January 2021 (In Conversation With...)

Dear subscribers

Whether your school is open, closed, or who knows which from one day to the next, we hope you are well.

This week’s EDDi is an ‘In Conversation…’ piece. It’s a fascinating interview with Nunana Nyomi, Associate Director of Higher Education Services for the Council of International Schools (CIS). He shares his own background and educational journey (he’s very much a Third Culture Kid), discusses the impact of Covid on CIS operations, and offers some predictions for the future of education.

Picking up on that theme, and as part of our ongoing efforts to support diversity in international education, we also have another feature piece from Sampoerna Academy, Indonesia:

Thoughts on education of the future

Do we dare to a dream of an educational future not constrained by statistical straight-jackets and the prison of external assessment?

Finally, are you are teacher trainee? Or, do you know teacher trainees with opinions to share and a voice to be heard?

EDDi would like to feature the writing of student teachers who have gone through their training in tough times. We are looking for between 500-1,000 words (which could be recycled material from essays etc) on the highs, the lows, the challenges, and the lessons learned 'training in tough times'. The edition is slated for June, with a May 1st deadline for submissions.

More details here: bit.ly/BTMFlier.

Article submissions here: bit.ly/TrainingTough.

Happy reading


Interview by Dr Stephen M. Whitehead

If you have any involvement with the world of international schooling then it is almost certain you’ll know of the Council of International Schools (better known as CIS).

A non-profit ‘membership community working collaboratively to shape international education through professional services to schools, higher education institutions and individuals’, CIS are one of the biggest membership organisations in the international education field (754 schools and 618 colleges and universities representing 123 countries). They are also one of the world’s biggest international accrediting bodies for primary and secondary schools.

For schools providing international education programmes, CIS is the one organisation they really must be aligned with, that is if they desire to be awarded the prestigious CIS International Accreditation mark of quality assurance.

No surprise then that CIS wields enormous influence over the profession.

Like all progressive 21st century organisations, CIS has a global, intercultural vision, which it proudly confirms in its vision of spreading global citizenship through CIS member schools and Higher Education (HE) institutions, embracing ideas, cultures and fostering connections across the world.

For many international school owners and leaders, CIS may be about accreditation, but really what the organisation is truly concerned with is bringing together the world’s disparate communities and enhancing positive international influences through education. So, don’t even think of going for CIS accreditation unless ethics, diversity, communication, service, an understanding of global issues and a commitment to sustainability are fully embedded in your school culture and practices.

If there is one term that most every international school anywhere in the world wishes to be associated with then it is ‘global citizenship’, not least because it carries all the healthy, positive messages and symbols we educationalists are rightly fixated on.

But how many truly global citizens do you know?

Well I certainly know one. His name is Nunana Nyomi (CIS)*

And yes, he works for CIS - as Associate Director of Higher Education Services.

But you don’t get to be a global citizen like Nunana without first doing a bit of physical and cultural travelling.

“I grew up in a variety of places, Ghana, Kenya, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. So, I got exposure to different cultures and different countries from childhood. My parents are Ghanaian, and I was born in the USA though the first school I attended was a state school in Ghana. My education was primarily in the British schooling system, but in different countries. I then did my higher education in the USA, at Calvin University, Michigan.’

Which all explains why Nunana’s opening statement in our 90-minute long interview was this:

‘I am a third-culture kid.’

And truly he is.

I’ve always considered myself lucky, blessed to find my way regardless of whatever obstacles might lay in my path. But when it comes to experiencing fortuitous life events, Nunana beats me hands down.

As soon as I’d graduated from Calvin University, I landed a job in the university’s admissions office. Which was extremely fortunate because that was in the middle of the last global recession (2008) and jobs were not easy to come by. I just fell into the job but quickly fell in love with the work. I moved into international admissions, advising and helping recruit students from around the world, which very much fitted into my background.”

Within a few years Nunana was promoted to overseeing Calvin’s national and international student recruitment operations, taking him to over 40 different countries. So not just lucky, but also hardworking, enterprising, and professionally and personally effective.

