International-mindedness is a frame of mind…

“International-mindedness isn’t something that can be taught in discrete lessons on the odd Friday afternoon, it’s a ‘frame of mind’ and as such needs time to develop”, says Steven Mark, Educational Director of the International Primary Curriculum. In this follow-up to his well-received article last month for Eteach, he points to some invaluable classroom resources to help children start thinking internationally.

Defining international-mindedness

Across the world today you’ll find schools, both international and increasingly in national systems too, that seek as part of their mission to help children become internationally-minded. But what does it actually mean? As yet, there is no single commonly agreed definition. To some, it may be defined around themes such as securing peace and eradicating poverty, whilst others may see it from a more environmental perspective.

One definition that I’ve found useful is that of a growing sense of the ‘other’. Howard Gardner describes “declining ego-centrism” as the basis of human development. Therein perhaps lies the most helpful way of considering what international-mindedness might be: a journey from ‘self’ to ‘other’. If we can help our children and students to develop a strong sense not only of themselves and their own identity, which is crucial, but alongside that, a deep sense and awareness of other peoples, cultures, countries and customs, then we offer them a great chance to be truly 21st century global citizens. Living in such an interconnected world as we now do, and facing complex challenges –ranging from climate change, to terrorism, to poverty elimination – will require a generation of problem solvers and creative thinkers, who see problems not from one perspective but from many. These global challenges and problems will ultimately be faced by the children going through our schools today, and what better chance do we have to help solve them than by helping our children, from the earliest age possible, develop that strong sense of the ‘other’.

What does it look like in children?

So now we have a rough but hopefully helpful idea of what it means to be internationally-minded. But what does it look like in children? Can we really say that a six-year-old in primary school is internationally-minded? Possibly, but given what we know about how the human brain develops it seems unlikely. What we can do though is to set in place cumulative experiences and opportunities that over time – in this case many years – build on each other and hopefully help move our children along that pathway to a greater sense of the ‘other’. International-mindedness isn’t something that can be taught in discrete lessons on the odd Friday afternoon; it’s a ‘frame of mind’ and as such needs time to develop.

Back to our six-year-old then: what might international-mindedness look like in him or her? In the International Primary Curriculum and the soon to launch International Middle Years Curriculum, we’ve tried to be as explicit as possible in articulating what international-mindedness is for different age groups. So for the six-year-old, it may well be knowing that the children in his or her classroom have different home countries, and being able to work with each other and being able to respect one another’s independence and individuality. For older students, international learning outcomes might include knowing about the ways in which the lives of people in the countries they have studied affect each other, or being able to identify ways in which people work together for mutual benefit.

Having a definition of, and clear outcomes for, international learning is the best starting point for schools seeking to develop international-mindedness. If we have these outcomes in place from the outset, then designing activities and tasks to help children learn them becomes so much easier.

Getting started…

Abstract concepts such as international-mindedness can at first seem almost daunting and impractical. Questions such as ‘where do I start?’ and ‘where do I find resources?’ naturally surface. There are, however, lots of great examples from schools around the world and I’ve pencilled below just a few of my own favourites and ones I’ve used in the classroom before to help children to start thinking internationally.

• And now for the news…you come in the morning, time for register and all the other start-to-the-day duties. How on earth can you bring international learning into this? Well, whilst you’re busy with the admin, let the class listen to the daily children’s news podcast from the BBC world service. Aimed at early secondary students, although it can easily be used with older primary children as well, the 3 to 4 minute podcast covers the main stories of the day, and is bound to lead to great discussions and debates afterwards.

• Maps, maps and more maps…does your classroom environment reflect the world? Maps are a brilliant way to help children begin to ‘see’ the world and from a range of perspectives. For map anoraks like myself, Stanfords shop in London offers the best selection of maps for all uses, ranging from traditional Mercator projection maps to Pacific Centred Maps in the fantastic ‘Down Under’ Map. All available to order online.

• Become an explorer… as the title on the webpage below says, “You don’t need a passport” to travel the world. At least not now with so many fantastic resources to explore only a mouse click away. One of the best is the National Geographic Kids site and in particular the ‘places’ part of the site. Take a different country each day or week and go exploring it!

• The local as well as the global… don’t forget what’s on your doorstep. Literally. If we’re serious about helping our students to develop an awareness of the ‘other’, then starting with learning about the host country and culture is an important part of developing international thinking.

• Play a junior version of the real thing…in David Perkins’ new book, ‘Making Learning Whole’ (have a look on Amazon as it’s a great read), he describes how children often learn through playing a ‘junior-version’ of the real thing. He gives the example of baseball but we can equally imagine it for football or indeed any other sport or game. Countries that are successful at football tend to develop children’s skills through five (or less) a side games, small pitches, small goals etc. Think of Junior Monopoly! It’s about giving children the chance to do the same as adult players but with a scaled down version.

So what better way to learn about how countries are linked and work together to solve problems than to play a junior version of the real thing and hold a Model United Nations. Mostly used with senior secondary students, but now increasingly with upper primary and middle years students too, it’s a brilliant way to develop a range of skills from communication to co-operation. Have a look at this website for a fantastic case study of how Overseas Family School in Singapore approached this.

As we’ve seen, ‘international’ needn’t only mean the many nationalities that make up a school population, but can also be something much deeper. Making the development of international-mindedness an explicit aim of our teaching may well offer the best means of making Edwin Ginn’s dream of international education a reality and give our children a great chance of success in the globalised, interconnected world they will live and work in.

Steven Mark is the educational director of the International Primary Curriculum (IPC). His education experience includes many years as a teacher and school leader in Scotland, Netherlands and Germany. He has a Masters degree in Educational Management from the University of Leicester and is about to embark on his doctorate with the University of Bath, England.
Steven has a great range of experience working with both national and international schools. He has spoken at conferences and delivered professional development for educators throughout many parts of the world. He is currently writing a book about how we can best help children and adults to develop international-mindedness, which he thinks may well become the key skill for 21st century citizens.

One thought on “International-mindedness is a frame of mind…

  1. Interesting reading, but how horribly Eurocentric … surely a good internationalist will get materials that bring something of other countries into the classroom? Although I teach adults, still I get authentic maps, for example, for German from the Goetheinstitut, so that not only can students see where countries are, but also what they are called in the ‘target language’. With children it’s even easier, because you can encourage them to bring in photos and artefacts from different lands and cultures and again, with only a little effort, the keen teacher can get materials from organisations – the children’s parents can be asked for contact info for their embassies, consulates and cultural organisations and a collection can gradually be built up.

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