Tag Archives: international schools

Are international schools creating global citizens?

There are different interpretations of a global citizen, so what exactly are international schools promising when they claim to be educating for global citizenship? Do international schools want to instill a moral responsibility for global issues or give children of the mobile elite the capital for a head start in a competitive world?


The theory of cosmopolitanism underlies the definition of the global citizen. Humans have been debating what a cosmopolitan citizen is since the Hellenistic period. We can agree that the cosmopolitan individual is one who engages meaningfully with different cultures and feels at home in the world. Cosmopolitanism is the ability to balance identity in both the local and public spheres. Yet there are 2 main types of cosmopolitanism being articulated today in the context of neo-liberal globalization. One is an ethical feeling of responsibility and social justice. The other is a pragmatic economic global competence. Which understandings of cosmopolitanism do international schools choose?


Concentric circles of identity and allegiance as promoted by Professor Martha Nussbaum

image from http://www.rsablogs.org.uk/2013/education/world/

 International schools are usually made up of diverse multicultural student populations, so is that enough to give students cross cultural competence, to make then internationally minded global citizens? Third culture kids have the potential to be global citizens according to both interpretations of cosmopolitanism but it requires more from international school educators. The hegemony of international schools can help children of the mobile elite transition from one country to another. Yet, by supporting this form of global education, students avoid contact with profound difference, simultaneously becoming more global and more isolated (Dolby & Rahman 2008).  Third culture kids travel in a tunnel of privilege. In essence, many are just tourists (Cambridge & Thompson 2001). 

Indeed these children are more open to different cultures. Research shows that exposure to other students and staff from different parts of the world can increase cultural awareness traits and enhance the ability to compromise (Hayden, Rancic & Thompson 2000). However, teaching staff is drawn mainly from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, limiting the exposure to non-western knowledge (Shaklee & Merz 2012).

Regardless of curriculum, international schools need to do more to encourage active global citizenship. Teaching and learning with truly global perspectives (not just western liberal ones) will allow students to see how they can impact the world through their actions. Educators need to gauge if compulsory action such as CAS programs in the IB curriculum actually foster social justice or just tick boxes. Schools could begin to look outside of the teaching staff to educate students for global citizenship (Marshall 2007). It’s up to teachers and school administrators to give students opportunities to become advocates for the world and the issues that it faces.

be the change

image from http://www.voicesofyouth.org/

Non-government organizations promote moral cosmopolitanism and active citizenship. Here are 5 ideas for improving active citizenship at your school:

1. Look at the ladder of youth voice and rubric by Oxfam sociologist, Adam Fletcher. What kind of action does your school initiate?



2. Organize a school assembly or school project



3. Chose a day on the calendar of action for a class or school project


4. Become a Fairtrade school.


5. Start a UNICEF club at your school



Cambridge, J. & Thompson, J. (2001) ‘A Big Mac and a Coke’: Internationalism and Globalism as Contexts for International Education’. Centre for the Study of Education in an International Context, University of Bath http://people.bath.ac.uk/edsjcc/intedandglobaldoc.pdf

Dolby, N. & Rahman, A (2008) Research in International Education. Review of Educational Research, 78 (3), 676-726

Hayden, M., Rancic, B. & Thompson, J. (2000) Being international: student and teacher perceptions from international schools. Oxford Review of Education 26 (1) 107-123

Marshall, H. (2007) Global education in perspective: fostering a global dimension in an English secondary school. Cambridge Journal of Education, 37 (3) 355-374

Shaklee, B. & Merz, S. (2012) Intercultural communication competency for international educators, International Schools Journal, 32 (1) 13-20



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