By Jane Larsson
A new year begins. And with it come our resolutions; taking on the challenges we have been avoiding, at long last solving recurring problems, reaching out to those who need our help, stepping up to take action where we know we can make a difference.
What would these resolutions look like for those of us responsible for leadership in international education?
As the end of 2019 neared, two things occupied my mind. One is exciting; the other is continually frustrating, knocking us backwards and blocking our work.
In with the new
Imagine a world where students can easily move across borders to pursue their studies with their international credentials readily recognized.
This was the vision of UNESCO as it drafted new legislation—The Global Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications, adopted in November 2019—to create a framework for fair, transparent and non-discriminatory recognition of higher education qualifications. I believe it will also be a catalyst to improve recognition and ease student mobility in secondary education as countries struggle with complexity and explore how to support children who have been educated in other systems effectively. This is a role where our international education community can help.
To learn more about the work of international credential evaluators globally, take a look at the website of The Association for International Credential Evaluation Professionals (TAICEP), our newest supporting member organization and partner. TAICEP is an international professional association that has the single purpose of supporting and serving the profession of international credential evaluation. Their members seek to ensure that the educational achievements of young people are recognised and respected wherever they're from and whichever educational system they experienced—work that directly complements our own.
What role can you play to foster recognition of international credentials in the country where you work?
Out with the old
Ending Confidentiality Agreements.
Three different schools. Three different countries and cultures. Three different confidentiality agreements. They had one thing in common: to cover up unacceptable (and even immoral behaviour) and make it go away.
But none of them actually did.
In each case, someone in the community who knew what happened decided to tell someone (usually via social media). It made life even more difficult for the school community as people discovered the school had taken action to hide behaviour that they knew was wrong.
The people who authorized these agreements intended to protect their school’s reputation and sincerely thought they were doing the right thing for their community. Yet, in each case, the story made its way back to them, with the knowledge that the school had taken steps to cover it up.
And, what happened to the people whose behaviour was in question? Each one moved on to find a position at another school.
The use of confidentiality agreements in such situations, while legal, is unethical.
Our experience shows that behavioural breaches and boundary crossings are often seen as “low-level concerns”. As a result, they frequently go unaddressed as each one in itself may not seem significant enough for action. But when they are all put together, they become “something”. And while the accused individuals are no longer their original school’s problem to deal with, it is likely they are repeating the same behaviours at their new schools, which may include significant boundary crossing with students. It is highly likely that each person continues to use their power and authority to influence students and their families improperly.
Don’t these students and their families deserve more?
Wouldn’t the leaders of their new schools want to know exactly what they are dealing with?
Non-disclosure agreements (or NDAs, as they are often referred to) may have their place in protecting organizational inventions and ideas, but they should never be used to hide behaviour that puts others at risk for harm and abuse, mentally or physically.
Working with legal experts, law enforcement, and governmental officials in multiple countries, we spent two years developing a protocol to manage unacceptable behaviour in educational institutions. The Protocol for Managing Allegations of Abuse Against Adults is not the easy way, in fact, it is the hard way. But you can take the first steps towards effective decision making.
- Do not make a departure agreement with a member of staff on the basis that their inappropriate behaviour goes unreported. This can serve to normalize inappropriate behaviour and suppress reporting of concerns because staff and students will think that nothing will happen and they will not be believed. Let them know that you do not condone such behaviour.
- Speak openly and clearly with staff and students so they know what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.
- Adopt a behavioural code of conduct for all adults in the community as the basis for action, including disciplinary action, if required.
- Document and address such behaviour directly with the person in question.
- If their actions rise to illegality, report it to the authorities.
- If you don’t know the local authority, make sure you introduce yourself to the local police as one of the first actions of the year that you’ll take. If you are not from the country and are unsure how to proceed, call your local embassy and talk to the regional security officer about how to work with the local and international police.
- If you have signed a confidentiality agreement in the past, discuss the ethics of this with your Board. What would it take to lift the agreement and inform those bound by it that they can now speak freely? While this may seem risky, leaders who have taken this step have strengthened the reputation of their schools.
- If your lawyer advises you to sign a confidentiality agreement in the future, get a new lawyer, one with experience managing allegations of abuse.
I look forward to ongoing conversations with CIS members and colleagues across international education in 2020, in the hope that together we can find a different, fairer, more effective and strategic way forward to protect our organizational reputations while also protecting the staff and students in our care and our wider community.
And so, here’s to the year ahead! My resolutions are to create connections, to foster recognition, to examine boundaries and to remove barriers that prevent us from doing the right thing. What are yours?
Welcome 2020, may we each create new purpose and find fulfilment in it!