Friday, July 25, 2008

Towards Understanding The Role of Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom

This article was published in the online educational journal "The Quest for Improved Student Achievement: A Journal for Educational Enquiry and Practice" published by The York Region District School Board (Fall 2007)

By Peter Zsebik

The bell rings, and students begin to move to their next classroom. As they enter Mr. A’s class, their faces brighten, they are smiling, and they are greeting both the teacher and their fellow students with pleasant greetings. For the moment, they appear to forget about all the trials and tribulations that plague young people; they are at ease, and loosen their ‘armour’ against the outside world knowing that they are entering an understanding and safe environment. Mr. A. responds to the students with a bright smile and small innocuous joking as he collects homework and makes his final preparations for another lesson that fully engages the students in a proactive and dedicated manner. Attendance is taken and one girl is away due to sickness - information volunteered by one of her friends. Mr. A. thanks the student for the information and asks the friend if she could take notes for her friend so that her friend doesn’t fall behind. The girl responds that they had already made that arrangement and she will do so. The class moves on.

One door down, Mr. B. who is teaching the same subject at the same time to the same level of student, sits at his desk waiting. As they enter, the students don’t look at him, and he doesn’t look at them. They know they can’t talk to each other because Mr. B. has already, in no uncertain terms, told them that talking with their friends is not to occur in the classroom and that their education is serious business. At the beginning of the school year, there was a scramble to get the desks at the back of the class, but Mr. B disliked the ‘chaos’ and created a seating plan that was to be strictly adhered to, with the ‘less fortunate’ as he liked to call them sitting closest to the front. The students seat themselves in their appropriate desks and Mr. B. begins to take attendance. Seven students are away, 3 of them the least of the less fortunate, and Mr. B. is secretly pleased that he won’t have to deal with them today. He asks no questions, and the students make no offer of information. The class moves on.

This fictional scenario described above certainly sounds plausible. As a matter of fact, it may even strike one as familiar. Are both teachers successful? Possibly, from an academic perspective they are. The two teachers are adept at classroom management, they are sufficiently versed in the subject matter, and they both have the necessary license that allows them to be in front of the class. And yet, an observer may still feel some uneasiness if faced with these two classroom environments. From what does the uneasiness stem? What emotional impact do each of these classroom situations have on us as individuals? As educators, our uneasiness may stem from our having been trained to function within the factory model of education (Beare & Slaughter, 1993), resulting in an inability to function outside the box; or by the same token, we have been pulled so far out of the traditional box that any ‘traditional’ methodology we see reeks of ossification and a lack of motivation to learn on our part.

Or is our reaction due to some other reason? Is it because we are used to a certain classroom environment with a particular historical orientation? Is it because we just outright disagree with certain teaching methodologies? Perhaps on a more global level, is the uneasiness felt because there is a hidden cultural basis for the classroom ethos to which we are accustomed? Or perhaps is it because the creation of one’s teaching style is dependent on one’s own personality, successes, education, or even family background? And finally, is there a distinct socio-political grand narrative that has to be accounted for when addressing the needs of today’s classroom, one to which the teacher may or may not be aware? And connected to this, are we as educators feeling so overwhelmed by the complexity of change occurring within our sociopolitical environment that we find security in working only with what we already know? Although all of these questions may sound rhetorical, it is imperative as educators that we not only ponder these questions fully, but we also strive to achieve a more complete answer.

Historically, the answers to these questions posed above were found to have much simpler solutions. The concept of mass education was begun in an earlier age (ibid., 1993), with the prime motive of focusing on the socialisation of the child for the society in which he/she was to live (Lawton, 1975). But what if that society bears the complexity of today’s sociopolitical environment. Michael Fullan has stated in his recent publications that to more fully appreciate today’s educational environment, one must now turn to complexity theory to understand the intricacies now apparent in, and for, the system (Fullan, 2003), a premise that is in itself interesting, but perhaps not very useful for the average classroom teacher, and by the same token may also not be very useful for administrative middle management on a day to day basis.

