Building International Mindedness

International mindness should still be an essential part of modern-day student’s education.

In a world that is changing fast, communication and sharing of information between cultures is growing. The world that students will enter on graduation will require them to understand and develop a strong awareness of different cultures to ensure that they are able to both contribute to global societies and also be successful individuals. Joseph Stewart of Dulwich College Beijing describes how helping students develop international mindedness can give them a head start for the future.

The concept of international mindedness can be traced back a long way, but should still be an essential part of any modern-day student’s education. It will not only help develop consideration and understanding between individuals from different cultural backgrounds, but also skills students will require in further education and in workplaces that will increasingly rely on an ability to communicate, cooperate and work with others from various backgrounds.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) defines international mindedness as aiming to “develop internationally minded people who, recognising their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world.”[1] International mindedness can relate to environmental, economic, social or cultural issues that are experienced by individuals from different parts of the world.

Historical context

One of the first international schools was established during the 1851 Universal Exposition in London. This involved educators from India, Hungary, the Netherlands, the USA and the UK working together to create a network of schools that had a combination of different curricular from different countries. [2]

In 1864, the British author Charles Dickens published an article titled ‘International Education’ that stated: “a citizen of the world at large…[has] tolerance that comes of near acquaintance with different ways of thought.”[3]

Mechanised modes of transport were invented at the end of the 19th century, but were initially only accessible to the rich. It was not until the mid-20th century when air travel became more affordable and telephones became a means of long-distance communication that knowledge of different parts of the world became easier for the masses. In the 1950s, television was also more widely available. All these opened a window to the world for many.

After World War I, a number of international schools were established to educate children whose parents worked at embassies and international companies. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was established in Paris after World War II and prioritised international schools. But it was not until the 1960s that the IB diploma was developed, with the first programme taking place in 1971. Communication tools were further developed throughout the 20th century, with fax machines, free email, and the growth of the internet. These led to all the open resources such as Wikipedia, Google and Bing, which offered “unprecedented ways to provide and access information and opinion, for social interaction.”[4]

Cultural education perspectives

When working to develop international mindedness in students, it is important to consider the different perspectives of the education system and the host country. In China, Confucian education believed in “learning through positive relationships with people from our nation and beyond”.[5]

Western civilisations were influenced by Ancient Greek philosophy, whereas Eastern civilisations were formed by Chinese philosophy. The big difference between the two civilisations was that the Greeks encouraged ‘personal agency’ whilst Asian cultures encourage ‘collective agency’ – collaborating with others and listening to group advice. [6]

In Western education, independent thinking and teamwork has always been encouraged.[7] Teachers guide students towards forming their own ideas and developing their voice and opinion.

In the Chinese education system, despite the larger class sizes and number of schools, students are required to follow a fixed set of rules and school policies.  As many of today’s children were born under the ‘one child policy’, they have added pressure from grandparents and parents to succeed. 

Meanwhile, the world is becoming smaller and more integrated as advancements are made in transport and communication tools. Subsequently the difference between Eastern and Western education philosophies can be reduced.[8]  

Internationally minded school ethos

For international schools, an overall ethos is needed to create values and international mindedness in all members of its community. It should create trust and make each member of the school community feel valued. Schools should also demonstrate an inclusive ethos amongst staff regardless of the status of their position. 

Often the school culture can be viewed as being beyond the control of professionals, but teachers can develop it to achieve a specific outcome.[9]  Part of this involves providing students with a voice to indicate equality. [10]

A school ethos is also important in developing students to be responsible members of society. The way a school ethos makes students understand how their actions affect the wider community can lead to their recognition of their role as a world citizen. 

International mindedness in an ideal classroom

With teacher planning and creativity, international mindedness can be successfully integrated into all subject areas. Let’s take a look at how this works in an art class.

Art is a subject that works well in building international mindedness, as “creativity transcends borders, and the arts are a great way to connect to other cultures.”[11] An example of this could be to encourage students from different backgrounds to create autobiographical art that shows the different cultures influencing their identities.

Teachers could also introduce students to artists from different cultures, or discuss why techniques and themes were used at various times and how they developed through history. Looking at political contemporary art, by figures such as the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, that addresses issues of race could lead to in-depth evaluations of cultural perspectives. Students can also use visual art to express their feelings on current political and social issues.

Another way of putting international mindedness into practice is finding ways to allow students to make art in collaboration with the wider community. Many students say they value putting their ideas on global issues into action. It allows them to witness situations firsthand rather than just discussing theories in class.[12] An example of doing this in an art class could be working with a local children’s hospital to design wall displays and visuals for patients.

It should be acknowledged that implementing such learning opportunities within the classroom is not without challenges, one being the need for staff development. In a 2018 study, Savva and Stanfield found that working in an international environment did not automatically give teachers an international mindset. For this to happen, they indicate that the “requirement for an intentional and ongoing professional development plan is essential to developing cultural competence in teachers.”[13]

A further challenge may be conflict between the values of the school and the host culture. One way around this could be for teachers to not impose or give their views directly to students, but to instead encourage students to consider all their cultural influences and conduct their own enquiries into issues.


To conclude, international mindedness must be defined in a way that is relevant to the context and demographics of the individual school. It is also important that teachers and support staff within the school experience continual development in their own international mindedness, as it will not just happen from working in a multicultural environment. International mindedness is important for developing both responsibility in students, so they can contribute to global development in the future, and their ability to work in multicultural work environments. Finally, international mindedness must be supported by an inclusive school ethos to encourage its integration into all curriculum areas.

Joseph Stewart is assistant head of the Senior School at Dulwich College Beijing.  This role involves leading teachers in guiding students through the changes they experience in middle school. Joseph also teaches art and views it as a highly valuable subject in developing international mindedness in students. He comes from an international family that includes Portuguese, American, Malaysian, Scottish and Chinese relatives. This experience since childhood of being surrounded by different cultural perspectives began a lifelong interest in international mindedness.

[1] Ten Perspectives on International Mindedness, IBO Online, 2014, <>

[2] Hill, I., 2012, Evolution of education for international mindedness, Journal of Research in International Education, vol. 11, No. 3, pp: 245–261.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Differences in Education between China and Western Counties, China Educational Tours, 2014, viewed 18th November 2019, <>

[7] Ibid.

[8] Hill, I., 2012, Evolution of education for international mindedness, Journal of Research in International Education, vol. 11, No. 3, pp: 245–261.

[9] Jerald, C.D., School Culture: The Hidden Curriculum, The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, 2006, available at <>, viewed 5th November 2019.

[10] Barrat Hacking, E., Blackmore, C., Bullock, K., Bunnell, T., Donnelly, M. and Martin, S., 2018, International mindedness in practice: the evidence from International Baccalaureate schools, Journal of Research in International Education, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 3–16.

[11] Stewart, V., A classroom as wide as the world, in Hayes Jacobs, H. (ed.), 2010, Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, ProQuest Ebook Central.

[12] Barrat Hacking, E., Blackmore, C., Bullock, K., Bunnell, T., Donnelly, M. and Martin, S., 2018, International mindedness in practice: the evidence from International Baccalaureate schools, Journal of Research in International Education, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 3–16.

[13] Savva, M. and Stanfield, D., 2018, International-mindedness: deviations, incongruities and other challenges facing the concept, Journal of Research in International Education, vol.17 no. 2, pp.179–193.