What motivates schools to encourage a commitment to service projects? From one perspective, it makes little sense in a world often measured by exam grades or the number of certificates a child accrues in a school career. This, of course, is nothing new. In one of my favourite Charles Dickens' novels, Hard Times, the initially unsympathetic school board superintendent and risible pedagogue, Thomas Gradgrind, is mocked by the author for his rigid educational philosophy. Gradgrind is quite clear about the purpose of the schools under his authority: “Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.” In this view, already considered reactionary in the middle of the 19th century, education sought to stifle individualism, imagination and compassion. To Gradgrind and those like him, learning was reduced to the purely functional – the only material worth studying was that which advanced self-interest and financial gain.
Wellington College in England opened its doors in 1859, just five years after Hard Times was published, but it was already a far more enlightened prospect than anything Thomas Gradgrind would have admired. It was dedicated to the memory of the Duke of Wellington, but its broader purpose was to offer an education to the sons of army officers killed in war. It was a school, therefore that from its creation, recognised the service and sacrifice of those soldiers, and ever since, it has remained heavily committed to an education which seeks to foster an understanding of the importance of such an ideal. It is no different here in Tianjin. It is very important to me that Wellingtonians recognise the privilege they enjoy as pupils in this school, and that with this privilege comes a responsibility to those in our wider community.
These days we talk of 'service-learning' – the term stressing the importance of learning from a pupil's experience of volunteering or working for the benefit of others. I wrote last week about the enrichment opportunities for pupils through activities within the school. When done well, service-learning also offers a genuinely enriching, all-round education that can never adequately be replicated in a classroom. In part, it is in the 'soft skills' so beloved of employers that young people can grow. Empathy, compassion, kindness, communication and personal organisation can all be nurtured through a sustained service programme. One example of the benefits can be seen in the findings of a recent McKinsey report on the future of work, which found that “Globally, we estimate that healthcare and related jobs from ageing could grow by 50 million to 85 million by 2030”. In such an employment climate, an understanding of the challenges of working with the sick and the elderly is not just a social benefit but opens a huge range of new career prospects. There are also the benefits to the individual – by giving to others your time and effort, you can learn a great deal about yourself as a person: what motivates you? What are your own values? What do you see as your role in society?
Our pupils and staff once again have the chance to participate in a range of service and charity projects this year. There are fundraising events, such as our Pink Ribbon cancer relief campaign and the series of marathon charity walks which are planned for the months ahead. In addition, there are service projects such as the International Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, scouting (for both boys and girls) with the Boy Scouts of America, and a new ASA for the senior pupils, the Eric Liddell Service award. I will be writing about this last project in more detail in a couple of weeks, but it is a really exciting development which will help the school offer meaningful and lasting support to children's groups in our Tianjin community.
There is a rather beautiful expression in Chinese which so elegantly conveys a profound point about service to others “予人玫瑰，手有余香,” loosely translated as, “The roses in her hand, the scent in mine”. As Mr Gradgrind discovers, albeit too late to save his own children from ignominy, service rewards, like the scent of the rose, those who give it.
Details of the first major fundraising event of the term, last Friday's sleepover, have been published this week. The next is a 100km walk, from Wuqing to the centre of Beijing. Details of the event, and how families can support it, are given below. I look forward to working with members across our community to make this year rich in service and charitable giving.
It is with a certain trepidation, but boundless optimism, that we announce the next of our long-distance charity walks on Sunday 4th October. It follows on from the series of walks from April-June, which covered 32km, 42km, 50km and 25km respectively, raising thousands for local children's charities.
We are looking for community sponsorship for the walk as we are keen to support two important local causes:
Hongqiao Peizhi school (红桥区培智学校), which educates disabled children from ages 2-18 years, helping them to move on from the school to live rich, fulfilling lives in the community.
The Seven Colour Flower House orphanage (七色花舍), which provides medical and pastoral care to ill and disabled young orphans from across China.
It would be great if we could raise 30,000RMB with this walk. This would help significant numbers of children living very tough lives by providing for medical care and educational resources.
There are three ways to contribute: