It is fair to say that Kam Chohan, the executive director of the Educational Collaborative for International Schools, did not have a conventional journey through education.
Growing up in Wolverhampton, the daughter of Indian parents, she spoke only Punjabi when she first went to school aged five.
And later, despite enjoying learning, a great love of books and “harbouring the secret ambition to be a teacher” she did not have the chance to train as one.
Instead, her ability with numbers led to a 20 year career in the business world, including a fascinating job as business manager at the company set up by the novelist Barbara Cartland, Cartland Promotions.
It was only when she was asked to come and give some lectures to business students at her local North Hertfordshire College that she entered the teaching world for the first time – and never looked back.
“What I love about teaching is it can change people’s lives, it can open doors that people don’t have access to.”
She trained as a teacher and became head of maths, supporting students who had previously been struggling to gain formal qualifications in the subject. She dedicated herself to supporting and providing opportunities for students from a wide range of backgrounds, helping them to find and apply for work.
“I loved working with young people,” Kam Chohan says.
“What I love about teaching is it can change people’s lives, it can open doors that people don’t have access to…I love people…those connections and stories that those students brought really enriched my life.
Later, she worked at the University of Hertfordshire to support young people who were the first in their family to go to university.
And now, it is that passion for equal access to education and learning that Chohan is bringing to her role at ECIS.
Founded in 1965, it is a non-profit global membership organisation that describes itself as “a vibrant network of thoughtful doers and change-makers.”
“We need to work out how to share all the things that we are doing wonderfully in international schools.”
Membership represents more than 425 schools and 35,000 educators and leaders on six continents.
Kam Chohan believes the sector has the potential to be a very powerful force for good across education.
She is keen to play on its strengths to achieve this — most notably the diversity and richness of perspectives in the sector.
“At ECIS we have members in 80 different countries, the knowledge and experience they bring is just phenomenal really,” she says.
The challenge to come, she says, is how to ensure others have access to what international schools can offer.
She says: “We need to work out how to share all the things that we are doing wonderfully in international schools with other schools who may have less resources.”
“We want to create inclusive professional learning and continue to create communities and work collaboratively.”
One of ECIS’s strengths is sharing expertise and knowledge through is its Special Interest Groups, that staff from any kind of school can access.
Chohan says: “We are the only people that run a libraries conference globally, all librarians can come together, collaborate and share insights and learning.
“What we are trying to do is to create a more inclusive professional learning platform, so that if you’re a premier school that can afford to fly to a venue you can do that, but we’re also creating online content that can be accessed from anywhere in the world and share with your team.”
For schools who become members, there is free child protection training, free professional learning, opportunities to network and other benefits.
“We want to create accessible and inclusive professional learning and also to continue to create communities and work collaboratively. What we wish for is equal access to opportunities for everyone,” Chohan says.
One look at ECIS’s calender of events highlights the diversity of what it offers: there is a new bookclub discussing Sathnam Sanghera’s Empireland, a workshop on supporting student mental health, a “Middle Leader Café” and events touching on everything from safeguarding to mindfulness and intercultural understanding.
Chohan is also hoping ECIS can play a key role in putting education and young people on an even keel after Covid.
“International schools have led in Covid-19, getting online learning up and running…once students are back in classrooms we really need to focus on their social and emotional well-being.
“I think that’s something that all school communities are going to have to focus on.”
As part of its wider mission, ECIS also gives university grants and has recently funded a student to carry out a special project talking to and supporting homeless people in Athens. Another student from a refugee camp has received a grant to attend university in Amsterdam.
Kam Chohan adds: “I see my role as leader to share my platform, to lift as many people up onto that platform as I possibly can. That’s really important to me.”
Not bad for the daughter of an Indian bus driver who has always loved books.