It may be that we need to look in other directions by breaking down the educational environment, and when we do this we find that there are several layers of interaction between different parties. From a macro perspective, we find the following insight by Appadurai in Featherstone (1993), which one could conjecture dovetails nicely with Fullan’s notion of complexity theory mentioned previously. Through an analysis of what he sees as the bigger sociopolitical narratives of our time, Appadurai is able to explain the intricacies of the sociopolitical environment within which education finds itself enmeshed. In his deconstruction, Appadurai has attempted to label what he sees occurring within society as ‘Global Cultural flows’ or, in other words, those dynamic and influential forces which are shaping the social climate of today’s world. Appadurai suggests that:

“...there are five dimensions of Global Cultural flows which move in non-isomorphic paths. Firstly, there are ethnoscapes produced by flows of people: tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles and guest workers. Secondly, there are technoscapes, the machinery and plant flows produced by multi-national and national corporations and government agencies. Thirdly, there are finanscapes, produced by the rapid flows of money in the currency markets and stock exchanges. Fourthly, there are mediascapes, the repertoires of images and information, and the flows that are produced and distributed by newspapers, magazines, television and film. Fifthly, there are ideoscapes, linked to flows of images which are associated with state or counter-state movement ideologies which are comprised of elements of the Western Enlightenment world-view - images of democracy, freedom, welfare, rights, etc.”

Despite these sweeping insights, it is not a big step in logic to realize that these ‘dimensions’ have a direct impact on the educational environment. Indeed, one could conjecture that these narratives outlined by Appadurai could serve as a defining paradigm from which a school could create their own particular ethos, where ‘…the ‘ethos’ relies on the
interconnectedness of those constituent parts within the school community, in
addition to the surrounding culture, which creates and defines its institutional
character.’ (Zsebik, 2003).

On a more local level, one cursory deconstruction of the different interactions that occur within a school is through the use of what has been termed the SPACE Factor (ibid. 2003):

Direct observation of any school immediately reveals those elements which are the most evident in constituting its environment, and these elements can be summarised as follows:

S tudent
P arent
A dministration = The S.P.A.C.E. Factor
C urriculum
E ducator

The mnemonic that was chosen to summarise the elements found within a school is not without reason. Firstly, the physical ‘SPACE’ a school utilises would have little relevant meaning if these elements were not to interact to form a community, but at the same time this ‘community’ could not be created without the ‘SPACE’ which the school provides. It is within this ‘SPACE’ that the community, and therefore the school and its educational agendas are defined. It is in effect an ideal representation of the interactive framework found within a specified educational setting. Secondly, the ‘SPACE’ between the elements within the community, not only in physical but abstract terms (see Hofstede 1991), also plays a significant part in determining the outcome of the school’s ethos. Within this context, communication and interaction between each element within the school ‘SPACE’ becomes an essential aspect of the paradigm created within each specific institution. Thirdly, within this one word ‘SPACE’ are five separate entities, but if one of these entities were replaced or removed, then the word ‘SPACE’ and the concept which it attempts to define would be lost. There is an inseparable connection between these five entities, just as with their letter representations in the word, which cannot be altered without serious consequence to the concept.

Indeed, if we were to take the deconstruction further, we can break down the different curricular structures in any given school as follows:

The Academic Curriculum - “what might traditionally considered to be the
curriculum eg. ‘subjects’ taught in school”

The Pastoral Curriculum - to include personal guidance (eg social skills,
relationships), educational guidance (eg study and information-finding skills) and
vocational guidance (eg learning about careers and occupations)”.

The Hidden Curriculum - might be defined as adaptive learning unespoused and
unacknowledged by the school: the ‘hidden messages’ students receive as part of their

Yet another useful metaphor is that of a brick wall (Thompson, 1998) initially with the bricks of the wall representing the subjects being taught, but in addition there are:

…opportunities for learning that takes place between the subjects of the curriculum, and that arises…from the planned and unplanned experiences for the students and the teachers. Such ‘intersitial learning’ is likely to involve learning associated with pastoral care, guidance, discipline codes, approaches to individual student needs, and what has become known as the hidden curriculum (see above)…and in the terms of our metaphor, will constitute institutional ‘cement’…

