by Ana Carolina Cassiano, AFS Intercultural Programs

The annual Forum on Intercultural Learning and Exchange (FILE) convenes 60+ experts, researchers, policy-makers and practitioners in the field of intercultural education to advocate for a whole school approach to intercultural learning.
Participants of the 9th FILE at the European Economic and Social Committee

Fondazione Intercultura, the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL) and AFS Intercultural Programs organized the ninth annual Forum on Intercultural Learning and Exchange (24-26 October) to explore the theme “Intercultural Learning: a Whole School Approach”. The Forum took place in Brussels, Belgium, with the support of Erasmus+ and the European Economic and Social Committee.

More than 60 attendees, including academics, educators and volunteers demanded a more inclusive international education, including through better teacher training, engagement of all relevant stakeholders and cooperation across disciplines, as well as stronger ties with the local communities.

The event showcased the results of the Erasmus+ project ‘Intercultural learning for pupils and teachers’, presented other related projects in Europe and beyond, and explored the latest policy developments in the field of intercultural education at the European Union, Council of Europe, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UNESCO.

Working Together at Different Levels

Francisco Marmolejo, Tertiary Education Specialist, The World Bank, opened the 3-day forum with a provocative keynote speech challenging assumptions and trends. “There is a dramatic shift in what is shaping the future of education,” he indicated, referring to the demographic shift that requires innovative approaches to education.

We need greater involvement with local communities”, stressed Tatjana Babrauskiene, representative of the European Economic and Social Committee. The need to create a closer connection with local communities was reinforced throughout the event as one of the key elements to foster intercultural learning with a whole school approach.

The example of what was achieved with the Erasmus+ project “Intercultural Learning for Pupils and Teacherspresented tools and policy recommendations for promoting intercultural learning with a more effective engagement of teachers, students and the school community at large. The outputs from the project include:

  • a training framework for teachers,
  • a toolbox with 40+ lesson plans related to intercultural learning, and
  • policy recommendations to include intercultural learning  in teacher training; integrate intercultural learning in schools’ curricula; and create a framework for recognition of study abroad.

The “Intercultural Learning for Pupils and Teachers” project has trained 22 multipliers (teacher trainers), preparing 180 teachers who have implemented intercultural learning activities from the Toolbox with 4300 secondary students total across Europe. Testimonials from participating teachers from Belgium, France and Italy highlighted the benefits of having a structured way and resources to advance intercultural learning in their schools.

We thought intercultural learning happened spontaneously due to the diversity of our student body and teacher’s awareness, but by participating in this project we learned the need of being proactive and intentional about it, and the importance of teacher training to achieve it”, said Helen Bracegirdle-Brown, Head Teacher at Ecole Internationale Le Verseau from Belgium. Participants of the Forum had the opportunity to experience first-hand what an intercultural learning activity in the classroom looks like, through a quick sample of one of the activities from the Toolbox.

Other examples from projects related to intercultural learning and the whole school approach in Europe and beyond were also presented, including the AFS Global Competence Readiness Index for Schools: a self-assessment tool–accompanied by a custom report and actionable resources tools such as lesson plans and more–developed by AFS Intercultural Programs to help educators determine how prepared their schools are to foster global competence among students.

Melissa Liles, Chief Global Engagement Officer and Ana Carolina Cassiano, Educator & School Relations at AFS Intercultural Programs present the AFS Global Competence Readiness Index for Schools

Intercultural Learning Beyond the Classroom

The Forum also explored the current international and national policy developments related to a whole school approach to intercultural and global education. “We need to move from knowledge-based learning to competence-based learning”, highlighted Petra Goran, Policy Officer at the European Commision while presenting the European Union’s key competence framework.

The crucial importance of intercultural dialogue in democratic societies was explored by Dr. Martyn Barrett, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Surrey, UK, while presenting the framework developed by the Council of Europe: Competences for Democratic Culture.

The framework for Global Competence within OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) was explored as Natalie Foster, Junior Analyst in the OECD Directorate of Education and Skills, presented how global competence is being measured in the current PISA tests with dozens of countries implementing this assessment of 15-year-olds capacity to examine local, global and intercultural issues, to understand and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others, to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from different cultures, and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development. The full OECD PISA Global Competence Report with the results and analysis will be published in 2020.

Representatives from national governments, research institutes, and educational networks also presented policy developments in their contexts: the Spanish approach to PISA Global Competence, the European school approach to intercultural education, how intercultural learning fits within the Belgium-Wallonia education reforms, and the pedagogical process of Global Competence Education in South Korea.

The world is not divided into subjects”, reminded us Dr. Kari Kivinen, the Head of the French-Finish school of Helsinki and former Secretary-General of the European School system, reinforcing the need for a holistic approach to advance intercultural and global education.

Dr. Darla Deardorff, Executive Director of the Association of International Education Administrators(AIEA) and a global leading researcher on intercultural topics, presented the closing remarks of the forum, summarizing 10 key points needed for a better integration of intercultural learning into schools:

  • Connecting disciplines, sectors and approaches
  • Being explicit
  • Being intentional
  • Making global issues locally relevant
  • Challenging assumptions
  • Engaging all stakeholders
  • Fostering lifelong learning
  • Creating a safe environment and supporting policies/structures
  • Connecting to local community
  • Addressing organizational change.

The concluding thoughts from the three days of discussions also stressed enduring themes that have been present throughout the nine editions of the Forum: the importance of teacher training, the desire for concrete intercultural pedagogical assessment tools and how to implement these.

The next Forum on Intercultural Learning and Exchange will take place in Colle di Val d’Elsa, Italy, from 1 to 4 November 2019. Contact EFIL for more information