In this blog I will explore several lines of inquiry into the questions; “what is an international school?” and “What is an international education?”. I will divide this blog into three parts. In part one I will provide my definition of an international school compared to the definition given by the International School Consultancy (ISC). Part two will explore my understanding of the foundation and history of international schools for expatriate students and Kurt Hahn’s contributions to the international school’s movement. Finally, in part three I will explore the future of international school specifically looking at the regional growth of the school, the causes for that growth and lastly a few thoughts on international school collaboration organizations like the Alliance for International Education (AIE).
Part one: International Schools Defined … maybe
On their website ISC says, “ISC Research includes an international school if the school delivers a curriculum to any combination of pre-school, primary or secondary students, wholly or partly in English outside an English-speaking country, or, if a school is in a country where English is one of the official languages, it offers an English-medium curriculum other than the country’s national curriculum and the school is international in its orientation.” (ISC, n.d.). This is not a poor definition, in my opinion, however, it is necessarily broad in its scope because the variety of school systems calling themselves “international” is quite varied. To provide an example of this variation I will examine three examples of international school systems here. Those of; the U.S. Department of Defence Education Activity (DoDEA), Council of International Schools (CIS), and the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO).
According to ISC’s definition, all three of these school systems would be considered international school systems. However, we can see that there are some large differences between them. Comparing the different program’s descriptions we see a stark contrast between the three. DoDEA is only for U.S. military children while CIS and IB are for anyone. CIS does not define anything but the most basic curriculum requirements, on the other hand, IB and DoDEA have specific curriculums. The differences aside though, all three school systems provide education to students in English in overseas locals, and this common thread ties all three to ISC’s definition.
In trying to come up with my own definition of an international school and international education I found Hill’s (2016) idea of a “continuum from national to international, with the two extremities representing ‘ideal’ or ‘pure’ types which rarely exist in reality”, as a measure of internationalness vs. nationalness to be the most useful. I would challenge the ISC definition that an English language instruction medium is a requisite for international education. Hayden and Thompson (1995) talk about a student who studied overseas at an international school and said. “Though she attended an international school, she received a ‘western education, because everything I was taught was delivered in a western point of view since all the teachers were from the west”. While English has become the lingua franca for globalization I feel limiting the definition of an international education to a curriculum that must be delivered, in whole or in part, in English is dangerous. By insisting on using English to instruct there is a tacit insistence that the culture behind English also is taught, as language and culture are so intertwined. I think Hill (2016) puts it best when he wrote, “what is more important to international educators is whether the school is developing international mindedness in its students, wherever they might be and whoever they are.” So, for me, the definition of an international school becomes uncoupled from the language of instruction, and I would say that my personal definition would mirror that of the Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS), which state:
Offering a curriculum in which the culture and educational system of two or more countries is represented;
or offering a curriculum typical of one country, but located in another country and actively pursuing cultural exchange with its host country;
or having a student body of diverse nationalities and educational aims and curricula offerings which promote and support the purposes of ECIS [internationally-minded, embracing diversity, and multilingual]
Although I have aligned myself with ECIS’s definition of an international school, I like Hill believe that there is very little value in defining what is an international school and/or an international education. Rather, I believe it is more useful to define continuums and frameworks that help educators teach important international education themes like global citizenship and international-mindedness.