Despite these deconstructions, there still appears to be something that could be termed the missing link to all of these notions. In fact, it could be argued that this missing link has been overlooked primarily because, at least in this case, we can’t see the trees for the forest. What if the real focus rested not on deconstructing the complexity of the sociopolitical environment of a school, but on deconstructing the type of social interactions that occur between individuals within a school. After all, the daily interactions of individuals in effect do create the overall ethos of the school. It is much like a bunch of grapes. Individually, each grape is its own fruit and each fruit can stand on its own, but it lacks the bearing that accompanies an entire bunch. It is not until the grape is developed together with a ‘bunch’ of other grapes that the eventual fate of our grape is sealed. Its use is partially determined by the cultural background from which it springs, but by far the most influential aspect to realizing its full potential as a fruit depends on the environment to which that grape and its fellows will enter. Will it become a fine red or white or rose wine? Will it become juice? Will it be cooked into a jam or jelly? Will it become a raisin? Will it be eaten raw? Will it become a decoration on a food platter? Regardless of that grapes destiny, it still must be given time to develop and ripen.

One may think that this is not something new and that the whole raison (no pun intended) d’etre of a school is to allow one-on-one interaction to occur that will aid in the socialization and skill development of the student, much as a farmer will spread fertilizer and water to encourage a good crop. Indeed, the notion of ‘school as garden’ has been given some credibility with Neville (1995). In her work on schools within the Singapore national system, Neville describes one type of perspective she encountered for a school environment:

“The school is a plant nurtured by the teachers until it is full grown and blooms to flower ... the Principal is the gardener who prepares the ground, and gives value-added fertiliser to improve the programme.” (ibid.)

While from a very base perspective, we know that while we may contribute to a student’s development with almost fanatical rigour through the academic curricula and its delivery within a classroom, we also know (perhaps subconsciously) that our students require much more than the fertilizer we provide. They need to be allowed a more ‘three-dimensional’ development to occur, and these three dimensions include the academic, pastoral, and hidden curricula stated above. And yet, such a grandiose notion of incorporating two further curricular foci in an already crowded classroom environment reeks of timetable lunacy. If this is one’s thought, however, then the concept of teaching the pastoral and hidden curricula has been misunderstood. It does not mean timetabling dogmatic times of the day, nor does it mean an extension of an educator’s . working hours. It does require, however, some sort of developmental scaffolding from which it can best be incorporated. It is not easy for any systemic culture to effect change however slight, but perhaps change is becoming more and more necessary if we are to maintain a semblance of currency with the sociopolitical environment we are meant to serve. With this in mind, we can perhaps look towards what we already know to find a fruitful way to incorporate these other dimensions into the educational environment

One very interesting concept that has yet to be fully developed within an educational paradigm is that of emotional intelligence. It seems that emotional intelligence has become a very important element in other corporate, sociopolitical environments outside of education, with perhaps the exception of certain educational administrative learning courses. As was already mentioned, however, and despite our best intentions, there is very little formal device in place for guided interaction at other levels that allows for development of these other types of intelligences; the ‘interstitial’ learning posited above by Thompson. Indeed, if Thompson’s model is accurate, then this ‘interstitial’ learning is taking place whether we contribute to it or not. If that is the case, however, then are we passing by an opportunity that may allow us as educators to better prepare our students for the world in which they will live, work and play? Should there not be some sort of venue within the educational learning environment that allows for guided study of what has been termed emotional intelligence, or EI?

Goleman (1996) brought the notion of EI into mainstream thinking with his groundbreaking book entitled Emotional Intelligence. In this book he not only explains the physiological reasons for emotional intelligence, but also the sociological reasons for their development. Indeed, he devotes an entire part to early sociological influences, stating:

The emotional lessons we learn as children at home and at school shape the emotional circuits, making us more adept – or inept – at the basics of emotional intelligence. This means that childhood and adolescence are critical windows of opportunity for setting down the essential emotional habits that will govern our lives. (Goleman , 1996, p. xiv)

Another encouraging perspective on the merits of EI in the classroom can be found with a nonprofit organization entitled Six Seconds (, This organization has identified the research that highlights some of the benefits that occur if the school was to focus on the development of a person’s emotional intelligence in the classroom

After EQ training, discipline referrals to the principals dropped by 95% (Johnson & Johnosn, 1994)

