Friday, October 10, 2008

Globalization and International Schools

For the past 10 years, I was a teacher at three different international schools. Each school was very different in terms of facilities, my job description, resources available, student background, parental expectations of education, and local culture. However, each school espoused a belief in their mission statement that in some way, they were shaping global citizens. I was not sure what that meant at the time, and I continue to struggle with this. 

When searching for news articles on globalization, I went to the newspaper I read as an international teacher entitled TheInternational Educator. I had assumed that I would find many articles, but there were only about six articles that used the term global - although many advertisements used the term. One article I found especially interesting was “The Challenge of Global Citizenship in our Schools” by Bambi Betts (2007). She stated, “A substantial percentage of international schools claim through their mission statements that the school will strive to help students become global citizens . . .As elusive as it may be, if it's in your mission, your school MUST do three things: define what it means to be a global citizen, determine how students will be taught to be global citizens, and the piece we find most difficult, decide how to determine the type and extent of progress students are making.” With all of the other demands of schooling and school policy making, I wonder how many schools actually tackle this issue?

As I was reading the texts about the historical context for globalization, I was struck by the cyclical nature of our world. Tilly (2004) states, “Any time a distinctive set of social connections and practices expands from a regional to a transcontinental scale, some globalization is occurring.” Did the Romans and Arabs agonize over the idea of globalization? Tilly goes on to talk about the flow of migration, ideas, trade, and capital as part of globalization. For the international schools I worked at, much of the unwritten curriculum is an enculturation of American values and educational priorities. We had to educate both parents and students how we “do school” the American way, which included projects, group work, disagreeing with the teacher and others and supporting your own opinion. We gave workshops and handouts about homework, reading practices and bullying. By doing this, we were preparing students to fit into American universities and (we assumed) international universities. 

But, I wonder how is that creating global citizens? In actuality, like the Romans did as they conquered other peoples, we (at international school) were creating citizens that could fit into our American society. And yet, the local community and culture, along with the tertiary school culture (made up of locals, third country nationals, and Americans), had a strong influence on how we interpreted American education in that context. As Lee and LiPuma (2002) said, “these interpretive communities determine lines of interpretation, found institutions, and set boundaries based principally on their own internal dynamic.”

Once I entered graduate school and encountered Marxism for the first time, I was confronted with the idea that international schools are actually an unfair practice. Tilly (2004) stated “as of 2000, the world economy displayed startling inequalities.” A classmate of mine challenged me to think of international schools as a colonization technique – another way of subjecting the local population to an inferior education. I have to admit, I was appalled to think of it this way. However, in reflection, I see many of my schools' practices to be just that.

Within a country, an international school often has unique ties to the local government – which I saw in the three I worked at, and heard about from others. Often, the government has to sanction the formation of an international school, which for developing countries, means creating and passing new laws. Implicitly, this means the ruling body agrees with the fundamentals of having foreigners educating the youth in the country. Which, conversely, indicates that the local educational system could not handle the demands of the foreigners in the local schools. By creating separate schools, the nomadic foreigners are insulated from the context of local society, which does, (in many cases) create resentment. In my last schools, most students were bussed directly to the school. A few students, who spoke the local language, would take the public buses. However, they would cover or take off their uniforms because they would be harassed by local students about being “Preppies” or the rich kids who go to the school that anyone can buy their way into. The international schools are generally better funded, are able to import supplies and materials easily, sometimes get special treatment from the government (taxes, educational requirements etc), can hire more educated faculty and the students come from a higher socioeconomic class than the local population. 
To combat this resentment and to create “globally aware citizens,” many international school require community service projects for the students, which, in theory, gives back to the local community. However, I have seen it, at times, create a greater sense of superiority in students and faculty, rather than empathy. As Bauman (1998) says, “Globalization divides as much as it unites; it divides as it unites.” (p. 2) When shopping for gifts for the poorer local kids, some students bought inferior gifts than if buying for their own friends, assuming that since the local kids had little, any gift would be appreciated. 
Rick Steves, a travel writer stated, “Most cultural groups develop separately, with their own logical (as far as they're concerned) answers to life's basic needs. While every culture is ethnocentric, thinking "we do it right," it's important for travelers to understand that most solutions to life's problems are neither right nor wrong.” Sometimes, when confronted with confusing actions from the local communities, parents, faculty and students assume that the local population is ignorant of the “right way” to do something. Instead of creating acceptance and tolerance, this can lead to greater division.

Bauman goes on to cite Dunlap's principle of the company belonging to the shareholders, not the workers or locality. This is true in a lot of schools, yet I think, more evident in international schools – especially in the schools where the student population is overwhelmingly foreign as opposed to local. Generally, the school board is elected of and by the parents. This board sets policy, approves hiring, budget etc. Often, the parents will only be in-country for 2-5 years, so their agendas are short term - “what's best for my kid.” It is difficult to get long-term programs and ideas to move forward, because the student body and faculty turn over every 2-5 years. There can be a sense of “freedom from the duty to contribute to daily life and the perpetuation of the community”(p. 9) along with “no need to engage, if avoidance will do.” (p.11) I know several of my students would not become involved in local sports or hang out with neighborhood kids because the students knew they would move away eventually. As they said, “So what's the point?” I also know that programs I started, such as visits to a local orphanage and offering professional development to local teachers, ended as soon as I left.

So, how should international schools create global citizens? I think, first, the schools must engage the students (and faculty) in becoming local citizens – to care for and about the issues, ideas and people of their host country. This means greater ties to the community, and not just in service projects, but through social events, shared entertainment and sports, and academics; to combat the superiority complex. A school must be grounded in the local, with mutual respect and understanding, so that both the international and local populations benefit and learn from the interaction.


Bauman, Z. (1998). Globalization: The human consequences. Cambridge, Polity.
Betts, B. (April 2007). The challenge of global citizenship in our schools. The international educator. 25.
Lee, B. & LiPuma, E. (2002) Cultures of circulation: The imaginations of modernity. Public Culture 14(1): 191-213.
Steves, R. (2008). Culture shock and wiggle room. Accessed Oct. 13, 2008
Tilly, C.. (2004). Past, present and future globalizations. In: Steiner-Khamsi, G. The global politics of borrowing and lending. New York: Teachers College Press. 13-28.