By: Mike Chapman
Headmaster, St. Gilgen International School, England
Although many people often talk about an ‘education of quality’, it is intellectually challenging to try to define what this means. Let me try to summarise for you what such a concept of excellence means at St Gilgen International School. By way of global context, there are certain accepted facts. We know, for example, that the next global generation will need exceptional academic and intellectual creativity to take on positions of leadership and address the many challenges that face our world.
But in truth they will need so much more than just formal academic qualifications. They will need to be exceptional people as well as exceptional scholars. Across Europe and beyond, there is much talk about the need for strong leadership in education, concerns about standards in schools, worries about the Pisa Comparability Studies and, sadly, a move towards what I term ‘Education as a Currency’. By this I mean an education is often boiled down to a series of summative grades and assessments that, as a totality, claim to show a person’s academic worth.
If only life was that simple.
There is a saying in England: ‘You do not fatten a pig by constantly weighing it.’ The same is true in education. We must value much more than what we can measure by simple assessment grades. Surely, in addition to academic qualifications our world needs exceptional, well-rounded people with healthy minds and healthy bodies. It also needs people with a strong sense of moral purpose and a deep spirituality. Those concerned about the depletion of resources in the physical environment, and latterly about global warming, were the first to discuss the concept of sustainability.
In addition, our concern should perhaps be with the depletion of resources in the social and moral environment. Our society is changing, incrementally, and perhaps not for the better. Surely, all we value in society, community and the family must also be sustainable? So, at St Gilgen we will work with parents to develop exceptional scholars, ready for further study at leading universities across the globe. Children here will excel academically. But this, in itself, is not enough. We must also help to nurture a strong sense of morality, a deep inner spirituality and a sense of service in our children. This notion of a non-denominational spirituality is important, especially when linked to academic study.
It really is vitally important that the leading schools in the 21st Century provide a genuinely holistic international education to prepare learners for the responsibilities they will face in their lives. Even more important, they must be places where honesty, moral integrity and mutual respect are expected. Our world needs great leaders and the children here at our school are part of that next generation who will go on to positions of significant responsibility across the globe. Given this, it is incumbent upon the school to help children to understand the true nature of great leadership.
The most effective leaders do not come galloping in on white charging horses shouting that they will ‘change the world’ in an egotistical manner and waving their sword in the air. We will teach our children that the greatest, most effective leaders have a quietness, a moral purpose and a deep spirituality. Joseph Badaracco at Harvard Business School wrote a wonderful book in 2002 entitled Leading Quietly. He argues that leaders who do the right thing lead quietly. They are not spiritual in terms of God-like purity, but in fact are all too human with all the human frailties that go with this. They don’t try to “save the world,” but nor do they “bend the rules” or “craft compromises.” They have an inner toughness. These leaders exemplify what he calls “three quiet virtues—restraint, modesty and tenacity”. What great virtues upon which to build a school and, indeed, a community upon!
In parallel with academic excellence, for every child, (and indeed every adult), we will focus upon the development of moral purpose, responsible global citizenship, peaceful co-existence in the community, and physical health. No school could do more. This is my definition of our moral purpose as a learning community and also our commitment to excellence.