Social and emotional skills create a higher achievement (Ornstein, 1986, Lakoff, 1980)

Increased social and emotional skills reduce discipline problems (Doyle, 1986)

“The basic unit of human memory is information in context connected to feelings. This means that how someone learns is as important as what someone learns.” (Maruice Elias, 1999)

Emotions give a more activated and chemically stimulated brain, which helps to recall things better (Cahill et al., 1994)

From a research standpoint, it seems that the benefits of incorporating teaching strategies that support a positive development of a student’s level of emotional intelligence is not something new. Indeed, it would appear that one would be hard pressed to find any studies that demonstrate any negative results when implementing such a focus in any classroom

It would appear that education has been identified as a place of opportunity for providing a path for learning; not only from an academic perspective, but also from a perspective that favours emotional development. This is not a new path. Even a cursory examination of classroom focus would indicate that current teaching patterns in the classroom have changed in this direction over the years, perhaps even due to the insights Goleman has provided, but if we are to achieve a more precise picture of the role emotional intelligence plays in the classroom then it is incumbent on us to ask more questions:

1) Can emotional intelligence in the classroom be defined?
2) Is having emotional intelligence important for a person?
3) How would you gauge whether an emotionally intelligent concept has been learned?
4) What do the different parties within a classroom environment perceive as an
emotionally intelligent act?
5) From where does the teaching of emotional intelligence stem in a classroom
6) To what extent does the teaching of emotional intelligence contribute to a
classroom learning environment?
7) Can any classroom action or interaction be identified as contributing to an
emotionally intelligent classroom environment?
8) Can any classroom action or interaction be identified as not contributing to an
emotionally intelligent classroom environment?

While there are quite possibly many more questions that can be brought into the open, it is not within the scope of this paper to create an exhaustive list of questions. Rather the purpose is to attempt some initial introspection into the concept of emotional intelligence in the classroom, and to provide some groundwork from which may be attempted further research. In every case, there is quite possibly a very distinct need for discourse in this field of academia that will in the end provide a series of new alternatives for understanding the role that mass education plays in the development of the student and, in the bigger picture, in the role that education plays (or should play) in contemporary society.


Appadurai A Cultural Flows in Featherstone (1993) Global Culture: Nations, Nationalsim, Globalisation and Modernity Sage Publications Ltd, London

Beare H & Slaughter R(1993) Education for the Twenty-First Century routledge, London

Fullan, M. (2003) Change Forces with a Vengeance, RoutledgeFalmer, New York USA.

Goleman (1996) Emotional Intelligence Bantam Books USA.

Hofstede G (1991) Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind: Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival Harper Collins, London

Lawton D (1975) Class, Culture, and the Curriculum Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London

Neville M (Winter 1995) School Culture and Effectiveness in an Asian Pluralistic Society International Studies in Educational Administration, Volume 23, Number 2, pp.28-37.

Thompson Towards a Model for International Education in Hayden & Thompson (eds)(1998) in International Education; Principles and Practice Kogan Page, London

Zsebik P (2003) Ph.D Thesis, University of Bath, UK

A Vision for ‘International Education’

A Vision for ‘International Education’
By Dr. Peter Zsebik

As an educator, it has been my privilege to teach and study in different institutions all over the world. At the beginning of my teaching career, I believed that the real challenge for me as a teacher would be to teach an ‘international curriculum’ at an ‘international school’. After a period of working in this environment, however, I found that this was really not the case, and this dichotomy was a nagging concern that continued to grow as I gained more experiences in different educational contexts. Eventually, my ideas congealed into a cohesive thought - I was a teacher from one country and cultural milieu being hired to teach my own cultural norms and expectations to students who more often than not had a completely different set of norms and expectations set by their own cultural background (Fennes and Hapgood, 1997).

I soon realised my initial impression of ‘international education’ was incorrect, and that in many a case it would be more appropriate to call the process ‘education in an international context.’ It seemed that the current institutional imperatives found in international education appeared to be focusing on a ‘national’ rather than an ‘international’ perspective in their educational environment. This was occurring despite the fact that in the majority of cases the term ‘international’ was a part of the school name, and perhaps more importantly, that the origins of the majority of academic environments in place paid no more than passing reference to the very concept of ‘international education’.