Then in 2015, the CIS opening presents itself, and Nunana finds himself travelling once again, this time to the CIS offices in Leiden, The Netherlands.

“What I do currently is work with our entire membership community and beyond to really connect schools and universities in order to facilitate the transition of students…It’s been a great opportunity for me to learn from different educational systems, broaden my horizons, see what is out there in the wide-ranging CIS membership, plus being able to push my own professional boundaries when it comes to serving people from a variety of different backgrounds, creating PD for them and events that really resonate.”

Nunana may be a ‘lucky man’, but I’ve been around long enough to realise that people make most of their luck.

Which leads me at this point in the interview to probe a little deeper into his character. Because so far it all seems just too easy, just too fortuitous, just too smooth.

What else is going on with this interesting guy?

Black-American man with Ghanaian parents, educated in an African state school, then a Kenyan ‘hybrid’ international school, and at the age of 12 his family move to Switzerland “the first place I have memories of living in a minority”. But Swiss private education doesn’t come cheap and so the family decide to send Nunana to a UK boarding school in Surrey.

“It was cheaper to send me to a UK boarding school and fly back to Switzerland six times a year, than it was to go to a private school in Switzerland.”

Most kids would not relish such a disruption to their lives as they move into puberty, but not Nunana.

“The funny thing is, I really wanted to go. I had just read Roald Dahl’s autobiography, ‘Boy’, which is full of all kinds of stories of his UK boarding school experience, including all the pranks the boys played on each other. My parents were dejected, having to send me to boarding school in the UK, but I said ‘please just send me right away!’. I loved it. My parents were disappointed that I was so keen to return to the school after my first holiday back home with them!”

And then Nunana uses a word to describe himself which goes a long way to explaining how he managed to handle all this disruption impacting throughout his childhood and formative years:

“I’m a chameleon”

“I think for many years I’ve clung to this identity, which I’ve been questioning a lot more lately, of myself as a chameleon. I just kind of adapt to the setting I am in. By the end of my childhood it had become normal for me to be moving around, to be the new person in a new place, having to make sense of the new culture. Adapting became not just a way of surviving it became an enjoyable challenge. I embraced this identity, of not having one place that anchors who I am. However, what was probably hidden within there was also this feeling of not belonging. There was never a group that said ‘yes, you are part of us’. I am not British, I am not Ghanaian. The USA probably embraces my identity the most, a country of immigrants. But I’ve had to wrestle with this idea of what’s my fit, where do I belong?”

Married, with two young children (three years and nine months) and very happily living and working in Leiden and for an organisation which in many ways reflects if not promotes intercultural learning and global citizenship, Nunana certainly appears to have arrived at a place where he ‘fits’.

But as we all know, no matter how well we fit into a place life has a way of springing surprises. And, so it was for Nunana (and all at CIS) when Covid-19 kicked off in January last year.


A central aspect of Nunana’s work, indeed the work of most CIS employees, is physically engaging with schools, colleges and universities around the world. Not just undertaking accreditation visits but also organising events, such as conferences and fostering connections between universities, students and guidance counsellors at CIS schools.

For Nunana, since he first arrived at CIS in 2015, he has frequently been on and off aeroplanes.

However, since early this year Nunana’s carbon footprint has become as elusive and fleeting as the Yeti’s footprint in the Himalayan mountains.

Until, of course, this year.

“When the Covid pandemic hit we already had a number of overseas events planned for early 2020, and two of these tours were happening as countries were shutting down. As we went from country to country each shut down almost immediately after the tours ended. In the end, all countries closed their borders and the university staff on tour just had to fly home. It was strange watching this cascading event happening which at first we thought was confined to China but quickly went global. Everything just ground to a halt. No events, no accreditation visits, no workshops, no revenue.”

But Covid-19 has not been all bad news.

Around the world schools and universities have been forced to learn new skills, not least an ability for flexible leadership responses, fluid management decision-making, and going with the flow rather than rigid five-year business plans.

And so it has been with CIS.

