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International Education: Features, Aims and Impacts to Society Research Paper


Education is widely considered the foundation of our modern civilization. Through advances in education, humankind has been able to achieve tremendous technological and social advances. Traditionally, nations have made use of education systems that are specially structured to suit the needs of the country.

This system was adequate since the interaction between nations was limited and each nation could afford to disregard what was going on in other countries. However, the past century has been marked by an increased interaction between nations. This interaction has highlighted the important role that education plays in the growth and development of a country. Educators have acknowledged that each nation can benefit from the education system of other nations.

Specifically, the interaction between students and teachers of different nations has promoted the transfer of knowledge and expertise between national systems of education. In addition to this, interaction between students of different nationalities and cultures can help solve some of the challenges of the modern multi-cultural world.

With these considerations, many scholars and government have begun to promote an international education. Advocates of international education deem it crucial to the future prosperity of a nation in an increasingly interdependent and multicultural world. This paper will provide an in-depth discussion of international education, highlighting its features, aims, and most significant impacts to society.

International Education: A Definition

Kieran defines international education as “all educational efforts that aim at fostering an international orientation in knowledge and attitudes’ and seek ‘to build bridges between countries” (315). International education aims to advance international understanding in order to promote the ideals of peace, respect for human dignity, and knowledge about international issues. Intercultural understanding is an integral part of the international understanding the international education aims to bring about.

While international education initially involved the physical interaction of students from different nationalities, this is no longer a requirement. This form of education can occur in any educational institute that embraces the ideals and goals that international education embraces.

International education is becoming more desirable in the increasingly interdependent and multicultural world where graduates are almost guaranteed to interact with employees, employers, and neighbors from different racial and national backgrounds in their future.

International Education: A Brief History

Scholars and philosophers have explored the concept of international education for centuries. In the 12th century, scholars from various parts of the European continent were engaged in movements from their local medieval universities to institutions outside their countries.

This movement was encouraged by a desire to increase knowledge by learning from other nations. Transport and communication limitations made the number of students engaged in this early phase of international education very few. Even so, the students were able to benefit from the academic advances of other nations and acquire a deep appreciation of the culture of their host nation.

Modern international education traces its origins back to the seventeenth century when the Moravian educator, John Amos Comenius, proposed the formation of a universal academy and an international ministry of education in which all nations would be represented (Hill 251). This educator wanted scholars and students from different nations to study together in an institution, benefiting from their cultural diversity.

According to Comenius, an intergovernmental international ministry of education would promote the bringing together of scholars and students to a universal academy. Here collaborations in the fields of education, science, and culture would occur with great benefits to the individual scholars and their home countries.

The aspirations of Comenius were realized a century later in London. Hill documents that in 1865, an International Education Society was founded in London to provide students with the opportunity to learn other languages and experience other cultures (251). This society opened the first formal international institute, London College.

This school served some 100 students who came from various countries. The students were required to spend time in schools in France, Germany, and Italy where they learnt foreign languages and experienced other cultures. While the school closed in 1889, some scholars regard this as the “first” international school. For the next two decades, few attempts were made to follow up the idea of international education.

The period following the First World War saw the reemergence of interest in international education. After this war, the international community was keen to establish good international relations and avoid another catastrophic war. Embassies were therefore set up in many nations to promote good relationships. Multinational companies also emerged and they started to operate in all the continents. International organizations such as the International Labor Office and the League of Nation were also set up in the post war period.

These developments created a demand for international schools as the international staff at embassies, and the international companies required appropriate education for their children. Hill explains that the parents working for international organizations wanted an education that was not confined to the location where they were stationed (252). International schools, which adopted an international education ideology, provided the solution to this problem.

The relationship between modern international education and conflict is evident from the fact that the first successful international schools were founded after the First World War. These schools were committed to instilling values that would create a lasting peace in the world. In addition to this, more international schools were opened after the Second World War and their underlying mission was to promote peace though a global understanding.

To its early advocates, international education could help to foster a new spirit of international tolerance and ensure the world never again experienced horrors such as those of the two World Wars (Walker 7).

The globalization phenomenon played a major role in the growth of international education. To begin with, this process has increased global contact and today no nation is spared from some form of international influence. Knight states that because of globalization, the interaction between people of different cultures and nationalities increased (6). This process has been facilitated by the great improvements made in transport and communication over the last century. Nations are therefore obliged to learn about each other and from each other.

The emergence and development of the International Baccalaureate from the early 1960s played a crucial role in formalizing international education. This program provided an appropriate curriculum that could be adapted by international schools.