Why would this be the case? It was possible that the placement of the word ‘international’ in the name of a school was a misguided attempt to identify the nature of the school, or from a perhaps more cynical perspective, it was outright false advertising. Eventually, after discussion with others, I was reasonably sure that in the majority of cases the concept of an ‘international education’ was not fully understood. I further realized that there appeared to be a number of basic socio-political predicaments present due primarily to the evolving nature of our world society, and mass education’s resultant sliding inability to maintain its own relevancy. This may sound like a sweeping statement, but I have found that most educators share this sense of irrelevancy bearing down on them.

We all know the concept of mass education started in an earlier age (Beare and Slaughter, 1993), with the prime motive focusing on the socialisation of the child for the society in which he/she were to live (Lawton, 1975). From all appearances, however, this model of education and socialisation was effective for the time in which it was created, but perhaps it is time to question whether a continuation of the same curricular and structural approach is still appropriate for the world of today given the speed of social change and the evolution of its accompanying complexity.

Evidence of the need for refinement is apparently more sensed than understood; one can walk into many a school around the world and have a conversation that will focus on the academic environment, and these conversations could be summarized thus - that many current systems of education are finding it difficult to synchronise their efforts with the surrounding fast-paced societal change simply because the educational imperatives driving western educational dogma from that earlier age are thoroughly entrenched, and that therefore any viable alternatives become burdened by historic expectations. Interestingly, however, when the conversation turns to the foci of the academic curriculum, there appears to be strong general agreement that change should indeed occur (Zsebik, 2003), and it should come sooner rather than later.

This is not to state that the concept of mass education is obsolete. I believe the standard business models for academic institutions are still serviceable (see below), and that the current social structure of our civilization requires the actual physical institution and all of its built- in imperatives (ibid., 2003). To maintain our relevancy in the marketplace, however, it is important that we determine if the academic product of these institutions are in need of some refinement. The very notion of survival may in the end prove the impetus for academic change should other alternatives (e.g. home schooling via the internet) become more of a distinct possibility. There is a continuing prospect that the school as an institution will come under a great deal of pressure to justify its existence, and the only way we can do that is to refine the academic output to synchronise with the needs of the society the institution is meant to serve.

This then provided the impetus for my research, through which I attempted a deconstruction of the academic environment to better determine the socio-political influences at work. Further, it was necessary to determine how these influences shape the educational outcomes of the student and whether these outcomes help, or hinder, the goals of an ‘international education’.

Background to the Vision

As we all know, education will always need a goal or mission to direct the outcome of the learner. What can be at issue, however, is the (un)intentional recycling of goals that were perhaps more pertinent in the past, with the addition of some cosmetic changes to personify the notion of progress. This may have happened for a number of reasons, all of them relating to the forces at work within the specified community. To reiterate, these reasons could include ignorance, ossification, or even deliberate maintenance of a hegemonic focus for political ends. There is, however, no convincing reason to perpetuate these approaches when they no longer serve the needs of that society. But then the question remains – how does one break a cycle of this nature?

In my thesis I began by attempting to identify and galvanise particular concepts central to the understanding of education generally, and then to follow with a determination of what constitutes an ‘international education’ and what made it different from ‘education in an international context’ This may sound like the splitting of hairs, but the difference between these two ideas is pivotal to achieving a more informed analysis.

To begin, it was necessary to recognise that an academic environment is created from many different elements, and these elements in turn will have a direct influence on the socio-political outcome of a student. These outcomes can be described as follows:
· The transformative intellectual is one who has been given the opportunity to utilise his/her intellectual powers to solve problems and deal with specific issues that bear relevance to the situation in which he/she finds him/herself.
· The critical intellectual may be defined as one who has been given the necessary information and possibly skills to see the problems and opportunities in his/her environment but lacks the impetus or intellectual scope to affect serious change.
· The accommodating intellectual can be likened to an individual who is aware of the needs, problems and opportunities of his environment, but attempts very little to affect change due to his/her belief that nothing will change
· The hegemonic intellectual is an individual who has been given only the ‘necessary’ information such that the status quo will be maintained within society.
(Zsebik, 2000)

