International education is going through a lot of changes, and determining how best to create curricula to meet the needs of a rapidly changing student demographic is a present concern. Stobie (2016) higlighted that one of the concerns facing curriculum designers is balancing the application of local and international best practices in curriculum design (pg. 53). The student demographic in international schools is shifting from the past preponderance of mobile, 'Third Culture Kids' to the current majority of local national student enrollment (Bunnel, 2015, pg. 37).
In the past, when international schools tended to be operated by parent collectives made of members of an internationally mobile upper class, the need for common curricula within and in the broader system of international schools was required to counter the costs of running separate classes to prepare students for the different national tests required by their home nations (Bunnel, 2015, pgl 332). 'Classic' international schools, created specifically to promote peace through intercultural communication, also required common curricula to operationalize their visions by allowing students from diverse countries studying the same curriculum in the same classroom (pg. 332).
The switch towards increasing numbers of 'for profit' schools serving local nationals with pragmatic goals that often include post-secondary study abroad in Western nations has made system-wide unified curricula less important, and brought attention to the need to balance local and international approaches. Students hoping to study in Canada, the UK, or America in the future might favor learning from the national curriculum of the nation in which they hope to study in the future. These schools favor the teaching of 21st century skills and English language and often include classes to promote local values as well (Stobie, 2016, pg. 55, 57). Some nations are creating 'international' curricula of their own or seeking out more affordable alternatives to the International Baccalaureate in a push to create workers able to engage in global trade and to increase their rankings on tests like PISA (Stobie, 2016, pg. 57). This has led to the creation of many different international curricula options than were available in the past (Bunnell, 2015, pg. 328).
Despite the time, effort, and money being put into development of international curricula or the adaptation of foreign national curricula to local national contexts, Skelton (2016) makes an argument that, ultimately, international school students don't really need to learn anything different than any other student (pg. 80). He argues that regardless of the latitude and longitude of the school, learning ultimately takes place in the brain, and that the adjective 'international' should be viewed as dispositional rather than locational (pg. 76). He argues that students learn from their repeated experiences, and that the 'hidden curriculum' is likely just as important, if not more important that the curriculum as written when it comes to developing in students the ability to "interact enjoyably with an other" (pg. 74-76).
In the end, no one curriculum will meet the needs of every student. Keeping student learning as the focus, rather than performance, and recognizing student interests when developing curricula stands the best chance of making learning relevant and meaningful (Skelton, 2016, pg. 73; Stobie, 2016, pg. 54). Much as Stobie (2016) describes the 'Confucian' classroom culture's student silence as having the potential to hide great internal activity and depth of thought despite appearing to western observers and being just a bunch of quiet kids listening to a lectures, we would do well to look past initial appearances when trying to determine the validity of any given approach, and consider the needs of the individual students in question. As Heng (2015) points out, the need to be oneself and honor one's own culture while still learning and growing from the experience of others' cultures is a personal journey of growth that defies standardization.
Skelton (2016) shares a quote from Gardner: "The whole course of human development can be viewed as a decline in egocentrism" and notes that the process of growing in self-confidence and -awareness is a process that doesn't end when you graduate high school, but one that goes on throughout one's entire life (pg. 81). It seems then that the goal of international education, to help students develop the capability to enjoy interacting with those of other cultures and beliefs, is just a slightly more specifically defined goal than that of all of human growth and development. Perhaps creating curricula to meet the needs of international students is not as much of a challenge as we think.
Bunnell, T. (2015). International schools and international curricula: A changing relationship. In: Hayden, M., Levy, J., & Thompson, J. J., (eds.) The Sage Handbook of Research in International Education (2nd ed.). London, U. K.: Sage. 325-336.
Skelton, M. (2016). What should students learn in international schools? In Hayden, M., & Thompson, J. J. (eds.) International schools: Current issues and future prospects. Symposium Books, Oxford. 71-83.
