Cambridge Day 3: What is international education?

Today the day began with a brief session exploring the skills students need in order to be competent in the future. This is not a new conversation in education circles albeit a controversial one. The most significant part of the session was looking closely at the skills in relation to the work put together by the Partnership for 21st century learning: There was consensus amongst the teachers that these skills are applicable and necessary for the teaching we are currently engaged with.

The discussion was followed by a session with Lee Davis, who is the Assistant Director for Professional Development for Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) within Cambridge University. His focus was on two areas: international education and international curriculum.

The session began with an activity: if the world were 100 people based on the findings from this website: .  The activity showed the plurality and diversity of the world we live in therefore making a case for a curriculum and education system that ought to respond to the global context in order to better prepare learners for the world they are to enter once they leave high school. The activity also pointed to the need to question our assumptions and perspective as teachers as these are often unchallenged and it seems they can only be challenged when one experiences the plurality outside their immediate community (which is often—not always—homogenous).

Is international education possible in a student that is homogenous? In order to have more meaning, is international education only possible where the student body reflects an international community? These are crucial questions which relate to the definition of an international school (discussed in the previous post). The question is also central when thinking about school culture. In trying to answer this question I guess one has to consider the context of the school. It seems that having an international student body in order for international education to be meaningful is the ideal situation but it is not a necessary condition in a school. A school can have a largely homogenous culture (class or race) but if the student’s worldview is challenged using knowledge (content) that has a global outlook then international education is taking place.

Therefore the working definitions of an international education can be as follows:
  • An international education is a worldview that is internationally minded with a focus on diversity and the plurality of the world (a typical example would be a system that uses the International Baccalaureate)
  • An international education has a curriculum and assessment model that can be implemented around the world with changes to fit a particular context. This suggests a framework with principles that guide the school’s curriculum and assessment.

The session ended with an exploration of case studies of schools and how they communicate their approach to international education.

The approach in each school suggests learning that is concerned about the students’ growth but not only in the classroom. More importantly, there doesn’t seem to be an overt focus on test scores. The programmes suggest that curiosity and academic excellence are not mutually exclusive. Looking at the case studies I began wondering about assessment: what does assessment (evaluation/measurement) look like in these contexts? Lee Davis emphasised the use of reflection on the student’s part as well as assessment that looks at the learner’s skills on a continuum (for example a rubric). A school that wasn’t a case study but raised in the discussion was Hi Tech High School which is another example of a school challenging the taken for granted perspectives about what a school curriculum should look like and what students should be able to achieve.

There are many questions about international education which I hope to explore as the week unfolds and beyond the seminar programme. A question that continues to bother is the relationship between local and global ideas in a globalising world. Whose ideas matter more when we teach? South African history or the Industrial Revolution? My own education led me to consider that South African and African voices (the subaltern perhaps) do not matter if they exist at all. What matters is the narrative of the development of previous colonial powers and the rise of the super powers, even if it is at the expense of continents such as Africa. Of course globalisation is more complicated than "us vs them" but I can't help but wonder what decisions are made when choosing a curriculum in the context of globalisation. The options are dizzying at times.

Below are pictures from the visit to Jesus College. The first three are related to iconic images associated with the college. The college has a wonderful collection of art scattered around the gardens given or loaned to the college by well-known artists from Britain and Europe. The rest of the picture are from the  biennial sculpture exhibition, Sculpture in the Close which we went to late in the afternoon.


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