Thompson and Hayden document that the international baccalaureate (IB) diploma was the first qualification specifically designed for international schools (32). With time, this qualification has been adopted by state and private national schools that wish to incorporate an international education in their curricula.

Aims of International Education

International education aims to provide students with the worldwide understanding necessary for them to succeed in the increasingly globalized world. In its early phases, modern international education aimed to serve the needs of internationally mobile students. This education was specially formulated to provide intercultural and linguistic experiences to students who had been forced to move around the world due to the job requirements of their parents.

This aim has changed over the decades and international education today plays a bigger role than this. Kieran asserts that international education is no longer confined to providing for the educational needs of the mobile students; instead, this form of education is increasingly being offered in national schools that are keen to provide their students with the advantages of an international education (315).

This education also aims to assist students in their task to provide solutions to the problems facing the international community. The international community is faced with some problems because of the interaction between people of different cultures and nationalities. Issues such as racism, discrimination, and religious intolerance are on the rise.

These problems have led to the development of conflicts and issues such as terrorism. International education is formulated in such a manner that it changes attitudes and prejudices that have caused conflict in the world. By so doing, international education will provide a solution to global issues and promote world peace (Kieran 315). Through this education, students are empowered to engage in the task of building bridges for mutual understanding.

International education aims to mold students into better world citizens through exposure to diverse cultures. The concept of global citizenship has taken root in the 21st century as the relationships between nations become more prevalent. Due to the strong interlink between nations, actions by one nation may have an impact on the other nation.

The citizens of each country are therefore urged to take into consideration the impact of their actions and demonstrate positive attitudes when dealing with other people. Due to the unique intercultural environment provided by international education, students are better placed to develop attitudes and values of tolerance, acceptance, and mutual respect.

Thompson and Hayden state that students in international schools perceive the multicultural interactions in informal dimensions of the school as more significant in contributing to the formation of an international attitude than the structure of the formal curriculum (45). This education therefore plays a major role in making students better global citizens.

Another significant aim of international education is to promote cultural sensitivity and understanding. International education brings together people of differing cultural and national backgrounds and these individuals are expected to co-exist in a shared environment and learn from each other.

This education emphasizes on sensitivity to the cultures of other people and integration through intercultural understanding. This is an important concept considering the prevalence of immigration over the past century. In the late 20th century, multicultural education was aimed at assimilating and aligning immigrants with the mainstream culture.

Hill notes that policy makers believed that the dominant national culture was the proper one and the cultures of immigrants were not beneficial to the country (248). However, such an approach encouraged the notion that some cultures were superior to others. Through intercultural education, cultural sensitivity is promoted and students are taught that no culture is inferior to the other.

International education fosters a deeper personal understanding in the student. This understanding enables the student to appreciate the cultural values of other individuals. Hill notes that through international education, students have the ability to understand themselves in relation to those who are from different backgrounds, and of understanding others in relations to themselves (254). This understanding promotes the development of attitudes of respect and concern for others.

Features of International Education

Despite the lack of an agreed definition of international education, schools that follow this concept have a number of core features. The first feature is the presence of an international curriculum that is designed to specifically satisfy international education objectives.

An international curriculum is one that has “an international orientation in the content, aimed at preparing students for performing (professionally/socially) in an international and multicultural context and designed for domestic as well as foreign students” (Rizvi and Walsh 6).

By following such a curriculum, international education assists students, both home and international, to become successful in a multicultural society. The IB Diploma Program (IBDP) and the IGCSE are the most globally recognized international education curricula.

International education has a set of ethical universal values that are imparted to the students. Students are taught to respect human dignity and champion human rights. The values of peaceful coexistence are also promoted through international education. Thompson and Hayden state that due to the conflict resolution roots of this education, students are urged to be global citizens who value peace.

Cultural diversity is the norm in most international institutes. The student population is able to gain an intercultural experience as individuals from varying cultural backgrounds interact with each other. This interaction fosters an intercultural understanding and respect for differences that exist between individuals of different cultures.

Hill explains that the intercultural learning promoted by international learning does not require the students to accept all the values held by people of other cultures, rather, it implies “acquiring the flexibility of seeing them as they are in the context of another cultural filter, not through one’s own ethnocentred frame” (259).

International education focuses on promoting critical thinking skills in the student and encouraging an open-minded approach when considering different viewpoints. This feature of international education was necessitated by the presence of a multiplicity of views on any one issue when teaching students from different nationalities.

Hill contends that by promoting open-minded approaches and critical thinking, students are able to see why certain positions have been adopted and agree with new ideas when presented with compelling arguments (253). Such approaches enable students to accept points of view that are alien to them.