“In the spring of this year, the CIS leadership quickly decided to stop all physical visits anywhere, at least until the summer. That proved to be the right choice. This freed up our energy to pivot. With physical events and visits off the table our accreditation team put together virtual accreditation visits and we are one of the pioneering accrediting agencies in this area. Many accrediting agencies have postponed visits. But we’ve continued virtually. Our schools have been really open to and supportive of this.”

Information-sharing via webinars, such as a ‘Monitoring a changing landscape’ series of country updates regarding how COVID-19 was impacting admission policies; virtual conference platforms; virtual accreditation visits; virtual professional development workshops; virtual student well-being workshops; virtual data-protection workshops; virtual student recruitment fairs; and not least a virtual global forum on international admissions and guidance, the largest single event that CIS runs and one especially close to Nunana’s heart because he’s the person coordinating it.

An impressive array of online activities which while virtual, continue to ensure CIS’s position at the forefront of international educational quality assurance and professional development.

So, what was a nightmare scenario for CIS has proved to have a silver lining. From being an organisation committed to physically visiting schools and universities around the world, CIS is today a virtual organisation, at least in how it connects with its global community. And this monumental transition appears to have taken place not only quickly but been effective.

In which case, when Covid disappears will CIS remain virtual?

“That’s a great question. Certainly, we have been able to engage virtually with our community at a broader level than we expected at the start of Covid-19. But people have been unprepared for things like ‘zoom fatigue’. In my area of work, which is student admissions, we are still learning how students navigate their choices online. One thing that you’ll hear from universities everywhere is that it has been harder to mimic the in-person recruiting experience in the virtual world. So, I would say that we are still adjusting our approach as we continue to identify how students want to learn about and connect with universities...”

At the start of the pandemic, CIS decided to go virtual until summer 2020, and then quickly extended this to the end of this year. Now CIS have decided not to do any physical events until June 2021, earliest.

So back to the question of where CIS is heading, long-term, in terms of its virtual and physical mix of operations?

“Nobody can predict what will happen with this pandemic so CIS are looking at a variety of different contingencies. We’re reflecting on what we gained from the physical-only approach. How did we connect with those who weren’t able to travel to previous activities that we’ve run? What did we gain from all the travelling we did? What have we learned from eliminating our carbon footprint? I personally don’t see a world where we would go back to how it was. It will be some kind of hybrid future, a mix of physical and virtual, not wholly physical as it was pre the pandemic.”

And then there is the question of income. CIS may be a non-profit organisation, but it still needs to balance its books.

“From an income standpoint we’ve certainly recouped revenue through the pivot to virtual activities and events and we have all been able to keep working virtually. But certainly, our portfolio has changed compared with pre-pandemic. We aren’t a commercial operation rather our activities are all enabled via membership fees and participation at cost. It’s about mission for CIS, not profit. We always ask ourselves, are our activities helping to prepare global citizens and are we providing students access to opportunities around the world? Are we educating them to tackle the world’s problems that are ahead of them? That has now become very central to what we do.”

This comment by Nunana certainly struck a chord with me.

As I discuss in the forthcoming 2020 Christmas edition of EDDi, the days of international schools being exclusively focused on preparing children for work, and jobs which aren’t going to be available, are effectively over. Now schools must be focused on preparing children to, as Nunana and CIS put it, “tackle the world’s problems that are ahead of them’.

In effect, it appears CIS agree with my argument that only education can save us.

Covid is simply a warning sign of what is facing us regards climate change. If international schools and universities, supposedly educating the next generation of ‘global citizens’ don’t get this right, then frankly the future doesn’t look good for anyone.

I was therefore very heartened to learn from Nunana just how seriously CIS take their responsibility in moving this agenda forward.

CIS is morphing into a different type of organisation, not only in response to Covid but also in response to the big challenges facing humanity, the most serious being global warming.

CIS is adapting, changing, but what about their school community?  What are international schools morphing into? Will they stay as they were pre-Covid, or they about to change?