Part Two: The History of International Schools and Contributions of Kurt Hahn
The first international schools were founded to service expatriate children of people engaged in work which tied them to a foreign country for an extended period of time. For example, ambassadors, overseas military personnel or staff working in international organizations (e.g. the United Nations). Hayden and Thompson (2008) say, the first international school “typical, perhaps, of the origins of many of today’s international schools was the 1924 establishment of the bilingual (French/English) International School of Geneva, with three teachers and eight children, to cater for the children of expatriate employees of the recently formed International Labour Office and League of Nations” (p. 19). From these humble beginnings, the international school population has grown into, “roughly five million students studying abroad today” (ICEF Monitor, 2017). Some key developments along the way have been: The rise in the establishment of international schools led to the foundation of the first international education organization, the International Schools Association (ISA), in Switzerland in 1951. Since, then other international education organizations were created; the International Schools Service in 1955, the Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS) in 1965, and the Council of International Schools in 2002, to name a few. The purported aim of all these organizations is to support their flavor of international education. Additionally, as more international education organizations arose, more dialogue was generated around the questions, “what is an international school?” and “what is an international education?”. In 1964 “Michael Knight, [and Bob] Leach produced what is arguably the first typology of international schools. The typology was based on Leach’s first-hand experience visiting schools in many countries during his secondment. They posited seven types of international schools in their article (Knight & Leach
1964) in the Education Year Book 1964” (Hill, 2015). Since then many definitions have been proposed yet not one has been universally accepted. This leaves us with several definitions today which encompass a broad range of schools and education programs worldwide. Another way that organizations attempted to define international schools and/or education was by creating so-called international curriculums which could be used in international schools that were not importing a national curriculum from another country. Over the years several international curriculums were created and distributed with the aim to make an internationally recognized educational qualification for entrance to universities worldwide. The Advanced Placement International was started in 1955. Next came the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) in 1968, which then added the Middle Years Program MYP, in 1994 and the Primary Years Program (PYP), in 1997. The newest member is the Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE) released in 1998. In addition to these curriculums other international programs have been established to foster concepts the concepts international-mindedness or global citizenship, for example the United World Colleges (UWC) started in 1962 in Whales by Kurt Hahn. Kurt Hahn deserves special mention in this section as he influences much of the underlying philosophy for the concepts of global citizenship and international mindedness that are touted by the large majority of international schools, and are a requisite for membership in some international education organizations for example CIS. When Hahn founded the Salem School he believed that “education is the bedrock on which to build a peaceful society” (Hahn, 1936) and that it should “[prepare] young people for higher education, but not without laying the groundwork for a life of moral and civic virtue, the chief aims of the school” (James, 2000, p. 3). Hahn extolled the virtues of a humanistic and experiential education system and founded international education programs that are still around today. Hahn started the Outward Bound program in 1941 to teach confidence, tenacity and perseverance through challenging outdoor adventure experiences. He founded the Duke of Edinburgh Award (known internationally as the National Youth Achievement Award) to reward young people who undertake physical service and adventure. Additionally, Hahn was involved in developing the IB curriculum and went on to found the Round Square movement to further spread his educational philosophy of experiential learning and character education. The influence of Kurt Hahn’s educational philosophy echoes throughout the international education community and you can see the influence of his voice in the mission statements and curricular goals of many international schools or programs.
Part Three: The Future of International Schools
Driven by the force of increasing globalization; the rise of China and India, the appearance of new economic players in South East Asia and Oceania and the growth in various South American economies has driven up the need for international schools in many regions in the world. ICEF Monitor states, “five million students are studying abroad today – an increase of nearly 67% since 2005 – and the OECD projects that eight million students will be studying abroad by 2025” (2016) and ISC Research, “predicts the market will continue to develop at a healthy pace, forecasting that within five years (2021) the number of students attending international schools will have reached 6.3 million” (2017). The growth of international schools has reached an unparalleled pace and as ISC Research and ICEF Monitor have stated it is likely to continue for at least the next five years.
(ICEF Monitor, 2017)
The growth of international schools is not spread evenly across the world. The “UK and US markets are shrinking. Both Canada and Australia have attracted a greater share of international students over the past decade; other countries have also gained ground” (ICEF Monitor, 2016). With more emerging economies such as Vietnam and the Phillipeans gaining a greater share of the world’s wealth “some of the most significant emerging markets for international education are characterized by large and growing middle-class populations. These markets include India (which may be the world’s largest middle-class consumer market by 2030), Nigeria, and Indonesia” (ICEF Monitor, 2016). Other factors such as “intra-regional mobility is clearly visible in UNESCO statistics indicating that the percentage of Latin American students remaining within the region increased from 11% in 1999 to 23% in 2007. Similarly, the percentage of mobile East Asian students studying within the region rose from 36% to 42% over the same period” (ICEF Monitor, 2016). Whether or not these growth trends continue in international schools will likely be linked to economic and political policy factors, as well as population growth or decline. However, I believe after such a sustained period of explosive growth that in 10 or 15 years we will see a leveling off of the international school student population.
