The International School of Kuala Lumpur was shortlisted for the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) award at the 2023 International School Awards for its VOX ISKL initiative. ISKL is delighted that from 2024 onwards, DEIJ will be one of the three core criteria for the International School Awards. This signals the integral importance of DEIJ within every school initiative and its pivotal role in every school’s strategic journey.
By Rami Madani
As a leader in inclusive education, our DEIJ journey at the International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) has continued to gather momentum, from establishing our dedicated life-centred education service in 2017 to today’s enduring commitment to cultivating a safe, courageous and caring culture where identities are nurtured and action is taken against any form of discrimination.
Reflected in ISKL’s Vision, Mission, and Strategic Plan, our DEIJ focus includes the integration of social justice standards and social and emotional learning competencies (SEL) into our curriculum, the development of sustainable systems and policies, and the use of data as a tool for transformation and learning. Intentional inclusive practices are embedded into our instructional practices to create an inclusive and equitable education system and experience for all our students.
Making DEIJ learning accessible to all
In addition to these systemic efforts to effect change, taking our community with us on our DEIJ journey has been an equally important consideration. With more than 4,500 students, parents, faculty and staff, over 70 nationalities, and a diverse range of languages, cultures, ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, abilities and physical differences, our school is a microcosm of our multifaceted world. Measures to help build a shared community understanding and reinforce the importance of our role in supporting students successfully navigate an increasingly complex world have included the specially curated thought leadership discussion series, VOX ISKL.
The intent of VOX ISKL is to spark conversations, promote best practices and promote learning about DEIJ in an easily accessible way. External guest speakers are invited to share their perspectives and help us ignite learning, reflection and discussion about a variety of DEIJ-related topics.
Importantly, sessions are open to the wider community as well as ISKL’s own internal parent community. This seeds learning at a grassroots level by stimulating conversations and thinking with colleagues, family and friends. We have found that since its inception in 2021, the series has attracted a surprisingly wide range of parents, educators and representatives from the corporate and public sectors both in Malaysia and overseas.
“We strive to create a school where everyone, regardless of their differences, feels included, valued, supported and successful.”
Learning from multiple viewpoints
VOX sessions typically involve a presentation by a guest speaker followed by a panel discussion and an audience Q&A. Speakers have included subject-matter experts from other leading international schools, an educational coach and author, a writer and scholar, and, most recently, facilitators from the Institute of Social and Emotional Learning (IFSEL). Topics have ranged from practical sessions on engaging in courageous conversations and the importance of SEL through to nurturing student identity and fostering a school community for identity, agency and healing.
Ensuring the diversity and perspectives of our school’s stakeholders are both acknowledged and considered is a critical component of VOX as it provides an opportunity for us to learn from narratives and experiences that we may not usually hear or perhaps understand. This is why, in addition to external guest speakers, we also invite our school community to share their perspectives and insights as panellists.
Some panellists are members of ISKL’s DEIJ school-wide committees, while others have no involvement in ISKL’s formal DEIJ structure. Through the moderated discussion, the audience gets to hear the unique perspectives and viewpoints of each panel member and is encouraged to ask questions.
Engaging student voice
As with all things at ISKL, we involve our students as much as possible and members of ISKL’s student DEIJ committee and High School Student Leadership Team also contribute both as panellists and moderators. Their perspective is always refreshing and insightful, and it’s a powerful way of reinforcing why our commitment to DEIJ is so important.
VOX also serves as a vehicle to highlight key school-wide initiatives. For example, as part of Inclusive Schools Week, we held a special VOX ISKL CommUNITY panel discussion with Paralympians, a parent of a neurodiverse child and specialists in the area of learning differences. Moderated by two of our high-school students, the panel shared what inclusion looks like and feels like for them, the language and cultural sensitivities to be aware of when talking about race, disability, mental health and neurodiversity, and how to advocate for a differently abled child. This gave our audience some very real and meaningful insights against the backdrop of the week’s inclusion programme.
In the broad scope of our DEIJ commitment, VOX is one of a range of initiatives we have implemented to effect change as we strive to create a school where everyone, regardless of their differences, feels included, valued, supported and successful. Its format, flexibility and focus on representing the diversity of our stakeholders play an invaluable role in helping us share learning and understanding as we undertake this ongoing and vital journey together.
For those considering implementing a similar initiative, our experience has reinforced the importance of the following:
- Invite expert partners to participate. Hearing from external subject-matter experts enhances the importance of your DEIJ journey and ensures a broad range of perspectives is presented.
- Keep the sessions student-centred and encourage student agency and ownership in helping to select topics, participate on the panel and act as moderators. This helps to profile the importance your school places on learning about DEIJ and demonstrates your commitment to DEIJ to both students and community members alike.
- Involve a diverse range of voices and perspectives to ensure all stakeholders are reflected. It is particularly helpful to select examples during the sessions that are relevant to your context.
- Use pre-session briefings to enable panellists to discuss the topic in advance, develop their narrative and ensure that key areas relating to their background and context are known and can be highlighted by the moderator during the session.
- Seek feedback and suggestions for topics of interest from your stakeholders, audience and panellists.
- Promote and share your learning widely via your social media channels, public website, blogs and internal portals. ISKL publishes recordings of our events on our YouTube and Spotify channels, which creates a valuable resource for community members to access.