The benefits of an International education
Elaine Purves, Head of St John’s International School in Brussels explains how its distinctive educational approach is helping shape the global citizens of tomorrow.
Nelson Mandela once described education as “the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”. And, since we first started shaping young minds over 50 years ago, St John’s International School has always understood the power of education to better understand and positively contribute to global society.
In an increasingly globalised society, one of the greatest gifts to young people is empowering them with the skills and confidence to grow academically, socially and culturally so that they feel comfortable wherever their future takes them.
With our students representing over 55 nationalities between the ages of 18 months and 18 years, every day we see first-hand the benefits of such a diverse community. That St John’s is one of a select group of schools in Belgium to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum all the way through is one of the many reasons we are widely regarded as one of the best international schools in Europe.
But what makes a great international school truly exceptional?
It stands to reason that the best international schools should have the best support systems in place. Our elite team of teachers are skilled IB specialists who we’ve handpicked from around the world to help St John’s students access the highest educational standards. What’s more, their multicultural experience brings an added global perspective to everyday school life.
However, one element that further sets St John’s apart from all the other international schools in Brussels - and indeed Belgium - are the benefits that come with being part of the global Inspired Education Group.
Research on diversity has shown a correlation between building connections with those from other cultural backgrounds and improved problem-solving as well as creative skills. The IB Diploma is known for the emphasis it places on developing the softer skills that help turn eager students into internationally-minded citizens. Critically, skills such as teamwork and communications are amongst those valued most highly by businesses, and therefore help set students up for success.
In 2016, St John’s became one of the first schools to join the fast-growing Inspired network, which now boasts 70 premium schools across 20 countries and five continents, allowing us to offer our students a genuinely international education. Aside from the academic excellence and world-class learning that being an Inspired school brings parents, St John’s students have the advantage of being part of something with global reach beyond the classroom - access to truly international programmes.
The Inspired belief is that education is the catalyst for personal growth, development and achievement, and being a student at St John’s therefore opens doors to a whole new world of international possibilities. From exchange programmes to international sports tournaments, and from summer camps in sister schools to global leadership projects, we know how important it is that our international focus doesn’t stop at the school gates, and that we can deliver a genuinely global approach to education.
From a pedagogical perspective, our wider Inspired connections also ensure we are always at the cutting edge of educational practice, learning from the experiences of our global peers and delivering the highest international standards. This global support network was especially valuable during the pandemic, when we were able to instantly tap into their experiences and introduce new ways to keep our students safe as we took our learning online.
How inquisitive minds flourish under the International Baccalaureate system
Of course, whilst a diverse and adaptable skillset is just as important for young people to thrive and become lifelong learners, we are equally ambitious for our students academically.
Our educational philosophy mirrors the aims of the IB programme, with its focus on independent research and exploring topics more deeply. We embrace its international curriculum all the way through school to ensure our students leave us with internationally-recognised qualifications that prepare them just as well for further education as for the world of work.
Starting with the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP), continuing through the Middle Years Programme (MYP) right up to high school, and the IB Diploma (DP), we are one of the most established IB schools in Europe.
However, true to our international roots, and recognising how globally-minded St John’s alumni are, we also offer Advanced Placement (AP) exams as an additional qualification option for students in their penultimate year. With around half of St John’s students choosing to do the additional AP qualification, and some even selecting self-taught subjects such as Psychology, this internationally-recognised standard helps demonstrate an individual’s openness to new challenges on their university applications, helping them stand out.
Whilst particularly helpful for those looking to apply to a US college, AP qualifications are also a hugely valuable passport to other universities around the world, and highly valued by graduate admissions departments. In addition, our graduates also achieve a Council of International Schools (CIS)-accredited High School Diploma which enables smooth access to universities in North America.
Across its global network, 90% of Inspired Education students receive offers from their first-choice university, and St John’s students regularly successfully leave us to study across the world, whether that’s closer to home in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands or the UK, or further afield, from the US and Canada to China.
Mastering another language allows us to connect with more people and appreciate diversity. A key area where St John’s excels is therefore our language provision, and we are proud that the number of students achieving the bilingual diploma (BD) is among the best in Belgium, and well above the global average. Our promise to parents is that, no matter what language level their children come to us with, we will support and promote rapid linguistic progress.
Our Dual Language Programme runs throughout primary school, when families can decide whether they’d like their child to be in the English or French-English bilingual class. French is taught throughout the whole school, with additional languages introduced in Year 8. And, once they approach the IB Diploma, our extensive network of language experts gives students the opportunity to select their home language as part of their IB qualification, allowing them to connect further with their heritage and culture.
Whilst we currently offer eight languages from Portuguese to Swedish and German to Japanese as part of our Mother Tongue Programme, the combination of our linguistic links and Inspired network allows us to proactively work with families to add more languages as students with other mother tongues join us.
The benefits of a broad and balanced curriculum
We are equally passionate about ensuring our students grow socially as well as academically, and have seen first-hand over the decades how nurturing a student’s emotional wellbeing translates into life confidence.
One of the keys to the IB diploma’s success is its emphasis on supporting the local community and developing a more socially-minded and well-rounded perspective. In addition to service learning and voluntary work, we build further on our forward-thinking environment through our vast range of extracurricular activities.
By creating new spaces where they can challenge and be challenged, and by collaborating with parents so they too feel connected with the day-to-day running of the school, we ensure our students can be open, creative and reach their true potential.
Whether they’re a day student or one of our boarding school students, our aim is to inspire every young person to find their individual passion. This allows them to shape their personalities, develop new interests, have opportunities to take responsibility and build new levels of understanding – all critical life skills.
Equally, we believe that art and design, dance, drama and music are essential parts of human life and pride ourselves on using visual and performing arts to create a sense of belonging and enrich our international connections. Our professionally-run performing arts facility is one of the largest of any international school in Belgium. Each year, St John’s hosts numerous productions and events, from exhibitions and art shows to theatrical productions and musical concerts.
For us, having such a culturally diverse body of students makes the arts a language to celebrate and unite everyone at St John’s.
We also believe in the importance of promoting a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, from emotional resilience to physical wellbeing. As a founding member of the International Schools Sports Tournament (ISST) fifty years ago, our sporting facilities extend well beyond the traditional, encompassing a rock-climbing wall as well as more traditional sports. Not only do league games help foster teamwork amongst our students, but our ISST and Inspired connections also open further doors to play against other schools across Europe, staying with host families to introduce an added international cultural dimension.
Finally, our location in the friendly and safe Waterloo neighbourhood also reflects our approach to internationalism. This wonderful, family-friendly and well-connected community just to the south of Brussels welcomes people from all across the world, creating a multicultural, multilingual and multiracial environment where people learn from each other.
If the last 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that we live in a fast-paced and ever-evolving world. As educators and parents, we owe the next generation the chance to be as prepared as possible for the world of tomorrow – one in which change is the only constant. And at St John’s we believe our international approach ensures our students are truly prepared to take on the world.