To begin this blog I started off with the definition of an international school by ISC that insisted to be called an international school the school must have at least some English in their instruction medium. However, I rejected this idea and instead aligned myself to the ECIS definition that a school can be called international as long as it engages in one of three activities which promote cross-cultural learning and the ideals of international mindedness, diversity, and multilingualism. Ultimately, I believe that definitions are useless and what we need are frameworks which allow international educators to apply sound instructional practices to promote global citizenship and international mindedness. I went on to briefly describe the history of international schools from their humble beginnings, servicing internationally stationed staff, to their current diverse iterations of today. I mentioned the contributions of Kurt Hahn to the humanistic and experiential learning portion of international education philosophy and how his legacy lives on today in the form of UWC, Outward Bound, Round Square and his influence on the IB curriculum. Lastly, I talked about the explosive growth of international schools over the past 10 years driven by globalization. Globalization has lead to the rise of India and China, and new wealth in emerging economies such as Vietnam, the Philippians, Malaysia and countries in Latin and South America, all thirsting for a more internationally recognized and valuable education. I also expressed my belief that the current rapid growth will level off over time as economic growth rates slow. So, in the end, where does this leave us as international educators? My main concern is not how to define international education, nor do I care if it spreads rapidly around the world or not. My main concern is with the quality of education. If we are to turn this third round of globalization into a force for economic and intellectual equity then we must ensure that the education being provided is instilling the knowledge and dispositions for students to become successful humanitarians. I believe Gellar (1981) in Hayden and Thomas (1995) said it best, “the concept of international education demands a curriculum which is both concrete and specific, aimed at giving the student the skills that he needs to achieve the goal he has chosen and broad enough to include those subjects that enable him to see the world from a much wider perspective than is generally required in national systems”. We must give our students the skills and knowledge to pursue their passions and the moral character to pursue their goals for the benefit of all humankind. Only in this way can we assure the world will move towards peace and equity.
Hahn, K. (1965, May 9). Harrogate Address on Outward Bound. Speech presented at Conference at Harrogate in England, Harrogate.
Hayden, M. C., & Thompson, J. J. (1995). International Schools and International Education: A Relationship Reviewed. Oxford Review of Education, 21
Hayden, M., & Thomas, J. (2008). International Schools: Growth and Influence. UNESCO: International Institute for Educational Planning
Hill, I. (2015). What is an ‘international school’?: Part One. International Schools Journal, 35(1), 60-70
Hill, I. (2016). What is an International School? Part Two a Way Forward. International Schools Journal, 35(2), 9-21
ICEF Monitor. (2016, November 1). Four megatrends that are changing the competitive landscape of international education. ICEF Monitor. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from http://monitor.icef.com/2016/11/four-megatrends-changing-competitive-landscape-international-education/
ICEF Monitor. (2017, July 18). Mapping the trends that will shape international student mobility. ICEF Monitor. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from http://monitor.icef.com/2017/07/mapping-trends-will-shape-international-student-mobility/
ICEF Monitor. (2017, August 2). Megatrend: The shift to emerging markets. ICEF Monitor. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from http://monitor.icef.com/2017/08/megatrend-shift-emerging-markets/
ISC Research. (2017). Demand for international school education continues to expand globally . ISC News. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from https://www.iscresearch.com/news/isc-news/isc-news-details/~post/demand-for-international-school-education-continues-to-expand-globally-20170427
Keeling, A. (2018, February 2). ISC Research Conference Shares Recent Market News. TIE Online. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from https://www.tieonline.com/article/2287/isc-research-conference-shares-latest-market-news
KurtHahn.org (n.d.).[website] Retrieved February 05, 2018, from http://www.kurthahn.org/
James, T. (2000). Kurt Hahn and the Aims of Education. Thomas James.
Stevens, D., Gilpin, A., & Jasiocha, E. (2015). ISC Census 2015 (Rep.). Kent: ISC Research & Intelligence Team