By Neil Bunting
‘Open’ is a word with positive connotations in most languages. However, the term ‘open-mindedness’ is not always embraced positively by all cultures. It can be associated with things being lost, watered down, or ideals being sold out.
In this post, I’m going to look at open-mindedness in the context of international students, ‘third culture kids’ and learners rooted in their home country outside the circuit of international roaming.
The argument can be made that international students do not hold strong links to their home country and may not have a sense of belonging. It is argued that they have not been brought up with a proud awareness of where they are from, for example, growing up in a village where you know every family and everyone is clear who they are and what they stand for. Instead, expatriate children continue to process and assimilate their identity in each new place.
Whether students are national or international, open dialogue and learning about the views and beliefs of others is paramount. Students don’t have to be international to experience interculturalism. Students in national education systems often experience interculturalism in the classroom through the diversity of their local environment. It can also be achieved, partly, through the recruitment of an international teaching faculty bringing different cultural perspectives.
Open mindedness also extends, of course, to tolerance of different attitudes and beliefs within your own culture which you may not share but agree to differ. As the world progresses, and people move, the consideration and reflection on the views of others becomes a constant consideration.
As well as being risk-takers and purveyors of change, children of the 21st century are, in my opinion, much more open to new experiences. This is becoming an increasingly natural process as the world shrinks and children are brought up in an environment with peers from all over the planet. Young people are growing up with a far greater fluidity in their lives. Children will process and establish their point of view from listening and absorbing the influences of their class mates. The more different backgrounds that they are exposed to the better. Not just in the classroom, or in cloistered travel, but also through exposure and interaction in their community through the kinds of service learning activities that can be experienced right across the IB continuum.
The IB learner profile attribute of open-mindedness is a worthwhile global model for all education systems, encouraging greater facilitation and understanding between cultures and creeds. Especially, in the current world climate, there is a great need for understanding and tolerance.
Travelling regularly doesn’t necessarily mean that young people are getting a broad world view, but exposure to different cultures is likely to generate invaluable empathic experiences, the opportunity for the, exchange and insight of other points of view and a chance to support, forge links and find out about the world.
Open-minded young learners will observe other people doing things differently. Although they do not always hold shared beliefs, learners gradually get to realize that there is an intrinsic logic that makes others do things differently; what can seem strange to one person, can make perfect sense to another person and should be understood and respected as such. A key learning outcome of open-mindedness is a realization that differences are what make the world rich and exciting.
These kinds of intangible intercultural learning experiences are surely the most important experiences a learner can take from school, and on to university, in their journey as a global citizen. They strive to make the world a harmonious place, where we acknowledge and respect other points of view, and understand that other cultures, traditions and beliefs are just as true and real as our own.
The IB philosophy encourages broad and well thought-out educational approaches looking to create greater peace around the world. The opportunity for peace seems to fly in the face of the grim daily evidence of war and terror that continue to ravage large parts of the world. But there has never been a greater need for students to question, explore and understand why people do things differently: from the lines of inquiry, and the central idea in the Primary Years Programme, right the way through to exploring the way people live, learn and think in the theory of knowledge.
Neil Bunting is the Head of Secondary Programme at Greenfield Community School – a Taaleem school. Watch out for more posts from Neil as he explores common themes that weave through all IB programmes.