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‘Reaching out’ and ‘reaching in’ by fostering international-mindedness

International-mindedness is the bedrock of the IB approach. While we in the IB community understand its importance, it can be a challenging concept to define, develop and assess. To shed more light on the practice of international-mindedness, researchers from the University of Bath conducted an in-depth, multi-programme study in nine IB World Schools around the world. Read on to learn more about this study’s rich and thought-provoking findings.

Defining international-mindedness

Students and educators from the case study schools defined international-mindedness in varied and nuanced ways. Two common themes, however, came up repeatedly; namely the ideas of ‘reaching out’ (how we interact with others) and ‘reaching in’ (how we understand ourselves in relation to others). For many, the ‘journey’ of international-mindedness—the process of defining, reflecting, learning and redefining—was more important than any one destination or definition.

Practicing international-mindedness


Leadership emerged as one of the key ways that schools proactively foster international-mindedness. Having supportive leaders or other ‘champions’ within a school is one way to ensure that the concept is embedded within school culture and will remain a strategic priority. Additionally, actively engaging students in school discussions and decision-making can be a powerful tool for developing internationally minded students.


Both participants and the researchers suggested that multilingualism should be integrated into policy and practice to encourage international-mindedness in IB World Schools. Educators perceived language learning as a window into other cultures, for example: “Learning the language means you can engage with the local people, and when you learn the language, you learn about culture, you learn about belief, you learn about history …” –Diploma Programme (DP) principal.

Supporting ‘mother-tongue’ and ‘host languages’ can send a message that all students are valued within the school community. As one Primary Years Programme (PYP) principal remarked: “Allowing them [students] to speak in their mother tongue really builds that compassionate understanding from students that it’s OK to speak whatever language they speak in, and to build that comfort level.”

IB curriculum

One of the strongest findings from the study was that the IB curriculum offers many opportunities for developing students’ international-mindedness. The following examples illustrate how it can be fostered via specific curricular elements.

The personal project was one area of the Middle Years Programme (MYP) curriculum which had clear potential in terms of international-mindedness. Students choose their own topic and the format of their project using a cycle of inquiry, action and reflection over an extended period of time.

One student retold and modernized the Finnish national folk tale ‘Kalevala’ and translated it into English and Chinese, with a new hand-drawn, comic-styled set of illustrations. The resulting book was printed and made widely available via the city library. In doing this, the student brought to life an ancient tale and made it relevant and accessible to a modern-day international audience.

“Without this project, I might never have thought about converting the Finnish national folk tale into a cooler, more modern, English/Chinese version”
–(MYP student).


Vignette 1. A personal project (excerpt from the full report).

Creativity, activity, service (CAS), a core component of the DP, is a particularly powerful tool for helping students to both think and act in internationally minded ways. As one DP student explained:

“In my opinion, service is a really key component of being internationally minded because as great as it is to have all these global ideas and beliefs … you have to act on it. Sometimes, we lack the local perspective, which I think is equally important. CAS … kind of combines those two things … the combination of local service and international-mindedness, because if we are not connected to the community we are directly in, as well as the global community, then I don’t think we are doing our job right as international citizens.” (DP student focus group)

One of the case study schools offers an impressive example of a successful CAS initiative that is really making a difference in the local community.

This CAS project involves partnerships with the local community and, in particular, residents of the local shanty communities (Kampung).

A micro school for local children (approx. 25 children) was set up through CAS about five years ago. It is now a sustainable project with two permanent teachers. It is located in the grounds of a multinational company about a 10 minute drive from the school. The project is managed by students from the school who assume responsibility for all aspects of the micro school through their CAS work.

The micro school serves the most vulnerable children from the Kampung who have spent their previous lives begging or working on the rubbish tips. The school now employs a gardener, two teachers and a cook/helper from the Kampung. Children go on to secondary school if they can get a scholarship or by funding themselves through small businesses run within the micro school. One of the teachers was himself a former student; he was awarded a scholarship into secondary education, continued to make excellent academic progress and is now a university night school student (accountancy), working every day as a teacher at the micro school.

Vignette 2. Micro school CAS initiative (excerpt from the full report).

Concluding thoughts

This study highlights the importance of being intentional about developing international-mindedness. The schools represented in the study were all actively engaged with conceptualizing and fostering international-mindedness. This was not taken for granted or left to chance. Given the diversity of IB World Schools both in this study and around the world, it is important for schools to make international-mindedness their own, suited to their own communities and contexts.

While this blog and the study summary are meant to provide quick snapshots of the study, readers and IB World Schools are also encouraged to read the full report. The full report offers many more examples of promising practice and a richer understanding of the study’s numerous findings.

What approaches does your school use to develop international-mindedness? Please share your ideas with the community!

Have questions? Contact IB Research.