Secondly, what will be included in this academic environment can be evaluated through an analysis of the socio-political constructs of the academic setting. To further develop a more cohesive picture of this ‘transformative’ academic environment, we must also focus on the different influences affecting an educational institution. To put it briefly, I identified these influences with an acronym that brings a smile to Star Trek fans everywhere. It is S.P.A.C.E and stands for the following:

S = Student
P = Parent
A = Administration
C = Curricula
E = Educator

“This mnemonic that was chosen to summarise the elements found within a school is not without reason. Firstly, the physical ‘S.P.A.C.E’ a school utilizes would have little relevant meaning if these elements were not to interact to form a community, but at the same time this ‘community’ could not be created without the ‘S.P.A.C.E’ that the school provides. It is within this ‘S.P.A.C.E that the community and therefore the school and its educational agendas are defined. It is in effect an ideal representation of the interactive framework found within a specified educational setting.” (Zsebik, 2003)

Two other aspects concerning the use of ‘S.P.A.C.E’ as a defining element include the necessity of each of these elements to be available within the academic setting of a school, and finally that if one of the letter representations were to be replaced or removed, then the concept school would be lost. In effect, there is an inseparable link between these five entities that cannot be altered without serious consequence to the concept. (ibid., 2003)

It is important to note right from the outset that the inclusion of the curriculum as an influential force is imperative. It is, after all, the adopted curriculum that organises the various information deigned to be representative of the wishes and/or values that particular academic community holds. From this perspective, one can surmise the import for educators to become aware, initially, of the socio-political environment in which they are working so that they are better able to understand those influences at work in the relative academic environment. To proceed, however, they must then deduce how these influences shape the educational outcomes of the student and whether these outcomes are positive or negative to the ultimate objective of an ‘international education’.

To develop a comprehensive understanding of those influences and related academic outcomes, educators must be aware of three different curricula that run correspondingly within any academic institution. The academic curriculum is the one that we are all familiar with as it dictates our teaching direction for each class. But then there is the hidden curriculum and the pastoral curriculum. The hidden curriculum is that which one doesn’t see but inherently senses. An example of this is that the teacher is the authority figure who tells the student not to chew gum in class. An example of the pastoral curriculum concerns itself with certain aspects found within the academic environment that are in place perhaps to ensure the safety and security of the student. The question then remains as to how these three curricula contribute to the outcome of the educational environment?

One way to determine this outcome would be to focus on what I have termed the Paradigmatic curriculum of an institution (ibid., 2003). This Paradigmatic curriculum signifies all three of the curricula and their contributions within one institution. When given collective coherence, they create the paradigm (hence the Paradigmatic Curriculum) under which that institution is operating, and this paradigm can be measured on a socio-political spectrum indicating the educational outcome that ranges from the hegemonic to the more appropriate transformative international-mindedness as outlined above. As part of this deconstruction, we must also include those levels of society affecting a student’s educational needs, ranging from the local to the international, to determine the issues and problems the student must be prepared to face in the future.

There will be guesswork in this process, but if there is a core of educational foresight, then we will be able to predict with some confidence the skills and knowledge bases a student will need when combined with the teaching of a critical-thinking and problem-solving process. Secondly, the importance of various curricular foci for the student would be determined through an evaluation of the socio-political constructs of the educational setting, in this case an ‘international’ setting. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there is the process of implementation. With this step, the educator would develop a thorough understanding of how to create an educational outcome that is both transformative and international (ibid., 2003). This last feature however is perhaps the most dangerous to the progressive educational mindset. Why? The following quote may help to illustrate my personal sense:

‘The voyage from first identification of student needs to eventual learner achievement is often stormy, but more good curricula sink without a trace on the shoals of implementation then at any other point.’ (Pratt, 1980)

In other words, the implementation of a curriculum is based on how effectively you can convince those involved that it is the right thing to do.

To summarize, when following an approach focusing on creating the appropriate intellectual mindset in the student, we may be able to achieve some headway. In some ways, there is nothing new to the process; the only difference is to place one’s parameters on a scale large enough to encompass a truly ‘international’ perspective, and this can only be accomplished through an ‘international’ educational concept that is shared by the community.