Stobie, T. (2016). The curriculum battleground. In Hayden, M., & Thompson, J. J. (eds.) International schools: Current issues and future prospects. Oxford: Symposium Books. 53-70.
TEDx Talks/TEDxUWCAdriatic. Heng, S. D. (2015, Jul 14). What an international education inspires. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgHzVwgvk3M
International Schools are known for having diverse student bodies, with respect to both the demographics of the individual schoolhouse and when compared from one school to another. The community of parents and teachers that grows up around an international school is similarly diverse. Parents may be wealthy locals, internationally employed middle- or upper-class expatriate workers, or often international school teachers and administrators working for the school. (Hayden, 2006, pg. 22) Likewise, teachers in international schools are an eclectic bunch, ranging from typically long-term expatriate administrators, to short-term contracted international teaching faculty, to locally hired low-paid staff (pg. 74).
The pragmatic goals of local nationals who elect to send their children to international schools rather than studying within the national system include developing alternative 'international' identities in their children, and preparing their children for mobility within the global economy (pg. 37). They may become very involved in their child's school-life, hoping to ensure that their child achieve good exam scores and that they are taught to high standards of achievement and discipline to ensure that their pragmatic goals are being met (pg. 32). When choosing a school, they may seek out options that allow students to maintain their cultural identity though local language or culture classes (pg. 32), often one of the few instances in which local national teachers are favored by parents over expats in international school settings (pg. 77). As they likely are paying a significant amount 'out-of-pocket' for their child's education, they may be selective about expensive 'extra' programs involving trips abroad or the like (pg. 32).
Expatriate parents sending their children to international schools may have different motivations. Often, unlike host country nationals, they may have little to no choice in whether or not to send their children to an international school, and further, in which international school to choose (pg. 31). Their desire to maintain the family's cultural identity in their children may limit them to schools that cater to their particular language and culture (pg. 33). Often, parents choose English language schools should a home national school be unavailable (pg. 33). While local national parents are often involved in their child's international school education for pragmatic reasons, expatriate parents may find themselves more involved that they would be in their home nation for other reasons.
The stresses faced by expatriate parents, especially trailing spouses, in dealing with culture shock may lead them to see the international school as a bastion in which they can communicate and experience something more closely resembling their home culture (pg. 24-26). Some schools have incorporated parent rooms and activities into their buildings and programming to meet these needs (pg. 26).
Teacher-parents find themselves in a unique situation as both educators within schools and 'customers' of them. They are expatriates in need of appropriate schooling for their children much like those abroad working in other fields, and also often receive subsidized or waived tuition fees for their children (pg. 28). As such, often around 5% of the students in a given international school will be children of staff (pg. 28). These teacher-parents are face challenges integrating themselves into their children's school-lives in appropriate ways. They worry about colleagues having high expectations of their children, feel extra stress when their children misbehave, and are often reluctant to lobby for thier children to avoid raising suspicion should their child be very successful (pg. 29). Most feel that these challenges are offset by the benefit of their child's increased status in the school, their access to their child during the day, and the benefit their children receive by viewing teachers as 'friends' of their parents (pg. 29).
Regardless of parents' backgrounds, most parents of international school students have high expectations of their children and value education (pg. 21). Who are the teachers in international schools tasked with meeting these elevated expectations?
Hayden (2006) expresses that, in order to achieve their internationalist visions, international schools should hire staff that are representative of major cultures within the world as much as possible, and that ideally the individuals teaching in the school should have prior experience adapting to live abroad (pg. 76). Few would argue with this philosophically, but practical challenges to creating such diverse faculties arise due to the realities of government immigration policies, taxes, and work permits and the desire for native English speaking instructors expressed by parents (pg. 76-77). Challenges to selecting faculty arise due to the global nature of the search: large job fairs located in major centers and phone or video interviews are two ways in which administrators meet this challenge (pg. 80).
