in time in the morning – it is not easy to go to bed early with so many friends around! Among the 130 boarders living in Senior House, there will definitely be someone to turn to if you face a difficult exercise with logarithms or if you just need help with choosing what to wear for a special occasion.

Most of us come from thousands of miles away. It is our very first experience of being away from our family and friends, and the environment that we are used to. We are really lucky; living in the boarding house is something that helps us feel that despite the distance there is a community that we truly belong to. Starting from the activities on Orientation Week, organising the International Evening and the wonderful trip to Desaru have all been experiences that have made our community stronger.

Students come here from different cultures with different values, habits and traditions. Being a part of this community gives you the opportunity to get a better understanding of the diversity of the people. Just try going to the common room on a Saturday night. You will see people juggling, playing the guitar, singing, painting the wall or just learning how to count to 20 in Korean. It is a lively community with amazing and versatile people who are happy to share their skills, and their understanding of the world. I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Anyone meeting the boarding students cannot fail to take away an impression of them as a remarkable group of young people. They are an essential part of what makes UWCSEA such a dynamic, joyful, special school.


Frazer Cairns

Head of UWCSEA Dover

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Education and Language Fri, 18 May 2012 07:47:53 +0000 Frazer Cairns

This week, I attended two activities that together I found fascinating: a meeting of the Initiative for Peace and the joyously energetic International Evening. Though very different in their scope and intention, both were very caught up with the concept of language and in how we communicate with one another.

I recently read that ethnologists put the number of distinct spoken languages on the planet at somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000. Though it is incredibly difficult to be exact (and there is quite a difference between 15,000 and 20,000), the extraordinary diversity and complexity represented by the languages of the world is without doubt. It is a complexity that has not always been viewed positively. In the Christian bible, for example, the story of Babel tells of a people condemned to mutual incomprehension through the curse of multiple languages. It is also fascinating to see that, apparently, almost no culture is known of in which some form of Babel-motif does not exist.

Contrary to this, the great thinker George Steiner in his book Errata wrote that Babel, the confusion of human voices, is the exact contrary of a curse. That the gift of tongues as he puts it is exactly that – a gift, a benediction beyond reckoning. He says that ‘the riches of experience and the creativities of thought made possible by the Aladdin’s cave of language is a cause for jubilation.’ This is a position backed up by an increasing body of research. Speakers of two or more languages have been found to think and process in a different way. They are more flexible and, indeed, exhibit a measurable cognitive advantage over their monolingual peers. Studies in, for example, France, Finland and Italy have shown that speaking two or more languages makes you a better mathematician, a better scientist, a better historian or a better artist in addition to the more conventionally cited benefits of being more aware of your own culture and the culture of others.

Even though great diversity does exist – the current day Nigerian-Cameroon language group, for example, has some 66 distinct tongues including Khamsa which, incredibly, was spoken in one single village by the last survivors of the Mokoa people – it is a diversity that is being lost at an incredible rate. There is now no longer a single mother tongue speaker of Khamsa and, in fact, two thirds of the 15 – 20,000, are already on their way to becoming extinct. For many of these, the only afterlife will be a tape recording somewhere in some archive, and it is a depressing fact that the rate of extinction of languages – and the assimilation of minority cultures – is increasing. It is depressing because each language generates and articulates a world view and a narrative of human destiny for which there is no equivalent in another language. The death of a language is in many ways a death of a world.

With the increasing dominance of English around the world, language is a resource that could be overlooked. Though I do not think that the pronunciation of Brændende kærlighed, a dish of mashed potatoes and cream, the fabulous name of which translates to ‘burning love,’ should be required knowledge, the linguistic diversity that is present in UWCSEA – with students sitting alongside representatives of more than 75 nationalities – is a resource and a part of our core education that we should value greatly.

