By Tania Jayatilaka
June 04, 2019
Rami Madani of The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) clues us in on his philosophy of learning and the increasing need for ‘future-proof’ education today.
In the last decade, Rami Madani has held multiple roles: teacher, International Baccalaureate consultant, examiner, dean, director of learning and – come July this year — the new head of school at the International School of Kuala Lumpur.
Despite the dizzying array of changes he’s experienced this year alone, Rami is optimistic about his new role, falling back on 2 decades of leadership experience across top-ranking international schools in Asia, Europe and Africa.
That’s not to say the challenges of education are the same across the board, as Rami points out. His philosophy, however, remains the same throughout: our success in preparing kids for their future depends on how well we’ve let them develop 21st century skills today.
“To what extent are we really preparing kids for their lives? Not ours, but theirs?” asks the Damascus-born educator who is German by nationality. “It goes beyond just exams and colleges onto civic responsibility, caring for the environment, and contributing to the lives of others.”
Smart as a whip, yet down-to-earth as they come, Rami knows that a vision without a solid plan of action is fruitless. Below, we find out what counts as sustainable, 21st century education to him and how far ISKL has come in implementing it in their community.
WHAT FIRST DREW YOU TO ISKL?
It was honestly their reputation. I visited ISKL in 2007 and was impressed by the quality of its people and leaders as well as the culture, the feeling of community and the good balance between being highly professional and yet maintaining a strong sense of autonomy.
What’s most telling at ISKL is that students are valued and respected; education is not ‘done’ to them, but with them. That approach, in itself, is unique.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR NEW POST AS HEAD OF SCHOOL?
I feel both honoured and humbled to be the next leader of ISKL. With over 65 nationalities and highly skilled faculty and staff, it’s a truly international school.
My predecessor Dr. Norma Hudson brought us forward with the creation of a state-of-the-art campus that facilitates 21st century learning. As the incoming head of school, I need to ensure that we advance a vision that is both future-proofed and truly aspirational.
With our learning-focused educators who are PhD and Masters degree holders from top universities around the world, such a vision is surely attainable.
WHAT ARE SOME VISIBLE STEPS TAKEN BY ISKL TO ACHIEVE THAT VISION?
Some of my focus areas would be developing stronger partnerships and placing the Sustainable Development Goals more publicly and more intentionally, and further enhancing our connection with the Malaysian culture, heritage and language. Also, we want to explore the future of learning more courageously. Another one of my focus areas will be working with futurists and looking at what else we need to do in order to provide the best future-ready learning for our kids.
AND WHAT DOES FUTURE-READY LEARNING LOOK LIKE?
Firstly, it involves ownership – which means education isn’t done to students, but with them and they need to own it. The ownership that comes through developing your student voice, choice and the ability to be confident is essential in our view.
Secondly, creating the right environment for such learning. In a time when schools are putting too much content in the curriculum and chasing the joy out of learning, we need to ask the difficult questions of which content is relevant and which isn’t.
Lastly, we work with partners in the community on sustainability and service. I want to see more of that, where learning is not restricted to a classroom or a campus but happens everywhere the students are and everywhere they go.
CAN YOU SHARE AN EXAMPLE OF ONE PARTNERSHIP IN PARTICULAR THAT’S MADE A BIG IMPACT THIS YEAR?
We recently had what we call Faisal Cup in partnership with The Dignity for Children Foundation. We had around 500 children from disadvantaged backgrounds come to ISKL, over 2 Saturdays for a whole day of football tournaments where everything was fully provided for them, including the transport back. Faisal Cup is named after a refugee child, Faisal, who drowned in a river chasing a ball.
ISKL’S LIFE-CENTRED EDUCATION PROGRAMME FOR SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS HAS BEEN A HUGE SUCCESS. HAS IT EXPANDED SINCE ITS EARLY DAYS?
We’ve worked for nearly 7 years to get where we are, and yes; we are now school-wide inclusive. ISKL is proud to offer an optimal learning environment for all students, including those with moderate to intensive learning differences.
It hasn’t been easy, but it goes back to our belief that school is not only about preparing students for life, school should be life itself, and this? This is real life. Inclusiveness is a matter of honouring everyone regardless of their background, capabilities, cognitive or emotional differences.
Our inclusive approach empowers all students to develop empathy, flexibility, and the skills they need to live and work in any future environment.
DO YOU HAVE A PLAN TO MEASURE THE SUCCESS OF YOUR VISION FOR ISKL?
Well, we do have metrics for the things we value. But if I want to bring about a change, how do I measure the impact of that change? The research is clear on this: you can’t measure the outcome only, whether it be after a month, a year, 2 years or 4.
You must measure the process and the extent to which the process is leading you to your vision. If we value student agency, the ability to think creatively and communicate effectively, what are the indicators for those traits? We do have indicators for 21st century skills, but as we review the future of learning, they’ll have to change to match it, and that’s all part of the process.
Again, my role as head of school is to make sure that the vision and mission of our school is advanced in reality. ISKL is inclusive in how we shape, own, and measure our success in meeting our vision. This way, we model the values we want to see in our students, and we walk the talk.