The Pros and Cons of International Education

The presence of international education in the global stage is growing, and with that growth comes increasing influence on the world and its thought. As students trained in international schools migrate from nation to nation, they bring with them changes to that nation’s culture and thought. But is this a good thing? And should it be promoted in education? This educator feels that while there are many benefits to international education, there are also several pitfalls that should be carefully examined before one implements these philosophies in one’s classroom.

In today’s global economy, it is easy to see why international education is so popular. International mindedness creates students who can thoughtfully examine their own culture and the cultures of others. International literacy creates students who can effectively engage with cultures around the world. Global competency creates students who use those skills to solve global issues. Indeed, this takes learning to a very deep level. Students must not only fully understand their topic, but have the knowledge and skills needed to take the material and apply it to a new situation, creating a solution where there once was none. This will, no doubt, cause deeper learning and understanding than a traditional environment, and will likely create individuals who can help correct some of the injustices in the world.

On the other hand, there are several issues with international education that might actually hinder that goal. First and foremost, many of the patterns found even in the IB setting come from western ideals in education. Westerners, for example, tend to focus on critically thinking about the skills they are learning. For many cultures, this is seen as ridiculous – merely learning to do the task is enough. (van Oord). This can create difficulties for applying international education and international mindedness in cultures that follow these modes of thought. While steps are being made to mitigate these problems, and IB in particular is trying to incorporate ideals from other cultures into their education practices, there will necessarily be changes that must be made to address the cultural differences in eastern nations. Although international education promotes itself as an international practice, it really is primarily western, and will have to shift depending on the environment in which it is implemented. (Drake).

Another issue lies in the pluralism associated with international education, and its contradiction with the goals of global competencies and solving world problems. Especially in the International Baccalaureate, one of the main emphases that international education makes is in helping students develop a pluralistic mindset towards other cultures. That is, that students and teachers alike are supposed to be “open minded”, which means that no particular culture is supposed to rise above others. All views are to be seen as equal, and all thought given equal perceptions of validity.

This is, in a way, inherently contradictory towards the stated goal of solving world problems. Often, the solution to those problems results in a change in the culture and way of living for a particular group of people. Logging in the rainforest, for example, would be considered an environmental issue that student should try to solve, but it necessitates a change in life for a certain group of people who are dependent on that industry. Philosophically, is difficult to maintain a stance of open-mindedness while seeking to implement changes of ideals in other cultures based upon one’s own ideals.

Indeed, both concepts are important. One must respect the fact that other people’s viewpoints are different from one’s own, and others deserve to be treated with care and respect. Part of that treatment involves respectfully interacting with the other culture. But one wonders whether it is possible to maintain that all cultures are inherently equal in their rightness when one tries to change the actions of another culture.

As an educator, my main problem with international education is that it confuses the purpose of what I’m doing. Would it be better in this case to focus on pluralistic thinking, or would it be better to address the inherent problems in this line of thought? If I am to truly help students to cultivate critical thinking skills, I cannot accept that all thought is inherently equal. There are consequences to every belief, and if one belief leads to blatantly negative consequences, students should have the ability to stand against that thought. That’s part of critical thinking – carrying a perspective all the way from its incubation to its perceived outcome, determining the value of it, and deciding whether to attempt that thought or not.

I do, however, deeply value the ideals of respecting other cultures, even if one disagrees with the beliefs of that people group. I believe that students should absolutely be taught about different cultures and their perspectives, how to interact with them, and how to solve problems with them. These are all imperative skills in today’s world. The pluralistic views, however, hinder problem solving because they dictate that we should accept thought that is flawed as equal to thought that is not. One can respect a person, and one can communicate respectfully with that person, while still disagreeing with that person’s flawed thought process.

The students we educate can shape the world if they’re given the freedom to do so. International education can be a tool to that end, but it must allow students the intellectual freedom to agree and disagree with those around them, and to critically analyze one’s own thought process in light of others. This is the international mindedness that I’d like to engage my own students with – the ability to critically examine one’s own thought to see if it’s flawed, and the ability to use one’s communication skills to help others do the same. Respect, then, means caring enough for the other person that we challenge thoughts that are going to have a negative impact on them, and help them grow in their understanding, while allowing them to do the same to our own thoughts and culture. As an educator, it is my hope that my students will develop that attitude, and seek to use the skills and habits gained in my class to solve problems by working respectfully with those around them. International education is indeed a way that this can be done, but with careful consideration of the philosophies that in some ways can undermine this process.

 

Sources:

Drake, Barry. International Education and IB Programmes: Worldwide expansion and potential cultural dissonance. Journal of Research in International Education. 2004.

Hayward, Mark. From International to Intercultural. Journal of Research in International Education.

Lodewijk van Oord. To Westernize the Nations? An Analysis of International Baccalaureate’s Philosophy of Education. Cambridge Journal of Education. 2007.

Arathi Sriprakash, Michael Singh, Qi Jing. A Comparative Study of International Mindedness in the IB Programmes in Australia, China, and India. 2014.

Veronica Mansilla, Anthony Jackson. Educating for Confidence: Preparing Our Youth to Engage the World. Asia Society. 2011.

 

 

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