International education acknowledges that creating a multicultural mindset takes more than just mixing multinational children in the same environment for learning. Multicultural learning requires a deliberate, planned interaction of students from different cultural backgrounds and a coherent philosophy for how to achieve this.

Hill asserts that the modern aims of international education “are not exclusively related to affairs between nations” (254). This form of education can also take place in an environment where the students share a nationality but come from diverse cultures.

Reasons behind the Popularity of International Education

From its humble beginnings in the 20th century, international education has experienced enormous growth in the 21st century. Most countries and higher education institutes today embrace the concept of international education. The growth of international schools has increased remarkably over the past decade.

Bunnell reports that as of 2007, there were 4563 international schools serving 2,070187 students in 187 countries (416). Most national school systems have also incorporated international education in their curriculum therefore increasing the reach of this education. A number of factors have contributed to this increased popularity of international education.

Concerns about economic competitiveness have served as major driving forces in the push for integration of international education in state-sponsored schools in many countries. Frey and Whitehead (273) assert that through international education, national economic interests are prioritized within a global framework of competition and risk.

The international approach to education enables the country to turn its gaze towards learning about what the other nations know. Governments have therefore promoted international education in their countries in order to remain economically competitive. Frey and Whitehead point out that the push to internationalize US curricula has been driven by the desire to protect local economic development (274).

Governments have realized that international education bestows some advantages on the nation’s citizens. This education increases the international competitiveness of the country’s workforce. Due to globalization, the international job market is vibrant and employers are looking for globally competent workers. Concerns have been raised that the traditional form of education does not equip graduates with the skills necessary for success in the global economy.

Research indicates that most national education systems do not prepare students for work in the global marketplace (Frey and Whitehead 270). International education provides an education that is formulated to prepare the student for an international labor market. With this realization, many governments, through their respective higher education institutes, have made engaging in international education a priority.

The demand for international education has risen as students seek a quality education. International education has established itself as a high quality education. While most developed nations have educational institutes that provide world-class services to the students, most developing nations have been unable to provide a quality education for their population.

International education provides a solution to this problem by enabling a country to use an internationally recognized curriculum and mode of study. Universities in countries such as China have embraced international education in an attempt to establish themselves as centers of academic excellence (Qiang 250).

The connection between international education and national security has led to the expansion of international education especially in the post 9/11 years. The US government has demonstrated a link between expanded world education and national security.

According to the state departments of education, international understanding is crucial for achieving the goals of national security. Frey and Whitehead assert that diverse linguistic and cultural knowledge, which can be acquired through international education, will foster national security by enhancing the ability of citizens of a country to communicate effectively with the rest of the world (277).

International education assists in the opening up of a country and prevents the dangers of neo-isolationism. It gives the citizens of a country knowledge about other societies and cultures and provides politicians and analysts with the context for intelligent polity making in international matters.

Impacts of International Education

Positive Impacts

International education enables a country to respond to the impact of globalization by preparing its population for interaction with the outside world. Through international education, a country is provided with the means through which it can know what is going on outside its borders and react to this.

International education has been used as a tool by nations to respond to the current global transformation. This form of education achieves this goal by making it possible for internationalization to occur “at home” through local institutes that are internationally minded.

Such institutes make use of an international curriculum and integrate an intercultural dimension into the teaching and research. Qiang observes that introducing international content into curricular is meant to help students become more competitive in the global economic environment (251). Through international education, students are exposed to ideas and methods of different countries therefore increasing their competence.

International education has encouraged educators and policy makers to look at their national school quality in comparison with the world. Before the prevalence of international education, countries did not have a different education system with which to gauge their performance. Educational reforms were driven by internal factors and in most countries; there was little motivation to engage in change. International education has increased the frequency of comparison between national education systems.

Frey and Whitehead state that some of the current educational reforms undertaken by developed countries such as the US have been in response to observations that US students demonstrated below-average performance when compared with those in Europe and Asia (274). International education has therefore played a role in the rising of the quality of education provided in different countries.

In addition to this, International education has created a drive for countries to build their own centers of excellence. The growth in international education has led to the establishment of elaborate institutes of higher learning in many countries. These institutions have received support from the government with huge grants being offered to help create world-class universities.

The Chinese government has made the greatest effort in this area and as of 2003, plans were underway to create new universities and fund already established schools to make them internationally competitive (Qiang 260).

Internationalization of education acts as a solution to the subjectivism that is evident in most domestic education programs. In most countries, the local perspective colors the education system and most issues as not addressed in an objective manner (Rizvi and Walsh 7).

For example, historical facts are related in a manner that considers the local perspective. Stereotypical views might also be encouraged by the subjective representation of the material. Through internationalization, the domestic education is forced to take on a global outlook and students and teachers are exposed to diverse spheres of knowledge.