Nunana has his own opinion on the future of international schools:

“Well, we know that international schools are much more diverse than they used to be. They are no longer simply for the children of expats. But now, due to this pandemic, we are seeing an exodus of expats from certain countries. People are returning home. Some now have less money, they are losing jobs. They have less financial security. Companies are reducing their salaries and their employee benefits. According to EDDi’s own research, those who stand to benefit the most might be the middle tier of schools which may attract families downsizing to less expensive schools and may also benefit from closures of schools lower down the market. The future is still hopeful for certain types of schools, and I actually think this presents an opportunity for well-resourced, so-called elite international schools to think about adapting their model. This is a time when such well-resourced international schools should strongly consider putting into place more scholarship and access programmes. Of course, these schools, have their respective business models to consider. But they don’t have to change their sticker price tuition fee, rather they can enhance their profile by providing more scholarships to attract high-achieving less wealthy students eager for an international education.”

Nunana went on to say that CIS recently held a ‘summit for university and school leaders’ and one of the things highlighted was the “need to think of a new financial model, to cope with the profound changes in education.”


Having discussed changes in the world of international schooling, what about the world of universities?

Ever since universities became global entities they’ve been dominated by some standout operations in the UK, USA and to a lesser extent, Western Europe and Australia. However, there are now indicators that such a situation may not last forever.

What changes does Nunana see happening in HE?

“That is definitely the case from what we at CIS are observing. Covid-19 has of course totally disrupted the world of HE. HE has been orientated towards the West for many years. The US had the largest market share, although it was already shrinking pre-Covid because of the emergence of new players and new countries, but now the decline is very apparent. If we look at the virtual recruitment fairs CIS have been doing this year and especially the behaviour of students, what we now see is they are looking at options closer to their home country/region. The interest in Western universities is still there, but mostly for Canada, the UK, and Australia. The only exception is the United States where we’ve seen a clear decline. Students are just not as interested in US universities as they used to be. If we look at the top 10 most popular universities from our virtual student HE recruitment fairs, there is not a single US university in that top 10. What that tells us is that student attitudes are shifting. There may be different reasons why this is happening but it is definitely happening.”

What Nunana is witnessing through his work at CIS is still an openness by international students to consider Western universities beyond the USA.

Covid-19 has not caused this shift on its own.

As I’ve written in EDDi previously, Chinese and Asia universities have been growing in power and prominence for over a decade now. But it is unarguable that the USA is becoming a less attractive destination for international students, and the only winners in this battle for the hearts and minds, and pockets, of international students are likely to be Asian universities.

“This could be because of the way the US has handled Covid. It could be the US leadership. It could be the growing number of US rules that have been anti-international students. So that perception is now out there. I would even contrast that with the UK where there has been more flexibility towards international students.”

“This certainly presents an opportunity for more local universities, not only in Asia but also, for example, in certain African countries which have been doing a better job of weathering the Covid storm.”

Nunana went on to make the point that this current generation of students is much more open to exploring the world, to developing new relationships. Covid is of course reducing international student opportunities, but it will be interesting to see what happens when this pandemic disappears or reduces significantly. Nunana is optimistic that once things settle down and become more predictable, that sense of adventure which most students have will return.

By then, many of the local universities will likely have perfected their business models and consequently be even more attractive to overseas students. So whatever happens regards Covid, medium or long term, Western universities now need to reshape their business models away from a reliance on, say, Chinese students.

“This shift won’t happen immediately, but say in five years’ time we are going to see a much more diverse landscape with a greater willingness of students to travel abroad.”

Inevitably, that will mean more Western students travelling to study in non-Western universities. 


Having students experience a world outside their local community is not only good for them as learning individuals, it is good for them as open-minded, liberal citizens of the world.

Humanity wants more globalisation, not less.

We want more human interaction based on empathy, sharing, positive communication. Retreat to nationalism, populism, and narrow-minded ignorance feeds directly into racism, fascism, patriarchy and, ultimately, hatred and violence.

So, I asked Nunana as to his personal view regards the robustness of liberal values in this age of Covid-19, popularism, Black Lives Matter, and MeToo, especially with organisations like CIS working hard to develop and promote the concept of global citizenship.

