With planning for International Day 2015 looming and preparations frenetic as always, I return again to a question that is posed to me frequently by parents and friends, who ask, ‘what exactly makes an international school international?’
Many people would instantly think that it is about where the students and staff come from, or about the curriculum that is studied. Indeed it is, in part, but there is also so much more. For me, it’s about developing students who are internationally minded.
Scholars such as George Walker believe that responsible citizenship, compassionate thinking, tolerance, diversity within a shared humanity and a cultural understanding underpins what an international education should contain. (The language of International Education, 2002).
I think these precepts are a good start, and further reading will open up an almost inexhaustible supply of opinion and indicators. Hill’s set of criteria, as follows, is very useful to understand the concept of International mindedness. Essentially Hill outlines that curiosity and interest in the world, open attitudes towards other ways of life and tolerance, knowledge of the environment, interdependence and human values are all vital. Schools must then ensure their support through school philosophy, curriculum design, expectations of learning and a supportive teacher role. (Student types, school types and their combined influence on the development of intercultural understanding, 2007)
But how do we do this? It’s not a simple task to be able to develop a school ethos that reflects all of these values.
In order to measure how a school may turn this notion of international mindedness into a school approach to education, one interesting source of information can be found from international accreditation bodies such as the CIE, CIS, IBO and others. From research, these organisations can help establish a set of criteria that attempts to outline what it is a school should focus upon in order to develop an internationally minded student, existing within an internationally minded school. (These have been summarized):
Developing a sense of their own identity and cultural understanding of others.
Developing core human values
Developing a sense of inquiry and love of learning
Developing key skills for a globalised society
Including international content into the curriculum
Diversity in teaching style, methods and staffing
Appropriate assessment styles to cater for an internationally minded and diverse curriculum.
This therefore opens a question as to whether a school can use a set of criteria such as those above, to evaluate its success in implementing an international education, and indeed, it’s level of ‘international mindedness’.
Well, to begin with, perhaps we as a school need to realise that education in general terms, is not just about academic qualifications, but also social and personal development. One writer who addresses this is Gellar, who believes that there are two separate facets, ‘one educational and the other ethical.’ (International education: a commitment to universal values, 2002.) Gellar believes that an ethical dimension would express itself into a set of universal values. He goes on to state: “International schools……….can and do get by without the need to wrestle with or even debate the need for universal values, but internationally minded schools cannot.” Within the same source, it is clear to what importance Gellar places upon these ethical values, to the extent that a statement of universal values needs to underpin all that the school stands for – an ‘unambiguous statement’ that shows ‘a commitment to peace and compassion for all.’ I would like to think that the SIS mission statement and the ‘Straits Way’ reflects this;
Straits International School aims to prepare its students to take up their places in an ever evolving and challenging world, striving for continuous excellence in their pursuits, but tempered with empathy for others. Students of Straits will leave the school with strong moral and ethical values and with a truly internationally minded outlook.
Some authors have also attempted to provide a clearer and more demonstrable framework to explain what schools should be doing to encourage a set of universal values. Thomas, attempts to set out some guiding principles, values, learning themes, skills and actions that he believes contributes to what he terms as an ‘Active World Citizen.’ (Education for Peace: The cornerstone of International Education, 1998.) This model can be very useful for school managers in determining an overall aim in values policy, but still does not give much specific assistance in the formulation of more tangible objectives and the methods in which they may be achieved.
Through much reading and experience, the team at SIS have concluded that an international education requires the following elements.
A clearly set ethos and mission statement, including elements of international mindedness, that influences all that the school does.
An international curriculum that contains elements of global issues awareness, cultural understanding and active citizenship.
An activities program and enrichment of the curriculum that develops team skills, leadership, service and interconnectivity with other students in other schools around the world.
A school community that perseveres and supports in its efforts to promote a truly internationally minded school.
A school academic system that promotes excellence and provides students with all the tools they need to succeed in a challenging and globalised society.
Perhaps the above then, can put into perspective the attempts of SIS to develop our academic and hidden curriculum, which includes Challenge Week, a commitment to service, the themed activity program and the international studies mapped throughout our curriculum. It certainly provides food for thought for us as educational leaders, about how we want the school community to develop.