International education has played a role in solving some of the major global issues such as conflicts and discrimination. As noted in this paper, international education was promoted in the years following the major world wars. Policy makers in developed countries believed that this education would play a crucial role in preventing conflicts all over the world. Through international education, students are given an opportunity to experience cultures foreign to their own.

These students are no longer confined to the unique history and cultural backgrounds of their country. Kieran asserts that students who engage in international education by studying abroad are more aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their own societies (317). Through the international exposure, students have the opportunity to observe other societies, and they become more capable to analyze their own society more critically and appreciate both its strengths and shortcomings.

Internationalization of education provides countries with a way of gaining economic prosperity. This is especially true for developing countries that lack the technological advancement enjoyed by the developing world. Due to international education, such countries are given the chance to enjoy advancement in scientific research and technology.

Internationalization leads to students being exposed to world-class education facilities where they gain knowledge of international methods and practices (Qiang 260). They are then able to use the skills acquired in their home countries. International education therefore plays a role in confronting the problem of poverty by stimulating economic growth and development.

International education has contributed to the financial prosperity of many higher education institutes. The growth in demand for international education has led to an increase in the number of institutions that offer an international education. This has led to the growth of an export market in educational services.

This marketization of higher education has led to competition as each nation seeks to benefit from the substantial financial benefits of international education (Walker 143). International students are therefore viewed as an important source of foreign income by some nations. In this way, international education directly contributes to the economic well being of a nation.

Negative Impacts

International education has contributed to the loss of diversity in education. While international education recognizes the multicultural aspect of modern life and ideally seeks to promote cultural diversity, the artificial arrangement of this education tends to hamper diversity.

Walker states that instead of recognizing that people from many cultures have differences in cognitive reasoning, international education aims to promote a uniform way of thinking (30). Programs such as the International Baccalaureate do not promote diversity but rather a western humanist view. The prevalence of international education has therefore served to suppress cultural diversity in the academic institutes.

International education has contributed to the loss of human and intellectual capital by some countries. International education has resulted in students travelling from their home country in search of an education. Some of the promising academics have left their native countries to gain an education in such schools never to return to their home countries (Walker 153). This loss of intellectual capital is especially evident in developing nations.

The significant economic differences between developing and developed nations have made working in developed nations attractive to many. Walker states that the opportunities available to students from developing world in the developed world entice them to seek employment there instead of returning to their home countries (153).

International education has led to the lack of support and resources for some subjects that are of local importance. The focus on international education has led to most local institutions making some adjustments in their programs in order to accommodate subjects that are critical to international education (Bunnell 417).

These changes have been prompted by government pressure as well as pressure from parents who want their children to have a globally oriented education. These adjustments are costly since schools are sometimes forced to make use of foreign staff to cover subjects such as foreign languages. For small institutes, this puts a financial strain and resources might have to be moved from some faculties in order to fund the courses that are internationally competitive.

Challenges to International Education

In spite of the wide support for international education by governments and educators, this education faces some significant challenges. Arguably the biggest challenge is the tension between global education needs and goals, and the strong nationalistic tendencies of some countries.

For example, the American society has demonstrated a great inclination to resist some aspects of international education. Hans demonstrates that while the US encourages American students to take part in study abroad programs, these students are sent to carefully sanitized American-run institutions where the teaching practice is similar to that of institutions in the US (79).

Students are also prevented from interacting with too many foreigners and the American identity of the students is therefore not significantly challenged through their international exposure. The core goals of fostering multicultural understanding therefore continue to be unrealized.

The excessive European focus of international education also poses a significant challenge. The commitment to global awareness by international education is greatly undermined by the fact that most international programs show a Western bias.

The lack of attention to global issues has led to some scholars questioning the effectiveness of international education (Hans 91). Walker confirms that the “configuration of learning presumed in international academic curricula is a Western configuration based on conceptual learning as the dominant form of learning” (18).

Individuals from different cultural backgrounds may reason differently and attach different priorities to what they value in their society. The Western biased approach reinforces the power of Western capitalism as individual initiative is encouraged and rewarded. Students and tutors from societies that do not ascribe to these values might feel alienated by international education.

The Future of International Education

Over the past half a century, the terms international education and international schools have been used almost interchangeably. However, scholars agree that the use of the term international education, in the context of international schools, has never been satisfactory (415). Some academics prefer to use alternative terms such as ‘international mindedness’ to acknowledge the fact that international education is not the sole domain of international schools.