Envisioning the Future of International Education

‘International education’ as found in international schools and perhaps elsewhere can provide an educational community with a potential direction for education. Their growing appearance of these ‘international’ schools beside other world systems of education may indicate a strong desire for participation in this brand (at least as advertised) of education, and this desire is driven by a client base who may believe it could lead to a more fitting academic outcome for their child. In my experience the international schools in this system are well versed in working within a multicultural environment at a local through to an international level. Many of these international schools have also adopted curricular programmes such as the International Baccalaureate whose aim, as Roger Peel pointed out, has shifted its curricular emphases from ‘a curriculum for international schools’ to developing ‘an international curriculum for schools’ (Wallace, 1997). This shift in emphasis is important as it indicates a thoughtfulness to changes occurring within the educational landscape – one that is focused on developing an international-mindedness in the student.

What is of danger to this process, however, is the watering down and perhaps blatant disregard to the notion of an ‘international education’ for the purpose of catering to national/ imperialistic political agendas. To do something of this nature is contraindicative to the overall aims of an ‘international education’ paradigm and any policy adoption other than an international education paradigm serves few people’s best interest, particularly the students’, who will come away with nothing more than a confused concept of what it means to be part of an international society.

To this end, it is my belief that an educational environment servicing an international community must necessarily strive to create an international perspective addressing the needs and concerns of that socio-political setting. The seeds of this type of educational landscape can be found scattered throughout the international school community, and it is there we can perhaps find the solutions mass education may be looking for to become once more a directional rather historical force for our society. To all appearances, therefore, it appears the time is right to take seriously the notion of attempting to create an ‘international education’ whose focus is on the development of transformative international-mindedness in the student.

What this means is that we must now have a starting point from which we can better postulate potential directions that will allow education to remain effective and relevant for today’s society. We must focus our vision for education on developing an all-inclusive environment that allows for an ‘international education’; that is, one that allows the multitudinous groups interested in pursuing a mandate of knowledge, peace and lifelong learning a chance to achieve their full potential as part of the ‘international society.’

As a beginning to determining the different perspectives necessary to creating the appropriate transformative international intellect, I have identified 12 common characteristics that are applicable for an ‘international education’ (Zsebik, 2003). In every case, these characteristics are what I have also determined as of great import by those affected individuals participating in the ‘international education’ environment (see SPACE). These characteristics are as follows:

1. Balanced curriculum
2. Academically rigorous
3. Relate experience of classroom to outside world
4. High academic standards
5. Promoting ideals for international understanding
6. Responsible citizenship
7. Critical thinking skills
8. Lifelong learners
9. Participation in local and world affairs
10. Conscious of shared humanity that serves as universal bond
11. Respecting a variety of cultures and attitudes
12. Ability to communicate, implying bilingualism

All of the above are not new to the academic environment. Indeed, they are all from different existing sources that interestingly enough happen to agree independently on these characteristics (see Zsebik, 2003). These sources include not only academics approaching the issue from different perspectives, but they also include aspects derived from the major curricular programmes found currently in ‘education in an international context’. These common characteristics could provide a framework for a complete curricular programme that is able to address the issues and problems facing children as they prepare for tomorrow’s world. When paired with a more complete understanding of the inner workings of an academic institution as briefly outlined above, and a desire to create a transformative intellectual outcome in the student, there is a good chance that we as educators will have found a more appropriate educational vision for our students who are learning within an international educational environment.


Beare H & Slaughter R (1993), Education for the Twenty-First Century Routledge, London

Fennes H & Hapgood K (1997) Intercultural Learning in the Classroom, Cassell, London

Lawton D (1975) Class, Culture, and the Curriculum, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London

Pratt (1980)

Wallace E (ed) (April 1997) The IB Hexagon: Straitjacket or Flexible Model for the Future? IB World, Cardiff

Zsebik P in Hayden M & Thompson J eds. (2000b) International Schools and International Education Kogan Page, London

Zsebik P (2003) A Comparative Analysis of Four Approaches to Curriculum Offered in International Education (University of Bath, Ph.D Thesis)