Teachers may be new to the international teaching field, or long-term expats. Among new teachers, Hayden describes three types: childless professionals, mavericks, and career professionals with families (pg. 76). Long-term expatriate teachers fill similar 'classes', but also include individuals who have stayed in one country for extended periods due to long-term relationships with host country nationals.
Whether long-term or new to the field, teachers in international schools tend to move around a lot, resulting in high turnover (pg. 88). This is a challenge for school administrators in a number of ways. In addition to having to deal frequently with the hiring challenges mentioned above, it also makes it difficult to maintain a constant school vision with staff of different backgrounds and experiences (pg. 88). Teachers often experience stress due to he need to adapt frequently to new school cultures, curricula, and expectations and schools need to protect their investment against failure (pg. 83). Hayden (2006) notes that one way to address this is by carefully differentiating induction or orientation processes to meet the needs of new teachers both at the start of their contracts and throughout the first part of their employment (pg. 85-86).
The challenges of expatriate life and contact between different cultures affects not only the students at international schools, but also the teachers and parents. Administrators need to be aware of these forces and adapt teacher training, student counseling, and parent services to best meet the unique needs of the school communities that they serve. Despite being located in far-off lands abroad, life in an international school community is no vacation!
Hayden, M. (2006). International schools and parents. Introduction to international education: International schools and their communities. London, UK: Sage Publications Ltd. 21-39.
Hayden, M. (2006). Teachers. Introduction to international education: International schools and their communities. London, UK: Sage Publications Ltd. 73-92.
Since it's beginnings over 50 years agp, the International Baccalaureate program has become synonymous with international education worldwide. However, despite the strength of the global IB brand, the International Baccalaureate program has and continues to face challenges to its ability to actualize some of its internationalist goals to promote international understanding and intercultural respect (Cambridge citing Tarc, 2013, pg. 187).
The National Baccalaureate?
The changing demographic of schools offering the IB program around the world may be one source of difficulty. The IB program has seen much expansion into national school systems in recent years, with Australia even replacing its previous national education certificate with the IB diploma (Resnik, 2012, pg. 248). The motivation for the increasing offering of the IB program in national public schools lies in meeting the desire of the middle class for educational 'products of distinction' and a 'private school aura'(pg. 249). Neo-liberalism and globalization support this growth as elite local populations view the IB program and international education as a path to top universities for their children (Cambridge, 2013, pg. 187; Resnik citing Lauder, 2012, pg. 249).
Resnik (2013) states that this intermingling of the national and international in education creates a 'frontier zone' (pg. 251). The IBO seems to be seeking to insert itself into this grey area more and more, offering a number of flexible implementation options to bring schools into the IB network through partial implementation of their program (pg. 261). As the IB is implemented piecemeal to meet the globalist demands of parents in national systems, how much of it's internationalist ideals are maintained? In many schools, IBDP programs serve small class sizes of gifted and talented students (Resnik, 2012, pg. 252; Cambridge, 2013, pg. 192). Schools maintain these programs despite limited enrollment to market their schools as offering international education, and despite the fact that many cannot afford to purchase the training and resources to support implementing them properly, they are often allowed concessions by the IBO (Resnik, 2012, pg. 261). This raises questions as to the degree to which such schools correctly implement the IB program and promote its normative agenda. As the IB expands its vision to insert itself more into national public schools, there is also the risk that 'mission creep' will occur, and its internationalist ideals will begin to be compromised as it finds itself trying more and more to serve national interests and support the creation and maintenance of national citizens as opposed to global ones (Cambridge, 2013, pg. 197). There is also the chance that, as the IB program enters this new market with new competitors like the AP program, it will follow neo-institutional trends and begin to resemble those products more and more, further losing sight of its internationalist goals in the process (p. 197).
Assessments: Making the Grade?
