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Are International Schools Meeting the Learning Expectations of Their Students?

By Anne Keeling
Are International Schools Meeting the Learning Expectations of Their Students?

A report on the international school student profile has been published by ISC Research. The free report addresses how the promise of an international education for students has resulted in the dramatic growth in the world’s international schools’ market. The report includes results of research with current international school students and alumni into what an international education during their school age years has meant to them.

ISC Research has tracked growth and changes in the international schools’ sector since 1994 and its report explains how the market has evolved considerably over the past forty years. Originally established to meet the needs of Western expatriate families, most of the original schools have transformed and new international schools have been developed to respond to a growing demand for English-medium international education for children between the ages of three and 18. Today most international schools welcome a large proportion of local children as well as expatriates from all countries and regions of the world, and promote their international education offering as a way of attracting enrolments.

Expectations of an international education

This promise of an international education has resulted in many parents selecting an international school for their child as a pathway to higher education in the US or UK – and many students achieve this. Nevertheless, students have more expectations of their international school and are drawing upon the reflective, principled, critical thinking skills that they develop to challenge elements of their own education. Youth-led movements, several of which have been established and are actively supported by well-educated international school students and alumni, such as The Organisation to Decolonise International Schools (ODIS) and Reset Revolution, are speaking out and taking action to promote change.

Along with issues around diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) and sustainability, such groups are challenging the common assumption that an international education results in the development of international mindedness. The report includes research into this, along with investigation into the practical solutions accessible to schools to measure the development of international mindedness in students.

An understanding of international mindedness

The research results highlight that there is no one common definition of international mindedness and, although many international schools adopt the International Baccalaureate’s definition of international mindedness, many use it loosely or interchangeably with such terms as “global mindedness” and “cultural intelligence.” The research also suggests that there is no current solution designed to effectively measure and track the development of international mindedness of students between the ages of three to 18.  It also highlights the results of research conducted with international school students, teachers, and alumni during the summer of 2021, which indicates that 100% of respondents said that international mindedness had not knowingly been measured in their classrooms.  

During the research, recipients were asked what international mindedness meant to them. Responses, which varied significantly, are published in the report. One international school alumnus commented, “International mindedness has always been an abstract concept to me, one that principals and directors liked to say and put in our school mission but never really embody or operationalise.”

Respondents were also asked to express their thoughts on how their international school practiced international mindedness, and their hopes for improvement. One international school teacher said, “The school struggles to instil international mindedness because it does not have a strong and clear sense of what it could look like in this particular context and with our various stakeholders. A number of the adults involved (parents, admin, faculty, support staff) are not international minded themselves, so there is some important work to be done in raising awareness and educating the adults so that they can model, teach and support the development of internationalism in the students and the institutional culture.” And an IB Diploma Programme alumnus said: “Efforts should be more consistent in trying to increase international mindedness through the years (and from a young age).”

A call for change

The report concludes that international schools can provide the opportunity to bring diverse cultures together and to engage in conversations important to developing international mindedness. However, current measuring tools do not appear to be appropriate to assess the development of international mindedness in a classroom context, and there is no one common definition of international mindedness nor one that fully addresses diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.  

The report calls for new solutions to support international schools in supporting the development of international mindedness. The free report from ISC Research is available to download here.


Anne Keeling is the Communications Director at ISC Research.

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