UWC as a “Bridge to the Future”


Adapted from UWC International article “UWC as best practice example”
13th May, 2018


A group of researchers, including Connie K. Chung, former Associate Director of the Global Education Innovation Initiative at Harvard Graduate School of Education, just published Building Bridges to the Future: Global Case Studies of Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century, featuring UWC as one of ten examples of global best practice in education. 
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Connie Chung has been following UWC’s work for quite some years and was also a speaker at the 2016 UWC International Congress in Trieste. UWC International asked her to tell us why UWC features among the final ten projects chosen in their article “UWC as a best practice example”
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“I’ve known my friend David Evans since high school, when teachers often assigned seats in classes alphabetically by last name, Chung: Evans. A well-respected and whip-smart leader among peers, he was friends with a wide circle of people yet always maintained his independent spirit. We lost touch a few years after he decided to attend a high school in New Mexico, but when we reconnected, it was no surprise to me that he is currently a Lead Economist in the Chief Economist’s Office for the Africa Region of the World Bank. More than ever, I saw that he was continuing to balance his keen intellect with humor, warmth, and humanity. For example, he not just reads widely and prolifically but summarizes and shares his unique perspective on books, movies, and research creatively in a popular personal blog. He credits his decision to study economics with the objective of helping people to his high school economics teacher at UWC-USA in Montezuma, New Mexico.
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Similarly, I’ve known my friend Jo Hunter Adams for over fifteen years now. Ever since I’ve known her, she has aspired continuously to live her values in the way she manages her resources, time, and relationships. Originally from Cape Town, she resides there now with her growing family, as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Health Economics Unit at the University of Cape Town, conducting food studies research. Living on a farm in a house her husband designed and helped to build, she and her husband recently also bought a garden nursery to find ways to make the land useful to others. She reflects and writes about her daily efforts to live simply, sustainably, and well with her family in her blog, The Concrete Gardener. She credits the journey she has been on to the fact that she was fortunate enough to be one of the students selected from South Africa to attend UWC Atlantic College.
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When we started to do research at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Global Education Innovation Initiative to identify education organizations around the world that were teaching young people to develop not only their cognitive but also their social and emotional skills, I did not know the UWC movement well. I had not yet linked the friends I admired – Dave and Jo – with UWC. But somewhere during our process of paring our initial selection of 100 organizations to 50 and then to the 10 organizations we would profile more deeply in the book Building Bridges to the Future: Global Case Studies of Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century – I made the connection to the kinds of lives that Dave and Jo were leading and the people they are to the distinctive orientation and values of UWC.
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Perhaps it was because of the UWC graduates I was meeting by chance during the course of conducting the research, such as Yi Wang, the Executive Director of the Harvard Center Shanghai. We had approached him independently to ask him for advice and insight and he was instrumental in assisting us with resources to identify innovative education organizations in China. It turned out that he was the co-founder and Vice Chair of UWC Changshu China, and he accompanied us on a two-hour drive to visit the campus. Like Dave and Jo, Yi was deeply thoughtful and intentional in his awareness and desire that his choices impact the world around him in positive ways. He was one of the first high school students from China to be selected to attend Pearson College UWC and he spoke passionately about how formative the experience was for him.
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In education, we speak about impact, metrics, tests, curriculum, pedagogy, innovation, and a host of other things which are important. But as many UWC school heads shared with me during interviews, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are using all these items as means to develop whole human beings who have so much potential to influence the people, organizations, and communities in which they live and work. From the UWC Executive Director to the school heads, the consistent message I heard during my research was that the UWC movement was deliberately focused on a broader vision and mission for education, which is on how students “live the UWC mission about peace, sustainability, and justice, and how they impact the others around them, and how much [the UWC schools can] equip the students with the life skills they will need.”
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When I asked about the schooling practices that promoted the UWC mission, school heads spoke as much, if not more, about the importance of mindsets and the quality of trusting relationships among staff and students. They spoke as passionately about cultivating intentionally inclusive and empowering organizational cultures as they did about curricula and pedagogy. In addition, I was struck by the humility and courage that marked everyone with whom I spoke, who talked as much about ways they could be doing better as they did about what they were doing well.
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Perhaps 17 schools seem like a small number among the millions of schools around the world. And perhaps not every school network can put together national selection committees in over 155 countries and financially support students from over 80 countries to live together on the same campus. Yet the focus, intentionality, commitment, and breadth of inspiring vision for education that UWC offers, along with the grounded humility, effort, and passion that guides its staff are elements that can be more widely shared among educators. It was with this hope that we included UWC among the 10 organizations we profiled in this book. The UWC movement is a reminder to all of us that the ultimate outcomes of education are whole human beings like Dave, Jo, and Yi, who live lives that advance making real the vision of a more peaceful, sustainable, just, and caring world.”
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Connie K. Chung is a former high school English teacher and researcher working at the intersection of policy, research, and practice. She assists a variety of governmental and non-governmental education organisations equipping the next generation of young people to create thriving communities. She is the former Associate Director of the Global Education Innovation Initiative at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and was one of the guest speakers at the 2016 UWC Congress in Trieste. 

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