Four young Kenya students sit together chatting
Schoolgirls in Kenya ©

British Council 2019

Making links with schools in another country can have a powerful effect on students’ understanding of the world. But where to begin? Claire Shaw talks to teachers who have done it

Experiencing other cultures and traditions undoubtedly helps young people to understand the world that they live in. 

It helps to reinforce societal values around respect and tolerance, and encourage growing minds to celebrate difference, broaden their horizons and understand global issues. 

Living through this pandemic means that children around the world have experienced disruptions to their education at the same time. Connections and understanding have never been more important. 

A recent insight report from Pearson shows that 86% of students say being prepared for their future in a global world, understanding and learning about different cultures, is important to them [source: School report 2023].

So how can schools bring global learning into the classroom to help broaden the horizons of all pupils? One effective way is through creating international partnerships. 

Bilingual buddies

In 2014, a group of schools in Wales including Glan-y-Môr School and Richmond Park Primary School partnered with Lesotho schools Mokhotlong Primary School and Moyeni High School. Some of the schools are bilingual and faced the similar situation of promoting bilingualism in order to be part of both the local community and the national one.  

At the start of the partnership, teachers from Wales went to visit Mokhotlong Primary and took with them handwritten letters from the Welsh students.

Excited by this opportunity to connect with pupils in another country, all 97 pupils from Mokhotlong had their handwritten reply ready on their teacher’s desk by the next morning. 

As part of the project, students in both schools discussed global issues, such as the right to quality education, enabling them to contextualise their experiences of languages (and other things) as part of a much bigger world. 

“The thing that surprised me was how similar their school was to ours,” one of the Welsh students reflected.

Angélique Perrault, cluster international co-ordinator for Glan-y-Môr School, says: “This is the world in your classroom. It fits in extremely well with our goal of empowering students to become better citizens of the world.” 

Social enterprise skills

International partnerships can also be a great way to empower pupils to develop and share skills that they can take with them into the world of work. 

The international partnership between National Star College in Gloucestershire, UK, and Joyland Special Secondary School in Kisumu, Kenya, for example, sees pupils with disabilities discussing and comparing cultural attitudes around having a disability, and running a social enterprise project in which they create, trade and sell each other’s crafts in their own communities.  

The partnership started in 1997 and is still running to this day. Pupils write letters to each other and connect with their peers at the partner school through video conferencing via a webcam. 

Pupils learn about the cultural crafts being made and about the lives of their partner students. They use this knowledge to create information boards, which they display in their pop-up shops. 

In Joyland School, pupils are taught local crafts such as sewing and needlework, where they make bags and jewellery from recycled materials. At National Star College, they focus on making printed materials, such as greetings cards, mobile phone cases and T-shirts. 

David Finch is director of international development and research at National Star College and says the project brings the twofold benefits of increasing both cultural understanding and empowerment for traditionally marginalised groups. 

“It is important for both partners that students with disabilities have opportunities to work with their peers from different cultures and open up the world to them,” he says.

Deeper thinking

Stephen Ellis, a British Council schools ambassador, highlights the fact that international partnerships offer opportunities to develop myriad transferable skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, digital literacy, creativity, citizenship and communication. 

For example, when focusing on a global topic such as climate change, pupils can engage in discussions that require a deeper level of thinking - debating the negatives as well as the potential positives of deforestation, for example, and the impact this has on different environments and groups of people.  

“International partnerships between schools see pupils and teachers from different cultures and faiths sharing their learning on global issues with such pride and joy. These projects encourage pupils to have a voice, and to know that they can make a difference,” Ellis says.  

A young girl studies in a classroom in Pakistan
School children in Pakistan ©

British Council, 2019

But what makes an effective partnership?

Here are five key things for schools to consider when creating an effective international partnership: 

1. Benefits for all 

When choosing a school (or cluster of schools) to partner with, it’s important to make sure that all those involved will benefit - and that it is sustainable. When choosing a partner, have clear goals and outcomes in mind. 

The most successful partnerships are delivered through a whole-school approach, rather than it being one person’s responsibility. 

It’s helpful to set up a partnership agreement that clearly sets out your expectations of the partnership, the outcomes you want to achieve and the roles and responsibilities of each partner. 

2. Support services  

Use the support services available to develop the most suitable partnership for your school. The British Council runs Guided partnerships which link partner schools in a structured and facilitated way.

It can help you choose a suitable international partner, find other UK schools to collaborate with and help plan resources and meetings, as well as providing access to an experienced adviser for support on how to deliver the project. 

3. Curriculum links 

The best international partnerships aren’t an addition to the curriculum, but part of it. A great way to do this is to use the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals to develop a meaningful global project that feeds into different areas of the curriculum. Some examples of projects schools have worked on include making seats and tables from recycled materials, and setting up a food bank. 

4. Communication 

Good communication is key to making a partnership a success. There are numerous ways that pupils and staff can engage and work with their partner school, including through Google Classroom, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Skype (between classes or teachers).

To work around time zones, schools can create videos to introduce themselves, or send pictures of their work. 

5. Celebration 

Increase engagement in the project and celebrate what pupils and staff have learned through putting on events.

These may include events to share learning with the school’s local community (or other cluster schools), culture-themed days, whole-school assemblies, inviting guests to visit the school, or providing opportunities during enrichment week. Schools that participate in partnerships can also apply for accreditation through the International School Award. 


Adapted from a sponsored article in the Times Education Supplement 

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