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Continuing our remarkable journey

Carma Elliot CMG OBE, College President, UWCSEA
16 December 2021

Continuing our remarkable journey

Several weeks ago, Board Chair Madan Menon and I were in conversation with two of our remarkable students, Lavanya and Tejas. The conversation was online and just under 100 parents tuned in to hear us answer some challenging questions on topics ranging from the future of education, to issues of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, to why we have each found ourselves in leadership roles at UWCSEA. We were both struck by how impressive our students were, and so many of the comments which came in reinforced this. It is not surprising; I am regularly reminded of what a privilege it is to work with UWCSEA students, and Madan and I look forward to more such sessions.

Just two days after our conversation, on 20 November, we celebrated the anniversary of the day in 1959 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. The Declaration (later Convention) is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty, and sets out a number of children’s rights, including the right to education. It is important that we keep the commitments made by the signatories of this Declaration uppermost in our minds, particularly as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education and inclusion becomes more evident.

Against the backdrop of COVID-19, UNICEF’s statement that “children are not the face of this pandemic. But … children’s lives are nonetheless being changed in profound ways” gives us pause for reflection.

Speaking with students, it is clear that they understand deeply the need for their learning programmes to be adaptable, contextual and responsive to the individual needs of students with so many different experiences and abilities. This follows the thinking from our Reimagining Learning session in October with Tom Fletcher, Parag Khanna and Musimbi Kanyoro, which also emphasised the changing face of education and learning. These conversations about the future of learning at UWCSEA will continue in the coming months; they are more important than ever as we respond to the global changes that have been accelerated by the pandemic, and as we develop our plans for the College’s 50th anniversary year next school year.

Over the past several weeks, the UWC International Board and International Council have held their annual governance meetings. During these meetings, the Heads and Chairs of all the schools and colleges in the UWC Movement, along with the International Board and Council, meet to discuss both strategic and operational issues that affect the Movement as a whole. For UWCSEA, as the largest member school, these meetings are an opportunity to both learn and contribute; and with 18 schools and colleges across the world, we know that the global impact of the UWC Movement as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that our impact manifests in different ways, depending on the schools’ very different contexts.

With the rights of the child at the heart of all discussions, and education and students at the core, the movement faced some deep and existential questions about the post-COVID-19 world. Hearing Gabriel Abad, Head of UWC Dilijan in Armenia (and former Director of Residential Life on East Campus), talk about the impact on his college of both the pandemic and the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan was humbling; as were discussions of the operational challenges of running a UWC in China when the students were forced to leave the school last February and where so many of the international students have not yet been able to return. We celebrated the Movement coming together, as scholars transferred between colleges: UWCSEA sent a small number of scholars who could not get to Singapore to UWC East Africa, and welcomed to Singapore some who were originally assigned to China. We are grateful that all our scholars are now safely in the boarding houses, adjusting to life on campus.

Much time was spent on the economic challenges some schools are facing; and with our peers, we were thrilled to be able to formalise the partnership between UWC and Rise (funded by Schmidt Futures), an education programme for young refugees at a camp in Kenya that will lead, in some cases, to a full scholarship to one of the UWC schools. For us at UWCSEA, this was an especially proud moment as the programme in the refugee camp will be delivered by Amala. Our UWCSEA teachers were heavily involved in developing curriculum for the Amala programmes and our students have been champions of Amala since it was first formed as Sky School some years ago. We retain a close connection with Amala to this day.

The conversations that were most exciting however, were the ones where we collectively addressed the future of learning at a UWC. As mentioned in our webinar, the movement has a history of innovation in education, and our close relationship with the IB is providing new opportunities for renewal and reinvention. As a movement, we are embarking on a time of intense planning and preparation for the future that has been accelerated by events of 2020. It is not enough that we respond to these challenges; we must anticipate them and prepare our students to be leaders and drivers of necessary change.

The governance discussions were a powerful reminder of where the ideals we hold dear originated. More than 70 years ago, Kurt Hahn, the founder of the UWC Movement said:

“I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion.”

As you will know, Hahn’s attendance at the 1958 NATO Staff Conference inspired him to create the United World Colleges Movement. The Declaration of the Rights of the Child followed a year later, with the first UWC opening in Wales in 1962. These big developments then were driven by strong ideals, and common purpose, to create a more peaceful and sustainable future for everybody. Our original mission and Kurt Hahn’s vision remain as valid today, as seven decades ago.

Last week we had the pleasure and privilege of announcing initial plans for our 50th anniversary celebrations in the 2021/2022 year. Connected by the theme There is more in us, it will be a year of celebrating our past and reimagining our future, together with our students, staff, parents, alumni and global partners. We are excited to share some of our plans in this launch video and will be sharing more information in Term 3 of this school year.

UWCSEA celebrates 50 years in Singapore 

We are especially pleased to be able to invite our community to a year-long series of celebrations, capped off with a forum in April 2022 on the theme of Learning to Shape the Future, at which we expect to host such luminaries as Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore; Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education; Musimbi Kanyoro, Chair of UWC International Board; and Forrest Li, Founder and Group CEO of sea Ltd. It will be an exciting year, an opportunity to reaffirm our shared mission and articulate our hope for the future that is so perfectly expressed in students like Tejas and Levanya.