IB – Focusing on Language Acquisition

I am a big fan of language acquisition and believe it is central to every student’s education. I am pleased we embrace languages at BGS and I will always encourage our students to keep studying a language, or two, throughout their time at school.

I also believe that part of the fun of learning a language is starting something new, the thrill of starting with the basics and putting the words together to make sentences for the first time is always exciting. I am therefore delighted that we will be introducing an additional language option in the Sixth Form for IB Diploma students from September 2021, where students who have not studied it before will be able to take up a course in Italian. Who would not want to be able to sit on the terrace of a bar in Rome and order a meal with a perfect Italian accent, or ask for directions to The Colosseum without relying on a google translate?

Having worked in Asia for five years, the vast majority of the students I taught there were fluent in at least two languages. Many had three or four languages under their belt; they were always open to learning a new language to communicate with their new friends from other countries. In the Languages Department, they used to have a poster which stated:  “monolingualism is the new 21st century illiteracy” and I couldn’t agree more. In our interconnected, globalised world, it is imperative that we are able to communicate with one another. This is one of the elements of the IB Diploma Programme which I most love, the focus on language acquisition as a link to understanding and connecting cultures.

I studied French at A Level, and was able to study in France for a year at university, work in Brussels as a lawyer and then I had an excellent grounding for learning Spanish, whilst traveling around South America when I took a career break before moving into teaching. Learning languages has opened so many doors for me; it has changed my views on the world and created a network of friends around the world. It has given me the confidence to travel, to work abroad, to walk into a room and not be afraid of starting a conversation. Learning languages has been an important part of developing my self-confidence.

There is plenty of research that also highlights how language acquisition encourages brain development, which has extensive cross-disciplinary advantages. Languages are puzzles, the logic of learning and putting sounds and words together can be applied to other subjects, Maths, Music and Sciences. These key building blocks are fundamental to a holistic education and develop enquiring, problem-solving mindsets.

I hope our students seize this opportunity to experience a new language and through it appreciate the importance of understanding others’ customs and cultures.  As the American Law Professor and author, Amy Chua, said: “Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery”. So I encourage all our students to take these words as inspiration, to be bold, to step out of their comfort zones and to open themselves up to a world of new possibilities.

Black History Month: A Reflection

Written by Meranie Kairu (Lower Sixth) and Aisha Njomo (Upper Sixth).

Reflecting on Black History Month, Mrs Gibson (Headmistress) has invited the Lead Ambassadors of the African and Caribbean Society to guest write her blog.

As our Black History Month campaign comes to an end, we take a moment to reflect on the work we have done. Our goal was to celebrate the achievements of the Black British, Black African and Caribbean population and educate students on their heritage and history. The foremost aim of this campaign, however, was to spark conversations in our school community that would encourage students, and staff, to think about the diverse nation in which we live with a greater understanding of its people. 

Our whole school assembly highlighted the importance of Black History Month to Black Britons and others in the UK. For Black Britons, knowing your history deepens your understanding of who you are and helps you to acknowledge the power in your identity. Power in our identity provides us with a strong sense of pride and belonging. This is a powerful tool that can equip our minds against the negative stereotypes imposed on us both consciously and unconsciously by society. For our communities, we are only strengthened by appreciating the achievement of Black British people and recognising the influence they have had on British society.

Our House competition gave students and staff the chance to put a spotlight on the most influential Black woman to them and we received lots of excellent entries that will be displayed around the school. Through a range of form time activities, students have explored art in the Nairobi Gallery, the presence of Africans in Roman Britain and recollected familiar Black British Actors. Decorative displays have also showcased the fabrics and flags of African and Caribbean countries and detailed their achievements. As well as this, a series of form time debates engaged students in thoughtful discussions on topics such as cultural appropriation and hair discrimination in schools.

This Black History Month campaign marks the beginning of a cultural shift in the BGS Community. By engaging students and staff in necessary, thought-provoking conversations on the erasure of history, race relations in the UK and the single-story many have of Africa and the Caribbean, we have taken our first dive into previously uncharted waters.

However, the end of Black History Month does not signify the end of these conversations. As lead ambassadors of the African and Caribbean Society, our mission is to keep these conversations ignited. We will not leave it to October to celebrate the achievements of Black Britons that have shaped our society into what we see today. We will continue to keep these ideas and topics fresh in the minds of our community. It is only once students become comfortable with the uncomfortable, that they find the confidence to go out into the world and take action. We are hopeful for the future of BGS and believe that our work will contribute to the building of a more inclusive environment for all.

Sixth Form Options…Follow Your Passions

We have arrived at the time of year where Year 11 start thinking about making some big decisions about their future; this should be seen as an exciting opportunity to reflect on their current post school aspirations. I have used the word ‘current’ in relation to what they want to do in the future. No doubt for a lot of the girls, there will be many evolutions of their plans over time and in some cases there may even be abrupt changes of direction. And that is fine! Research shows that in the next generation “individuals are likely to have three or more different occupations and/or careers during their lifetimes” (Wilson, D.N: The Education and Training of Knowledge Workers) and that around 65% of primary school aged children will end up in jobs that do not yet exist. So focusing on relevant skills and attributes is far more important than agonising over subject choices.

