International mindedness: measuring skills that go beyond the classroom

“There is still a lack of understanding about what students can expect from an international education”

A new report by ISC Research highlights the importance that today’s students place on a global mindset; a  demand which has led to a dramatic increase in the number of applications to schools which offer an international education, says Johanna Sale, vice-principal of Impington International College.

However, this growing popularity is of no surprise to me. At Impington, we have received more than 250 applications to join our Sixth Form this year alone!

While the desire for an international education is clearly growing, the ISC Research suggests that there is still a lack of understanding about what students can expect from an international education and how the phrase “international-mindedness” is measured to ensure that students have the skills that they need to succeed beyond the classroom – and their country’s borders.

As a concept, international-mindedness is as complex as the global perspectives it encompasses but, fundamentally, it is a critical tool that allows you to process and understand the world around you, from a variety of different perspectives. Ever since the inception of the International Baccalaureate following World War II, international-mindedness has been at the core of its curricula and is defined by three pillars: multilingualism, intercultural understanding and global engagement, which are evaluated and measured during a student’s two-year program at the College.

Growing up in an increasingly globalised world, it is important that students are able to communicate and collaborate effectively with people from a variety of sociocultural backgrounds. Research demonstrates that foreign language skills enhance students empathy and understanding of different perspectives. This is evident during the international trips that our students take part in to countries as culturally diverse as Peru, Japan and India.

Languages are an optional element of the UK National Curriculum but every IB Diploma Programme and Career-related Programme student is required to study at least one additional language. Throughout our 30 years of teaching the DP, we have found that learning a foreign language enables our students to develop attributes, such as tolerance, empathy and open-mindedness, which are needed to become active members of the global community.

At the College, our students can choose to study English, French, Italian, German, Spanish – or even Japanese as part of their DP.

Our students have the opportunity to learn about the various cultures through virtual and in-person exchanges, which allows them to put their learning into practise and demonstrate their ability to appreciate and understand different cultural perspectives. This is assessed and evaluated in the same way that their language proficiency is.

I firmly believe that the connections between language and culture are completely intertwined and learning a foreign language helps our students to connect with histories, experiences and understanding of others.

In addition to language skills, being able to analyse a subject from different perspectives is embedded into the IB subject criteria and the theory of knowledge (TOK) course is where you truly see the impact of an international mindset.

Composed almost entirely of questions, TOK is inquiry-led and students explore different ways of knowing and different kinds of knowledge through questions, such as: ‘How do we know?’. In both tasks of their final assessment, our students have to demonstrate that they understand their argument from different perspectives, and, I think we can clearly see the influence and impact of international-mindedness in our classrooms when our students are taking part in group discussions, debates and classroom-wide activities.

Finally, while creativity, activity, service (CAS) is not formally assessed, all DP students undertake this essential element of the DP core; which enhances their personal development through experiential learning. Developing inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world underpins our entire educational offering at the College.

As an IB World School, we aim to instil in our students a feeling of responsibility as citizens in the wider community, and international-mindedness sits at the heart of this. Learning about different cultures and envisioning ourselves as part of a global community is embedded in our daily learning and teaching.

During CAS, students evidence their experience against seven learning outcomes, which provide measurable objectives. Whether this takes the shape of volunteering with Amnesty International or organising collections for refugees – both of which are recent projects undertaken by students at the College – they are clearly demonstrating their compassion and empathy for others, through global engagement.

The IB offers students a clear and measurable path to achieving international-mindedness and the skills they require to succeed not only in education but in life. It is for this reason that I believe that international schools which adopt the IB are able to deliver an education that has tangible benefits for the modern student, and why it continues to grow in popularity around the world.

About the author: Johanna Sale is Vice-Principal of Impington International College