“Big question!...[pause]…maybe we think that this is all new but if we look at the cycles of history it’s clear the world has experienced fascism and populism in the past so I think we are in the middle of another of these cycles and we just don’t know how long it will last. It would be pure speculation on my part to say this nationalist wave is going to come to an end at any particular time. The problem is certainly being exacerbated by climate change and a fight for basic resources, this is generating hostility to newcomers.

“More people are predicting a turbulent future for the world and certainly climate change is a big danger. It is going to get ahead of us and that will precipitate a lot of these problems.”

“Nationalism will never disappear completely, but at the same time there is a current of liberalism and openness to the world. I choose to be optimistic and as people come to recognise the enormity of the world’s problems, young people especially will realise that in order to solve those problems they need to collaborate across cultures and backgrounds.”

This comment from Nunana directly corresponds with the points I make in a previous EDDition, which was that to hope for a better future for humanity we are now relying on Generation Z, young millennials and the generation now heading into kindergartens around the world.

There are already signs of this happening, which is positive, but it does place a great responsibility on educators, especially private and international schools who claim to be developing the next generation of global leaders to ensure that these global leaders are the types of leaders we need to lead humanity to a better future.

I see it exactly the same way. Whether its BLM protests or whatever, it’s about young people looking at the future and saying to the older generation, ‘you are not preparing the world for the way I want it to be so I’m going to take matters into my own hands’. When I see this style of populism I see it as optimistic because it suggests that young people are just crying out to try to solve the imminent problems they are going to be facing in their adulthood.”

“While this is expressing itself in the form of protests, because there is no other outlet, I’m hopeful that this will translate into linkages across the world. Look at how BLM went global.”

A lot of independent and international schools thought BLM would just disappear. They just didn’t appreciate how fundamental a change this was and is going to be. Nor what demands it places on them (individuals and organisations) to change.

“A great many international schools just didn’t get it (BLM) but all of a sudden their alumni started writing letters to the school leaders condemning the racist attitudes and discrimination they experienced as their students and so they were forced to react.”

As EDDi readers will be aware, Total Inclusivity for international and independent schools is something I and my colleagues not only promote via EDDi, but also through our related professional development training with Pedagogue. If it takes alumni letters of complaint to stir schools into action to address systemic and institutionalised racism so be it. As Nunana put it “we are not going to let this moment go to waste.”

Though it is certainly a pity it took this long to kick off BLM - centuries in fact – but now it is here it must stay. The momentum has been building for decades, the boiling over point came in 2020.

And every international school and organisation must now be committed to this, not just in rhetoric and policy documents, but in daily practice in and out of the classroom.

These schools are not merely revenue-generating operations, they are dealing with young peoples’ lives and they have an obligation, a duty, to ensure these young people are raised in a way which enables them to understand and value inclusivity, diversity, equality, in every aspect.

“Certainly, we at CIS are exploring all avenues to address this together with our membership community.”

2020 was a challenging year for international educationalists, the most stressful most will have experienced. And when BLM protests kicked off, in the middle of the year, for many it will have felt like another burden on an already bending back.

But Black Lives Matter is an opportunity, not a threat.

It happened because it had to happen.

What was tragic is that it took so long to happen globally, and that it took another brutal murder of a black man by a white American policeman to trigger international revulsion and condemnation of racism whether it be systematic, institutionalised or a product of white supremacist attitudes.

My interview with Nunana covered a lot of topics, each of them relevant and interesting to global educationalists. But the topic which most energised both of us was this growing awareness that inclusivity in education has now a momentum behind it, fuelled by BLM and the very students which attend CIS-accredited international schools and universities.

In that respect Nunana, CIS, myself, you, all us educationalists are on the front line of major social and cultural change. For us global citizens, beneficiaries of all the perks which come with a good education, cultural capital, and financial security, it is beholden to recognise our responsibilities and act accordingly. 

I was left feeling very confident of where CIS is positioned and with leaders like Nunana - third culture kid, chameleon, global citizen – optimistic that this influential organisation is going to be setting high standards for not only its community of schools, colleges and universities, but for global educationalists everywhere and for a good many decades to come.

*All views expressed are Nunana’s own and do not represent the views of CIS.