For instance, if I reflect on my own career path, the skills and attributes I gained as a lawyer have often stood me in good stead as an educational senior leader. My years studying the law were not wasted even though I didn’t stay in the profession; at the very least they opened the door for me to teach Law at A Level, hopefully inspiring another generation of young lawyers and frankly there is nothing more satisfying than that!

This leads me to my best (and simplest) piece of advice for choosing Sixth Form courses: follow your heart and focus on the subjects for which you have a passion or interest, because through those passions you find the drive and determination to develop the attributes you will need to unlock opportunities and to find the right career path.

Sixth Form should be such an exciting time, but it won’t be if students don’t emotionally connect with their subjects. Sixth Formers have to be independent in whatever courses they take, they must have a desire to learn more about their subjects and be willing to read around and to find links between different areas of study. It is not possible to be successful by simply turning up to lessons and reading one textbook, as the novelist E.M. Forster, said: “One person with passion is better than 40 people merely interested”. If you can’t muster up passion for chosen subjects, so that you cannot vehemently argue your point during class discussions, then it is not the right course for you. There should be real academic joy in being a Sixth Former, being able to submerge yourself in subjects you love and to start to consider yourself an expert in your chosen fields.

At BGS, girls are lucky enough to have two pathways open to them: A-Levels and International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB). We always recommend all students consider both pathways before making their final decisions. There are merits to both of them and each student must decide which is best for them. With A-Levels, students have the opportunity to narrow down their focus to three subjects, which they will cover in depth. For those students who are already very sure about what they want to do in the future, this is a good route, providing expertise and depth of knowledge in specific subjects for students with very clear direction. 

Nevertheless, many argue that only studying three subjects at this age is too limiting. In fact the new leader of the Russell Group Universities, Dame Nancy Rothwell states “I worry that in the UK we specialise very early for young people and I think we miss out”. She supports the idea of restructuring A Levels so they are a bit lighter and students could take a broader range of subjects giving a more balanced education and in her view be better prepared for university. This is where the IB Diploma comes into its own, allowing students to keep that breadth for longer, to cement key skills, whilst still allowing students to immerse themselves more deeply in their passions in the form of their Higher Levels. With the IB’s international mindedness and focus on education for a better world, it really does help equip our students for their exciting careers (plural) to come, as they balance interdisciplinary skills and learn to view the world through many different experiences. I am in no doubt it prepares them extremely well for being global citizens and moving into the wider world. Over the next few weeks, girls and parents will receive lots of information about how to make the best choice for the future. We are here to support each girl through this process and to ensure that it is an enjoyable one. With this in mind, I shall leave you with a quote to have in the forefront of your mind when making these decisions from the American Pastor, Bishop TD Jakes “If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.”

The Windrush Generation: Revolutionising British Music

By Nina Leech and Etienne Maughan (Year 11)

Continuing our focus on Black History Month, Mrs Gibson (Headmistress) has invited members of the African and Caribbean Society to guest write her blog, as they explore the role of Caribbean influences in British Music.

In the 1930s, the ship ‘HMT Empire Windrush’ was built and designed for the German Navy. However, it was built purely for war so its future purpose was undetermined. In 1945, after World War II had ended and Germany was defeated, its purpose was now very different: this ship would be used to rebuild Britain’s damaged industry. In 1948, what we now know as the ‘Windrush Generation’ travelled to Britain and would come to have a profound and positive impact on British culture as we know it today.

Caribbean communities arrived with a diverse music spectrum ranging from Latin American to Asian and African influences, which had a large impact on the British music scene. These styles fused with British music, which consisted of primarily swing and dance bands at the time, creating a unique blend, which eventually led to genres such as Drum and Bass, Garage and Grime. In the 50s, few nightclubs were open to black people, so small clubs in Soho and Brixton began to adopt genres such as Ska – a predecessor to Reggae. The legacy of this led to a second-generation wave in Coventry with bands like The Specials, pioneering multicultural Post-Punk Fusion. Birmingham was also central to politically-led, British Reggae, with artists writing about hardships faced by young black people, led by bands like Steel Pulse. The evolution of Soca music in the 1980s created the blueprint for many music styles that dominate the UK charts today. Two of these music styles, Hip Hop and Grime, have generated success for many black artists such as Stormzy and Dizzee Rascal. Popular British bands such as The Police, Culture Club and The Stranglers all used riffs inspired by Reggae. The impact that the Windrush Generation had on helping to construct Britain’s varied history will continue to shape and influence the music of the future.

The Caribbean communities diversified British culture, shaping and creating a new British society with new music, culture and charm. The Windrush Generation was not only key in pioneering change in a predominantly white country, but also helped in creating a sense of belonging within the young population of black teenagers. The music that many produced allowed the younger generation of the African and Caribbean communities to relate to the struggles of racism and hostility towards them, and provided a sanctuary and escape for them. Unable to prove their legal right to remain in the ‘mother country’, as they had arrived before it was a legal requirement, many were afraid of what was to come for them in Britain, so the music created by black artists showed power within the black community.

Unfortunately, an escape was hard to find, as the racism that the Windrush Generation faced was extensive. Even now, more than 50 years after the first ship arrived, those who are part of or descended from the Windrush Generation are told they do not belong; many have been detained and are facing deportation. Regardless of our skin colour, we must advocate for all black lives. The work we do during Black History Month to celebrate and uplift black people should not stop here, but continue each day of the year.