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Why are we doing what we do?

20 June 2019

Jason McBride, Head of UWC Thailand

A few months ago, in a blog post on the UWC Educators Network, we were asked “what keeps you saying ‘yes’ to UWC?” This was my answer:

“Hope that the students we work with will be able to turn a competitive world into a collaborative one, so that we might find a greater degree of peace and sustainability in the future.”

During that same week, the “pay to play” university entrance scandal in the United States was making headlines. The combination of these two events led me to write this in order to share with you my insight on why we do what we do, and why we value what we do at UWC Thailand.

Having worked with families in K-12 education for nearly 20 years, I know that parent perspectives on why schools exist can vary widely, ranging from the desire for children to become kind human beings to a desire for early entry to Harvard. Those two things are not necessarily opposite ends of a spectrum and they need not be mutually exclusive; but that being said, I believe there is value in openingly discussing why UWC Thailand exists at all.

For years, K-12 educators have debated and complained that it is university filtering mechanisms that drive the need for cookie-cutter exams at the end of Grade 12. Further, this exam-score focus often translates into a hollow, inauthentic, externally focussed model throughout secondary school. Even worse, the application process can often seem like a system that can be “gamed” by ticking the boxes on aspects that applicants think universities will favour. Participate in a dozen service projects, play on a bunch of teams, join a ton of school clubs, and as long as your marks are high enough, you’re in! But the tide is turning (you will see why that is “punny” in a few moments) and we are glad to see it.

In 2016, and then updated again in 2019, a Harvard-led coalition of schools working on the Making Caring Common project released research validating our type of school-wide approach — an approach that includes genuine service and engagement with diversity at its core. In their Turning the Tide report, the words “authentic”, “meaningful” and “gratitude” are repeatedly highlighted as cornerstones of a student’s experience prior to university. (Note: the first few pages of the report provide an excellent executive summary so that you do not have to read the entire document).

At UWCT, our mission to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and sustainable future, together with our founding motto of “Good Heart, Balanced Mind, Healthy Body”, speaks to the heart of our educational model. If our mission only spoke to academic achievement and post-secondary education, then we would not emphasize mindfulness, service or outdoor education like we do.

In deliberately choosing to include these three elements as cornerstones of our programme, in addition to academics and activities, our educational model aligns with who we want students to become: well-rounded, incredible human beings who know themselves, willingly contribute to the world around them, understand and appreciate diversity, feel a stewardship for the environment AND who can choose their own path forward after Grade 12. Academics are of course important and although our Grade 12’s may feel academics are the most important right now as they head into exams, what they accomplish on those exams will all fall away if our graduates aren’t kind, contributing members of society and custodians of the planet.

Students need to be ready for their exams, but as we’ve said before, they are so much more than a two-digit DP score. If we view the ultimate outcome of 14+ years of education as being that student’s final grades and where they go to university (and its associated rankings), we actually strip away the value of the journey and who they’ve become by falsely elevating the importance of the destination.