March 5, 2020
“We are international.” It’s in our title, it was the reason for our logo change in the first place, and it’s the reason why we hold a day every single year where we eat food from all over the world.
As a student body, we are international. According to the 2018-2019 annual report, we come from over 54 different countries and speak over 45 languages among us. Our internationalism takes many forms, from the way we look, to the clothes we wear on International day, to the football teams we support during the World Cup.
However, the same can’t be said about our staff population. ISL’s staff body represents around 25 nationalities, the top ones being the UK, Switzerland, the US, and France. These countries all have something in common: they are overwhelmingly white. In fact, all the top represented countries by staff (greater than 3% representation) are countries with a predominantly caucasian population.
Now, there are many issues with creating generalizations like this based on some data: race and nationality are not correlated. However, it’s evident upon first glance that almost all teachers in the high school are white.
Chloe Uzoukwu, a Year 11 of Nigerian origin mentions that: “she felt less alienated when she was in primary school due to a black teacher being present”. The importances of having minorities within the teaching body cannot be stressed enough: according to a study by the Center for American Progress, “minority teachers have higher expectations of minority students, provide culturally relevant teaching, develop trusting relationships with students, confront issues of racism through teaching, and become advocates and cultural brokers.”
The school understands the importance of diversity. Mr. Blanc, the head of Human Resources at ISL mentioned that, “while we always try and look for the most qualified candidates, we have started considering diversity. We need to recognise that even though this is an international school, it is very much a ‘white’ school. Everyone is aware of it and we are all willing to further diversity within the staff body.”
The school takes creating a welcoming environment very seriously. In fact, when hiring a new member of staff, they look at their “cultural awareness” to ensure that they will be tolerant towards cultures. However, an anonymous student of colour mentioned that they had heard “numerous intolerant comments [directed towards a certain minority] from both students and staff.”
For teachers of colour, however, their experiences are more positive. “In this school, I am one of the few non-white members of staff. When I first came in, this was very evident. As I got to know more teachers, I realized we had many shared experiences: many teachers had taught in Asia and had the same experiences as I did, even if they were white,” said Mr. Lee, a Biology teacher.
The main reason that ISL has such a Western teaching body comes down to work permits: it is notoriously difficult to secure a work permit as a non-European or American national. Switzerland is very stringent when it comes to giving out work permits and many cantons impose quotas.
Much like students, teachers at international schools tend to move around a lot, exposing them to new cultures. Each school has a different makeup as far as student and staff body populations are concerned. After speaking to Ms. Foster, who has taught at many places, including Brunei and Tanzania, she pointed out that the staff makeup heavily depended on the curriculum being taught: an American school would have more American teachers.
The IB curriculum is rooted in internationalism, and according to Ms. Foster, it attracts a slightly more mixed teaching staff. However, a significant majority of teachers in international schools are caucasian.
This isn’t only true for international schools. According to the Harvard General School of Education, about 50% of American high school students are non-white, whereas over 80% of teachers in U.S. schools are white. The reasons behind are not entirely clear, but there are many initiatives in place to encourage more young minorities to become teachers.
As an institution, we are the most diverse we’ve been in ISL’s over 40 year history. We are starting to make some progress but there is a long way to go.