And what carnage...
At the start of the year, I was contracted to cover a short-term teaching post in a well-respected not-for-profit international school in Dubai.
In Britain, we were hitting the height of the second wave of the pandemic. As a then unvaccinated teacher as well as a member of one of UK government’s nine designated at-risk categories, I chose to be visored and double-masked whilst en route.
I felt like an extra-terrestrial.
But, given that this was my first ever teaching appointment in the Middle East, I was concerned as to what might be waiting for me on the other side. I need not have worried; my instincts were right; compared to the reactive and constantly shifting DfE policies on Covid-19 protocols — driven in no small part by union pressure, rather than autonomous school governance or sound political leadership — the commitment of the KHDA (Knowledge and Human Development Authority), both to the safety of teaching staff and students, and to the enforcement of these protocols within behaviour policies etc... stood out in stark contrast to the carnage that was unfolding on the educational stage at home.
And what carnage.
In a recent article (lest we forget), one senior teacher described going into school each day as a ‘slow walk to madness or death’ (i).
I have since reflected on how this resonates with the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe’s spin on Foucauldian biopower in his book 'Necropolitics', in which certain public spaces are turned into domains of living death, i.e. co-opted by state actors (e.g. schools) and mobilised as mechanisms within which bodies (e.g. teachers) can be (literally) sacrificed, both to create the illusion of state sovereignty and to control and confine unwanted populations (e.g. teachers and kids) who cannot be exploited any more than they have been already (ii) .
While we must concede, (as the sociologist Bruno Latour pointed out during the first lockdown), that the pandemic does not act in the same way in Taipei as it does in Paris, the teachers who I met overseas, were only too aware of how privileged they all were to be working in international education, while all this was going on back home (iii).
So, while competition for international teaching jobs may increase, recruitment spend might well take time to refresh to its pre-covid levels, and travel restrictions will no doubt continue to frustrate the migrant classes, if you are a teacher, and you wish to work in a ‘democratic’ education system, the decision to work in international education must now be a no-brainer.
That is not to say that the necropolitical connotations attached to the teaching profession simply fall away overseas, but as the climate emergency brings yet more global warnings as to how we might choose 'not' to live our future, we will need spaces where the teaching profession is valued (at the very least).
How we repurpose and thus rewild education from a monocultural, teleologically driven economic agenda, towards a diverse, process driven, ecological (reconciling the self to the other) vision, is of course another question altogether.
Though it may be an exaggeration to call international schools borderless, they are — and have the potential to be — certainly, porous institutions which can accommodate and disseminate creative ideas, and which can be for want of a better phrase, engines for educational and societal change.
Whatever the barriers ahead, we should embrace that.
(i) Weale, S. (2020) ‘It’s been tumultuous’: Covid-19 stress takes toll on teachers in England, The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/dec/14/covid-stress-takes-toll-on-teachers-in-england (Accessed: 14 December 2020).
(ii) Mbembe, A. (2019) ‘Necropolitics’, in Necropolitics. Durham and London: Duke University Press, pp. 66–93.
(iii) Latour, B. (2020) ‘Is This a Dress Rehearsal?’, Critical Inquiry. Available at: https://critinq.wordpress.com/2020/03/26/is-this-a-dress-rehearsal/.
INTERESTED IN INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION?
The Teacher’s Guide is getting around!
Seen here in Thailand with a happy reader - and his new best friend. When we said ‘a companion to your international adventure’ we didn’t quite mean that kind of companion!
Grab a copy to take on your own adventure or listen to a short sample here (4 mins).