By Smita Chaudhary, Director-Internationalism, Mayo College Girls’ School, Ajmer

“My initiation into the AFS program as a representative of India at the Spectrum of Education VI Conference at Istanbul was extraordinary. The four-day educators’ Conference was organised by AFS Istanbul and Turkey Culture Foundation. The Conference aimed at enlightening and training the teachers in global citizenship competency that could further help them in preparing their students and colleagues for the same. The collective effort was also towards brainstorming and streamlining pedagogy for equipping individuals to become global citizens. The Conference witnessed participation from Czech Republic, Denmark, Serbia, Slovakia, USA, Norway, South Africa and India.

On my day of arrival at Istanbul (2nd May), I was introduced to the officials and volunteers of AFS Istanbul and also to my group of fellow educators from around 10 countries across the world. We instantly struck similar chords at the dinner organised by AFS Istanbul and had a warm evening. The next day was given to us to explore Istanbul and the organisers were generous and supportive so as to direct us to important places of sightseeing and the local bazaars and mode of transport. We explored the city in groups and tried various cuisines in the local Turkish Markets called the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. The city is replete with culture and history. Aya Sophia stands as a true example of communion of two religions- Christianity and Islam. The awe-inspiring mosaic on the walls of the mosques (The Blue Mosque and the Suleymanea Mosque) stand witness to the love of art and faith that mankind has always practiced.

With new friends

The third day was focused on breaking-the-ice and getting to know each other in terms of one’s professional offices at our respective work places and investigating options for making global citizenship a part of our School curriculum.I realised that my colleagues were from government schools in their respective countries and that English was a foreign language for them. I also understood that as representatives of European countries, only the teachers who taught English language (along with Spanish, German, Latin, etc) were able to communicate in English as opposed to their colleagues who were teachers of Chemistry, Geography, etc. We were divided into groups and each of the groups were expected to think of ways where the classroom could be more involving and the students feel the responsibility of being an active member of the class.We also discussed flipped classrooms and the four Cs of learning-critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity which prepare are important for the 21st century learning process.We continued to discuss massive changes that need to be made in our current education systems where we also discussed the import teachers’ development and global competency. We discussed the lacunas that our fraternity has and the manner in which it can be rectified so as to make it most lucrative for preparing our students as well as our fellow educators for 21st century global competency. It also investigated aspects like inter-cultural communication, understanding global conditions and events, commitment to equity worldwide, etc.and how the schools worldwide are orienting the current generation of students towards these important aspects. The session emphasised on the need of empathy and global partnerships among schools. This session also made me feel grateful to be from a country which is so culturally diverse and tolerant and that our schools also train our students to be prepared for world.

The later sessions of the day were full of devising action plans, introspection and coming up with pedagogies to make our classrooms global. We also assessed ourselves on the lines of being prepared for intercultural learning.In the evening, we were hosted by warm and welcoming families of AFS volunteers in the Asian part of Istanbul. We were served mouth watering traditional Turkish food and coffee. We were showered with immense love and gifts and I now have an extended family in Istanbul!

The next day was full of enriching speeches and presentations by experienced speakers associated with AFS Istanbul and Turkey Culture Foundation who elaborated upon the urgency of global citizenship and how can we prepare the current generation of students and teachers for the same.

During presentation

The keynote speaker Mr Z. Batuhan Ayadgul stressed upon bringing massive changes in our classrooms to make them global spaces of learning. His presentation was focused upon “CHANGE” and discussed four major aspects of inter-cultural teaching-learning –Ways of thinking, ways of working, tools for working and ways of living in the world. Where he talked about citizenship is terms of local as well as global, personal and social responsibility, meta-cognition, etc.

One of the remaining four speakers, Mr Tony Gurr discussed about the paradigm shift in school curriculums over past twenty years where from being context based it has graduated to learning driven curriculum and from learning inputs we aim at learning outputs.He steered the audiences’ attention on another evident change that has taken place in last year i.e. from global citizenship, we are now trying to achieve global digital citizenship. He also discussed the significance of incentive for teachers in term of their professional development and helping them keep abreast with the worldwide changes in teaching learning to Dr Sumer Singh and my Principal, Ms. Kanchan Khandke for considering me as a representative of AFS India and Mayo College Girls’ School, Ajmer. The panel discussion between the four teachers further convinced the audience that there are more similarities than differences in cultures across the world. That evening was equally memorable as we spent it on a boat on Bosporus Sea, enjoying scrumptious Turkish cuisine and dancing on traditional Turkish music.

The Conference ended with a culture bazaar where the participants presented products from their respective countries to the guests and other participants. We were also introduced to local Turkish art called EBRU and I came back equipped with some substantial knowledge of this technique.

The conference broadened my understanding of intercultural learning and its importance in today’s classrooms. It also helped me look at the gaps that schools in India have to fill in order to be one with other nations, culturally. I have made lifelong friends in my colleagues at the Conference and with the host family. I was also introduced to the purpose and functioning of AFS and the significance that it holds in School education in order to enhance intercultural learning in the education.

After experiencing three immensely active and invigorating days of the Conference, I feel sufficiently equipped with ideas to suggest changes in teaching methodology of our schools. I believe that more participating inter-cultural learning is the immediate need of the hour and that greatest responsibility of making our curriculum global and people centric lies with us-the teachers/educators. It is important that we initiate and enhance more teacher exchange programmes with countries and societies in the world and this one of the major agendas that I will be working upon now. It is imperative that the teacher expands it’s mind and perception towards various cultural and the conflicts that they face in order to prepare the students for a world which is more divided that diverse today.  The purpose is to not only introduce the concept of “world peace” but to also channelize the young minds and their energy towards realising this concept through empathy, compassion and global citizenship.

I once again express my gratitude to Dr Sumer Singh and Ms Kanchan Khandke for giving me this opportunity and also to Ms. Sarita Badhwar for helping me at every stage until and even after my participation in the Conference. I feel honoured to be a part of AFS India and it will be a great experience and enhancement for Mayo College Girls’ School to channelize the opportunities provided by AFS India in the development of its staff and students.”