What is an international education?

I’m taking this week to be locked away at the University of Bath, working on my current unit ‘Education in an International Context‘ as part of the MA in International Education. I’ll probably write a couple of blog posts as I filter my thinking and structure this piece of work.* 

My half-Indonesian, half-British, Japan-living son with a Canadian-born flower girl of English parentage. How will their educational experiences compare?

Sitting with some relatives after a fantastic family wedding last week, I realised that over the years I have started to take for granted the differences between my own formative experiences of education and my family’s current reality of something more powerful, something special. Over what basically amounted to an extended, well-fed reunion in France, there were many opportunities to tackle the predictable comments about being a teacher at the start of a long summer. There were also many conversations about why we’d want to go overseas and to stay overseas; about how our children are benefitting from our choices and how their education goes hand-in-hand with these choices and my work.

I was able to hone in on the issues that they might recognise immediately: better behaviour, more freedom to learn, less testing, a broader world view, international friends and travel, multilingualism, rich professional development. It was much more difficult to communicate the nature of international schools: the mission of the IB, the inquiry-based nature of their programmes, the rigour and academic head-start of the IB Diploma, the Next Chapter of the MYP, the educational and professional freedom and opportunities that go with the programmes, the general sense of decency and global-mindedness that one experiences.

When you start to really think about international education and what it means, it gets really complex. Of course, if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be enough material for a Masters-level unit!

My own school education was as far from international as you can find. A small-ish town on the edge of the English Lakes, I had one half-Indian friend at school and one Muslim friend who worked with me in the pub. It was English National Curriculum all the way in the years just before the internet burst into education. The Encarta CD-Roms in the library were our view on the world. Even the Geography GCSE exam featured a farm along the road from us. It was a good education, in a good school, in a good place.

My daughter’s education is shaping up to be something spectacularly different. She has many friends from many countries, has already – at six years-old – experienced schooling in Indonesia and Japan. She is in the PYP and loving it, a ready learner and inquirer with a developing set of positive global values. Her peer group, teachers, travels and the internet are a window to the world. Hers is a great education, in great schools in great places.

But this is a simplistic comparison between two extremes of internationalism. I was reminded of the many shades of internationalism over the last couple of weeks in my conversations and as I thought about my own journey. In a multicultural society, every school is, to some extent, and international school. The inner-city London school with multiple different languages and significant and diverse immigrant and ESL population is arguably more international than the homogeneous, nominally ‘international’ school I started out at in Jakarta, almost exclusively catering to Chinese-Indonesians. Where one is infused with international students and their values, the others aims to teach them. What about the embassy schools, oases of their nation culturally and curricularly isolated from their host nations; the private schools that use the IB programmes as a product versus those that buy into the philosophy; the cross-community schools in Northern Ireland that aim to foster peace and understanding (clear values of internationalism) across a divide that is essentially invisible to the outsider?

Already I can see the rich 100-year history and changing curricular and cultural face of my current school forming the background for what should shape up to be an interesting exploration of internationalism and education.

Better get reading.


*As with the last unit, Curriculum Studies, the course leaders have provided an excellent set of stimulus resources on the course wiki for Education in an International Context, as well as a good range of prompts for the assessment. For those not familiar with the model here, we are basically given some resources, a choice of questions and then six months to prepare a  5,000-word critical analysis. Summer schools are possible, and I attended a great one on Assessment two years ago, though I do like the autonomy of getting on with things.







2 responses to “What is an international education?”

  1. How international is your school? | i-Biology | Reflections Avatar

    […] I have been reading more about international education and how difficult it can be to define, it has become clear from the readings and resources from the University of Bath that there are […]

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