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December 1999 - Issue No. #37 (p.15 - 16)

What is an Internationally-Minded School?

A Global Survey

by Esther Lucas (freelance, Israel)

The International School Association (ISA) includes two different types of school: international schools and "internationally-minded" schools. Both conform to the same criteria: "the school should provide an education directed to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and should promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among people of all nations." This philosophy is built on ideals such as the equality of human beings, educational opportunities for all, human unity through diversity, responsibility, peaceful conflict resolution, and the maintenance of a sustainable future.

In a recent survey, I tried to find out what exactly makes a school "internationally-minded". My survey covered 34 schools in 20 countries:Australia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Canada (2), Chile, China, Denmark (2), Finland (8), Germany (3), Israel (2), Jordan, Latvia, Norway, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK (3) and the USA. Schools were selected using personal contacts with international education organizations and interviews were used to elicit information in the following six categories.

(1) School populations

None of the schools surveyed had large international student populations, which is the norm for international schools. Virtually all were national schools (some private) with a small percent of international students. 20% had between 5-10% foreign students. The Australian school had South-East Asians. The German school had 31 nationalities. A UK school had 8% Asian students. One Canadian school had 15% foreign teachers. A Danish and German school both had Arab teachers. Many had short-term exchange students.

(2) International/regional affiliations

The schools surveyed had a wider range of affiliations to international organizations:
  • UNESCO Associated Schools Project: 85% of all schools belonged to this.

  • International Schools Association (ISA): eight schools belonged to this.

  • Life-link (a school friendship program based in Sweden with contacts in over 50 countries): 4 schools belonged to this.

  • UNICEF: four schools were active in the Voices of Youth Internet program of UNICEF's Education for Development.

  • The World School Debating Championships: 4 schools belonged to this organization which holds multi-national student debates in different countries around the world.

  • Amnesty International: while individual students in other countries belong to this, the school in Senegal stated that it worked for its local Amnesty International branch.

Several schools were also affiliated to regional organizations such as the European Federation of Intercultural Learning or the Blue Danube UNESCO project.

(3) Twinning

Practically every school surveyed was twinned with one or more schools in another country. Twinning was thus one of the most significant characteristics of an internationally-minded school. Many schools have been twinned for 12-15 years; one German school has been twinned with a school in Prague for 30 years. Sample twinned school pairings included:

  • Australia with Japan

  • Bulgaria with Russia, Holland and Romania

  • Canada with Italy and France

  • Chile with the UK and Argentina

  • Finland with Estonia, Lithuania, Kenya, Russia, France, Zimbabwe, Poland

  • Germany with Bolivia, China, Ghana, Israel

  • Israel with Germany and Palestine

  • The UK with Italy, France, Spain, Germany

(4) Exchanges other than twinning

Besides twinning, there were a great number of other forms of school exchange -

  • Exchange student programs were carried out by many schools: Sweden had exchanges with Poland and Norway, for example, while Bulgaria hosted exchange students from Germany, Austria, Croatia, South Africa, the UK and the USA.

  • E-mail & Internet links were emphasized by Bulgaria, Chile, Finland and Israel.

  • Educational visits abroad were organized by many schools. One Canadian school organizes visits to New York, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Several schools send their students to international conferences. A German school organizes student tours to the UN in New York as well as trips to France, Turkey, Israel, Auschwitz and even India (with the UNESCO World Heritage program). The US school had visited China while a Finnish school sends its choirs and orchestras on tours abroad.

  • Projects linked to global issues.

The schools surveyed were engaged in a vast and varied range of international projects -

  • 50% were involved in projects which promote democracy and tolerance.

  • 50% were doing peace education projects.

  • more than half had projects for promoting intercultural understanding.

  • 75% dealt with environmental protection.

  • 30% had projects on the United Nations.

Specific projects mentioned included -

  • Bulgaria: The Bulgarian school belongs to the Blue Danube River, Culture of Peace, My Street and My River projects. Their students are making a book called River Empathy and are in contact with the Baltic, Mediterranean and Caribbean Sea Projects.

  • China: The Chinese school has Science and Environment clubs.

  • Finland: One Finnish school belongs to a young people's environmental movement and is committed to sustainable development. ASP school students can study for a Global Citizenship Maturity certificate.

  • Germany: A German school runs seminars on topics like People and Their Rights in One World and Youth and Racism. They also produce an Intercultural Calendar.

  • Norway: A Norwegian school organizes an annual International Week.

  • Latvia: The Latvian school is involved in the European Youth Parliament.

  • Switzerland: The Swiss school takes part in an annual Students' United Nations.

  • UK: A British school runs an annual project called IDEAS (International Day of Environmental Action and Service).

(5) School Credos

Most schools had a credo, ranging from a short motto to a longer mission statement, emphasizing their international dimension. Most credos referred to democracy, human rights and international understanding -

  • Belarus: Create a bridge of understanding and mutual respect among nations and thus promote peace.

  • Chile: Contribute to the development of a democratic society.

  • USA: Accept diverse cultural values.

  • Jordan: Appreciation of our own and other cultures, tolerance, mutual respect.

  • Switzerland: Promotion of tolerance and international understanding.

Some had credos based on religious beliefs -

  • Chile: Refers to Judeo-Christian values.

  • Finland: Stresses Evangelical Lutheranism.

  • Jordan: Says its education is rooted in Arab Islamic heritage and culture.

  • UK: One school stated that it was a multi-cultural Christian school.

Many schools also included the personal development of students as part of their credo -

  • Australia: Developing students' potential

  • Denmark: Active and responsible students

  • Russia: Development of creative abilities and reflective thinking

  • Norway: Know oneself

Other school credos included:

  • Canada: Nous bastissons un monde [We build the world]

  • South Africa: Making a world of difference

(6) Conclusion

So, what is an internationally-minded school? It can be summarized as one that . . .

  • Has a national student population from its own country but may have a certain percent of foreign students and teachers.

  • Is affiliated to a variety of international or regional organizations which encourage student involvement in global and community issues.

  • May be twinned with one or more overseas schools in different countries.

  • Features exchanges of teachers and students, with contacts through e-mail, the Internet and educational visits abroad.

  • Is involved in a variety of projects dealing with international, humanitarian problems.

  • Has a school credo of democracy, human rights and international understanding.

These conclusions are limited to this small survey, but show the variety of ways in which a school can become internationally minded.


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Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
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