While “international” literally means “between nations”, Hill asserts that international education cannot “ignore the importance of intercultural understanding within nations” (254). In its early years, international education was concerned with the relationships between groups or people from different nations.

However, globalization has increased immigration between nations and the classrooms of national schools is today more culturally diverse. Almost all nations in the world are characterized by multiple cultures and languages. Most national school systems therefore have students who come from differing cultures. Some state-funded schools have been forced to adopt an international outlook following parental pressure for a higher standard of educational product.

Internationally minded schools will therefore aim to develop an intercultural understanding within the nation. International education is therefore being used by countries to help deal with imminent culturally-based conflicts within nations. Walker states that due to this new role, international education is becoming more of a national responsibility (9).

International education has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry with thousands of schools and serving millions of students annually. The impressive growth of international education has been largely unplanned and unregulated. Bunnell notes that there is no overall worldwide structure and there is no universally accepted curriculum or mode of study (416). In response to this, educators and policy makers have tried to come up with a more structured and regulated system for international education.

Over the last decade, attempts have been made to make international education more ordered, structured, and outwardly professional. The most evident indication of this move was the attempt to create an alliance for international education. At the Geneva conference on September 2002, delegates met to discuss interpreting international education and the need for a structured and formalized network.

International education has traditionally been Western-oriented. This Western orientation is best articulated by Kieran who reveals that most international curricula are structured in a manner that focuses on certain forms of knowledge and value particular skills that are considered Eurocentric (316).

Bunnell confirms that in spite of the alleged “global outlook” of international education, almost half of all the International Baccalaureate schools are in the USA and Canada while 70% of the schools are to be found in the USA, the UK, Sweden, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Japan (422).

International education will have to demonstrate a change from this Western bias in order to appeal to more people. This requirement will become especially apparent as the Oriental world gains a greater influence in world affairs. China and India are already establishing themselves as major economies and their interest in international education is growing. The international education will have to be adjusted to show a real global outlook.


The past two decades have witnessed a growth in international education throughout the world. Globalization has increased the appeal of international education to many education systems around the world. This education has succeeded in bringing the “world” into national education systems. International education has been promoted because of the realization by governments, businesses, and ordinary citizens that it has political, economic and social implications.

International education is more important now than at any other point in history. It provides the means through which nations individuals can benefit from their cultural diversity. Current trends suggest that international education will continue to exhibit growth especially as national governments take steps to promote it. However, some changes will have to be made in international education to ensure that it is truly global in nature.


This paper set out to discuss international education with focus on the impact of this education in the world. The paper began by defining international education and providing a brief history of the development of this education. It traced the roots of modern international education to the post war years and elaborated the efforts of international education to promote intercultural understanding have been articulated in the paper.

The paper highlighted that this education is concerned with promoting a multicultural understanding. The education is meant to promote peace through a global understanding. The paper has demonstrated that many governments have embraced international education since it brings about social-political and economic benefits to the nation.

However, international education faces some challenges due to the western bias and the curricula and the tension between global and national interests in some cases. These challenges need to be addressed in order for this education to achieve greater growth. If international education is adopted by all nations, all education institutes will produce global citizens who will not only experience success in the global workplace but also contribute to solving local and international problems and therefore creating a better world.

Works Cited

Bunnell, Tristan. “International education and the ‘second phase’: a framework for conceptualizing its nature and for the future assessment of its effectiveness”. Compare 38.4 (2008), 415-426. Web.

Frey, Christopher and Whitehead Dawn. “International education policies and the boundaries of global citizenship in the US”. J. Curriculum Studies 41.2 (2009): 269-290. Web.

Hans, de Wit. Trends, Issues and Challenges in Internationalisation of Higher Education. Amsterdam: Centre for Applied Research on Economics & Management, 2011. Print.

Hill, Ian. “Multicultural And International Education: Never The Twain Shall Meet”. International Review of Education 53.3 (2007): 245-264. Web.

Kieran, James. “International Education: The Concept, and its Relationship to Intercultural Education”. Journal of Research in International Education 4.3 (2005): 313–332. Web.

Knight, Jacob. Internationalization of Higher Education in Asia Pacific Countries. Amsterdam: European Association for International Education/ OECD, 1997. Print.

Qiang, Zha. “Internationalization of Higher Education: towards a conceptual framework”. Policy Futures in Education 1.2 (2003): 248-270. Print.

Rizvi, Flin and Walsh Lucas. “Difference, globalisation and the internationalisation of the curriculum”. Australian Universities Review 2.1 (1998): 7-11. Print.

Thompson, Jeff and Hayden Mary. International Education. NY: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Walker, George. Challenges from a New World. Boston: John Catt Educational Ltd, 2010. Print.

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