Another challenge to the International Baccalaureate's ability to meet internationalist visions is due to changes in assessment. Despite offering Primary and Middle Years programs in addition to the Diploma Program, the IBDP is by far the most implemented option, with relatively few schools offering the PYP and MYP (Bunnell, 2014, pg. 138, 149). The IBDP program, in order to maintain its status as an internationally accepted, worldwide curriculum relies heavily on standardized, performance based assessment, often carried out externally (Resnik, 2012, pg. 258-259). The Theory of Knowledge course, intended to develop deep understandings and values, has also seen changes and has become externally assessed as well (Wilkinson & Wilkinson, 2013, pg. 111). Often, this leads to teachers feeling pressure to teach 'to the test' rather than 'to the heart', resulting in less individuation of instruction and freedom, and, as a result, a reduced potential for moral education and the passing on of internationalist ideals (pg. 113). Further reducing individuation of instruction is that the IB has developed its reputation globally in a large part due to common training for teachers and schools (Resnick, 2012, pg. 257). Cambridge (2013), citing Engel and Ogden, states that teaching to strict standards supports only limited multiculturalism rather than the development of cosmopolitan competencies such as the ones outlined in the IB learner profile (pg. 190). The standardization of instruction and strong performative assessment in the IBDP, and increasingly in the MYP (pg. 199), works against the transmission of internationalist ideals in the IB program.
Reasons to Believe...
In spite of the challenges it presents, the spread of the IB program into national public education also offers some hope that internationalist ideas may be adopted by the wider public system. London schools have brought in classes on 'critical thinking', inspired the the Theory of Knowledge class offered by the IB, expanding the number of students accessing some of the ideals of internationalism (Resnik, 2012, pg. 264). National curricula have also begun to incorporate elements similar to the IBDP's extended essay and 'Creativity, Action, and Service' projects (Bunnell, 2014, pg. 151). Students of the IBDP have expressed that classes such as this support learning internationalist morals and values (Wilkinson & Wilkinson, 2013, pg. 115). Also, the IBs global expansion has led to it incorporating other languages of instruction and national histories such as Spanish, Chinese, and Islamic within the program, offering opportunities for more intercultural understanding to emerge as the program expands to meet globalist agendas (pg. 261).
Despite changes to the International Baccalaureate program, students report that elements of the IBDP like the CAS and extended essay offer the opportunity for them to develop supportive relationships with teachers and learn morals and ideals (Wilkinson & Wilkinson, 2013, pg. 115). In addition, though not implemented broadly, the PYP and MYP programs offer a less performative and more competency-based program of instruction that might allow teachers more room to focus on the normative goals of the International Baccalaureate program in the early years of the program (Cambridge, 2013, pg. 199). Despite the lack of widespread implementation, the MYP serves the largest number of students globally, since access to the program isn't limited to only the ablest, as is often the case with the IBDP (Bunnell, 2014, pg. 137). Offering further hope are statements from the Chair of the Board of Governors of the IBO, who has been promoting a move to make the IB program more inclusive and for it to shift towards 'educating hearts and minds' and to increase its impact with respect to fostering peace (pg. 148).
Thus, it appears that, despite challenges and conflicting agendas, the International Baccalaureate program remains able to meet its goals in terms of educating to promote internationalist values and intercultural understanding, though perhaps less efficiently and with less clarity of focus than it might otherwise.
Bunnell, T. (2014). The International Baccalaureate and its “second era” of ambitious rhetoric: Wider access and greater impact. In Dobson, D. P., & I. Silova (eds.) Globalizing minds: Rhetoric and realities in international schools. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing Inc. 137-157.
Cambridge, J. (2013). Dilemmas of international education: A Bernsteinian analysis. In Pearce, R. (ed.) International education and schools: Moving beyond the first 40 years. Oxford, UK: Bloomsbury Publications Ltd. 183-204.
Resnik, J. (2012). The denationalization of education and the expansion of International Baccalaureate. Comparative Education Review, 56(2), 248-269.
Wilkinson, D., and Wilkinson, V. (2013). The Pestalozzi influence on international education. In Pearce, R. (ed.) International education and schools: Moving beyond the first 40 years. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic. 106-117.
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 18 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.