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A place to celebrate difference

I remain ever mindful of my first visit to Phuket, just a little over 41 years ago. It is a hard place to forget, of course, but in my mind’s eye I see only a smattering of tourists, on slow roast, in a pristine natural environment.


Monday 29 July 2019, 02:00PM

BISP, together. Photo: BISP

BISP, together. Photo: BISP

In this pre-internet age, life and travel seemed much slower, perhaps less convenient and more uncomfortable, but certainly more rewarding for the effort required.

I have to get my mind’s eye up to date (as well as my technology skills): Phuket is still beautiful, but the world has ar­rived. In fact, regrettably perhaps, this is true for al­most every place on the planet – the world has finally arrived and is clamouring to get in. And what a bur­den this now places upon us all, but especially upon teachers as they struggle to interpret and determine the educational needs of the future.

What should we teach in a world where all human knowledge and all human frailty are but a quick, slick click away? How do we guide our children against a backdrop of voices that enter the sanctity of our own homes, uninvited and far more strident in their de­mands upon our time, our hopes and our fears? How can we ensure that we prepare children for an emerg­ing world, and not the world of our nostalgic past or our wildly optimistic futures? Our schools must be grounded in the reality of a rapidly changing, highly connected, unpredictable world, and yet remain true to the essential values that provide emotional security and promote world peace.

It is far too easy for educational platitudes to roll off the tongue, and we all want to be reassured in this uncertain world. But education is not about schooling. Human beings cannot help but learn – it’s what we do – but learning is not enhanced in any environment that stifles creativity or seeks relevance in the past. This is the real challenge for schools: to provide a context for the natural curiosity of children; to provide for creativity and initiative; to encourage risk-taking; to dance with the family and community; and ultimately to examine, share and enjoy our common humanity.

To embark on any journey safely re­quires a reliable moral compass, along with encouragement for curiosity and openness, and, of course, the ability to interpret and enjoy the scenery along the way. Surely, it is only in the uncertainty that each generation finds fulfilment.


And therefore a school should be a place of exploration and opportunity, and not just a well-worn track emerg­ing out of the past and disappearing into the future. It should be a place that enables all students to identify their unique talents, and not just their shortcomings within a narrow range of academic disciplines.

Fundamentally, a school should be a place to celebrate dif­ference and where each member of the community is able to learn about learn­ing itself, and, most importantly of all, a place to care for the ‘other’.

– Neil Richards

Neil Richards is the Headmaster at British International School, Phuket. For more information, visit them at

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