Diversity as an asset

The International School of Stavanger (ISS) has approximately 500 students representing 50 nationalities and 120 staff from 24 different nations. This diversity represents many opportunities for the Stavanger region.

Text: Trude Refvem Hembre

Rosenkilden met with Gareth Jones, the director at ISS in Hafrsfjord. Whilst the school has been located here, outside Stavanger city centre, since 1982 and serves both local and expat families, ISS was founded in 1966 originally for the families of oil pioneers. The number of students fluctuates according to the economic activity of the region's business sector. ISS has a maximum capacity for 850 students aged 3 to 18 years. The predominant nationalities are American, British and Norwegian citizens, with substantial numbers of students from Australia, Canada, France, India, Italy, Germany, Poland and The Netherlands.

- ISS offers students and families not just a school, but also a diverse, active, positive, supportive and engaged learning community where our core values of Learning, Well-being and Community influence every aspect of the ISS experience, says Gareth Jones.

Learning major focus
The vision of ISS is to inspire a community of responsible, globally engaged, empowered learners.
- We try to nurture learning through a holistic and well-rounded education where children have the freedom to grow in new ways and parents can be confident that it is the best fit for their child and the whole family. Our education is inclusive and challenging. Our objective is to educate responsible citizens - we want people to become self-determining and responsible for their contributions. They engage, and are not just tourists in the world. It´s important that they build confidence along their way too.

The aims and the goals are noble and lofty, according to Jones.
- Learning is the essence and major focus, supported by Well-being and Community. In fact, from a lot of research we know that if you´re involved in service and acts of kindness and gratitude, not only does this benefit the people that you are trying to help or work with, it actually also benefits yourself and personal happiness. Therefore, we take a pro-kindness approach to our school culture to benefit student well-being and create acceptance - especially important in a diverse school or work setting.

Strong results
The school has successfully prepared students for the British IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education through the University of Cambridge) examinations for over 30 years, and more than 20 years for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme.

- Both the IB Diploma and the IGCSE are available for High School students, and many years of strong results along with impressive university placements underscore the dedication of our students and teachers working together, says Jones.
Gareth Jones is Welsh, and has been at ISS for ten years; seven years as high school principal and deputy director, and the last three as director. He has strongly engaged himself in the schools´ strategic planning, steering its successful re-accreditation process and growing the schools´ more inclusive and holistic approach to education.
To help facilitate such learning, the school has a well-equipped campus with a wide range of opportunities; a 380-seat auditorium, two libraries, sports complex with four indoor gyms, a nice cafeteria, an outdoor sport fields and several technology labs. Rosenkilden was taken for a tour at ISS, and was very impressed, especially by the positive atmosphere. Many of the students´ school works are exhibited in the hallways. The director emphasized that the other students respect classmates' work.

Top 10 skills in 2020
- In an increasingly globalized and diverse world, focusing on creating an environment that seeks to nurture the "whole child" academically, socially, emotionally and physically is more important than ever. It is necessary for us at the International School of Stavanger to pay attention to new methodologies during this time of rapid change and adapt our practices, Jones shared.

ISS refers to World Economic Forums´ Future of Jobs Report that consider top 10 skills in 2020 (see table).
- Whilst the top 10 skills are varied, complex and will change over time, schools need to respond to this complexity with a more focused approach on conceptual learning (approach to understanding) and competency learning (approached to skills). The reality is that you don´t teach this discretely - it has to be a conscientious part of the curriculum. The active learning and greater conceptual understandings are important for students to have the right skill-set for the future, says Jones. Gone are the days of read, listen, repeat. Now it's discuss, experience and teach others for the most effective learning.

Ambassadors for the region
- What do you consider are the advantages of having a multicultural environment, and what does this multicultural diversity contribute to the Stavanger region?
- The obvious nature of having diversity in school and people with different opinions and perspectives is that it contributes to more in-depth discussions. It also challenges us to understand what real understanding is about - adding different layers and levels to fundamental ideas. So, we end up transforming notions of education rather than transmitting them.

Another significant advantage of multiculturalism in school is seeing how a global outlook inspires students to pursue careers where they can positively impact their communities. For example, several ISS alumni work for the United Nations - in the Nordic Office and abroad.

Many ISS families and students also take pride in contributing to the multicultural events on offer for all Stavanger residents.

ISS indeed has an ambassador role for our region. The director says that the Stavanger region has been entrepreneurial and outward-looking.
- Greater Stavanger has always looked to positively change and reinvent itself. As a student of economics, I know that this continues to be cyclical. We deal with this reality. Our school provides the ability to support the various educational needs of families involved in these processes.

- Some come for the work and stay for the lifestyle. We have always had fantastic cooperation with the communities and the businesses.

- Possible challenges within such an international workplace?
- I focus on opportunities. If you think things are going to be successful, your mindset will approach it that way, is Gareth Jones´ wise ending remark.


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