By definition, institutions like the British School in Tokyo – home to children of more than 60 different nationalities – are progressive liberal organisations where difference and diversity are celebrated and where the outlook is unashamedly global. A central tenet of our mission is to help young people to grow up learning what it feels like to stand in the shoes of others.
In recent times some of the more strident voices that dominate current political and social debate have decried this inclusive approach. These days the social media echo chamber offers a convenient platform for those who trumpet a more self-centred, inwardly focused perspective and choose to tune out opinions that do not chime with their own.
Nevertheless, as an international school Principal, I have good reason to be optimistic. Like their peers around the world, our teenagers make mistakes – of course they do – but when I hear them discussing some of today’s major issues, when I see their willingness to stand up for what they believe is right and to challenge prejudice and ignorance, I know that the next generation is on the right track.
“When I see their willingness to challenge prejudice and ignorance, I know that the next generation is on the right track”
Let me share some specific examples. Earlier this term I was privileged to hear a small group of sixteen and seventeen year-olds leading an assembly on sexuality, equality and diversity. Before an audience of their teachers and their peers, they expressed their ideas with mature eloquence and sincerity, and with an air of authenticity that would put many of their elders to shame.
Just a few weeks later I sat in as four would-be journalists interviewed the England Blind Football squad, here in Tokyo to compete in the World Grand Prix as part of their preparations for the Paralympic Games in 2020. I was impressed by the way in which they had prepared for the interview, although with this particular bunch that came as no real surprise. What I did not expect was the level of engagement between these dedicated international sportsmen and those four young students; at the age of fourteen, they demonstrated empathy and insight far beyond their years. As one of the players said to me afterwards: “That was something special. There were none of the usual daft questions we sometimes get from professional journalists. They seemed to try to understand what it means to live with disability and genuinely wanted to know more.”
My final example features a typically positive reaction to a global ecological problem, the entirely manmade scourge of plastic waste that threatens environmental disaster on a catastrophic scale. We have all read the headlines and seen the pictures on our screens but how many of us are actually doing anything in response? Step forward the young activists of the BST eCool campaign. Single-use plastic bottles have been shown the door, the vending machine in the senior common room has been unplugged and we have all been taught what should be the most common expression in the Japanese language: fukuro wa kekkou desu! If you care, then doing nothing is not an option.
Good exam results are important, as are all the opportunities in sport, music and the arts, but at the British School in Tokyo, I believe we offer so much more. Here our students have a voice and they know it will be heard, they are caring, thoughtful young men and women, and they want to play their part in making this a better world for everyone. I have every confidence they will do just that.