Frazer Cairns

Head of UWCSEA Dover

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Education and Ethics Fri, 11 May 2012 07:44:02 +0000 Frazer Cairns

Frazer Cairns is the Head of Dover Campus at UWCSEA and has 13 years experience in international schools on three continents. He is currently studying for his doctorate in Education and is fascinated by the way language is used in multilingual educational settings.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk informally to parents who came in to the College. One of these parents, as his opening gambit, raised the question of ethics in education. This might be considered a little unfair given that I had just tucked into a biscuit and that the question addressed potentially the most challenging subject a person involved in education can address. However, it was a good question.

The purposes of education are fundamentally ethical and schools are, or at least should be, some of the most ethical places in society. The aim of a school is not just to develop young people’s knowledge, understanding and skills, and to help them get good examination results, important though these are. It is also, and above all, to help them develop their values, learn how to make moral judgments, distinguish right from wrong, and acquire a disposition to do good in this world.

An opinion poll a few years ago asked people what the most important moral influences on them had been. First came ‘what my parents told me about right and wrong.’ Second was ‘the way my own family behaved.’ Teachers came third. Both families and schools were felt to be much more important influences than friends, religion, public figures or the way people behaved in soap operas. I doubt that these results would be very different if we were to conduct such a poll in the school community today. They draw attention to the crucial role exercised by parents and teachers, acting together.

I recently spoke at a conference that addressed just this question of ethics. Among the many topics raised during the conference, three stood out for me in particular: first, there was agreement that, though we live increasingly in pluralist societies and in a world which brings us closer and closer to people in other societies that are very different from our own, there is a set of fundamental values that are universally shared. There is evidence to suggest that these values are innate. We differ radically in what we feel to be the source of these values; we describe and explain them in very different ways; and we apply them differently to many of the specific moral issues that face us (abortion, euthanasia or genetic manipulation, for example). We have common reference points and instincts, however, which make it possible for us to have moral discussions and to explore and sometimes even resolve our disagreements. This is a key message for a school community that is as diverse as ours. Our values are not like our tastes and preferences for food, clothes and types of music, where all we can do is agree to disagree.

Second, educators need to maintain a balance between encouraging young people’s autonomy and individuality and their sense of responsibility. We want young people to be creative and innovative, and to show spirit in ways that may involve challenging received opinions (and in particular the received opinions of the majority cultures, including the media-inspired and market-driven ‘youth culture,’ that surrounds them). At the same time, we want them to have a sense of responsibility for others, to be aware that individuals only exist in communities and to have a sense of their duty. At times, one should put the needs of the community before our individual needs, wishes and desires. Achieving this balance is not easy, but it is crucial if we are to avoid, as most of us probably want to do, both the type of society that is suffocatingly authoritarian and conformist and one where narrow individualism and materialism are rampant. Reconciling these potentially conflicting forces is in many ways not just a key aim of education but of modern society in general.

Third, there was much talk of ‘rights.’ As a school, we draw attention constantly to the importance of human rights and to the daily struggle around the world to ensure that civil and political rights are respected such that people have the necessary minimum of resources to enable them to have some kind of autonomous existence. The College’s philosophy places education about and for human rights at the centre of the school. There is, however, what was described at the conference as a ‘rights imperialism’ which has grown up in comfortable Western societies and summed up in the feeling ‘I want it therefore I have a right to have it.’ One speaker cited, from court cases in recent years, ‘the right to human intimacy,’ ‘the right to compensation for not having been sent to a school for gifted children,’ and ‘the right to compensation for suffering sunburn during practice for a school sports day.’ We do young people a disservice if we let them drift into debasing in these ways the crucially important, but limited, notion of a ‘right.’ There is a need to know about their own rights, of course, but there is a need to know about one’s duties too.

In some ways, all this is a long way from children kicking footballs around in the playground. In other ways, it is not. Education is a force for peace – or at least it should be – and I am delighted to have the opportunity to work in an institution in which these questions are thought about and questioned on a daily basis.




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