What is International-Mindedness?

How internationally minded are you?

Education has always been perceived as a national priority. It has been the means of defining, debating and maintaining a nation’s culture from one generation to the next and therefore its very sense of identity. Furthermore, governments cannot ignore the broad relationship between education and economic prosperity. Decisions about who should teach, what they should teach and how they should teach it lie at the heart of cultural transmission. Whose view of the nation’s future needs should be promoted? Which selected elements of the nation’s culture should be nurtured?

There have always been people ready to think beyond national frontiers in order to imagine things from a different perspective. That does not require anyone to surrender their national identity and culture, but rather to take notice of the identity and culture of others. Indeed, it is only when we know and celebrate our own heritage and culture - warts and all - that we can start knowing and cherishing the heritage and culture of others.

Today, in an age where there is an increasing emphasis on connectedness, this is a practical necessity for us all. We live in an age of increasing international mobility in business and dramatic global migration patterns.

  • One of the seminal IB documents, IB Diploma Programme: From principles into practice (2009) speaks of “the need to fit academic studies into a human and global context….. Our students must develop the necessary skills, habits of mind and the moral and ethical values to be able to understand and manage the inter connectivity and complexity of the modern world.”
  • In an IB position paper Irene Davy promotes the IB as a curriculum for global citizenship: “The world is changing, and there is evidence that we are entering a “post-international environment”: borders are weakening, multiple citizenships are more commonplace, migration has reached record levels, and we have encountered the “death of distance”. “We are increasingly living next to, working alongside, sharing our leisure with, and choosing our partners from people with different cultural backgrounds”. 
  • A recent study of the skills required by businesses throughout the world has concluded that “The modern workplace is increasingly globalized and competitive. Communicating with customers, colleagues and partners across international borders is now an everyday occurrence for many workers around the world. Consequently, employers are under strong pressure to find employees who are not only technically proficient, but also culturally astute and able to thrive in a global work environment.” Culture at work: the value of intercultural skills in the workplace, British Council 2013.

Becoming an IB World School often requires changes in the organizational culture including the acceptance of new values and beliefs, new behaviours, new structures and new practices in line with the IB philosophy and the IB Programme Standards and Practices. This section will explore the concept of international mindedness:

  • What does the IB mean by international-mindedness?
  • What characteristics are internationally minded individuals expected to possess?

Defining International-Mindedness

The world in which you were born is just one model of reality.  Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you:  they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.”  ~Wade Davis

The 21st century world is a globally interconnected one in which people are expected to be internationally minded, able to navigate and transcend national and cultural borders (IB Standard A4). Many words and ideas exist for describing the need for education that focuses on preparing students to be responsible members of the global community. Since 1968 the IB has used the umbrella term ‘international mindedness’ to describe the aim of such an education. There are many other terms in play in the field: global/international/ cosmopolitan/ multi/intercultural consciousness, awareness, perspective, dimension/ competence, citizenship, civics – each has its own connotations and utility.

The IB's definition of international-mindedness has evolved and matured. The 2009 definition largely equated it to global and intercultural understanding. Today the IB definition has incorporated two more dimensions, namely global engagement and multilingualism. These three dimensions are embedded in the IB Learner Profile. An internationally minded learner is one who is a competent communicator, open-minded and knowledgeable. The IB recognizes that their original definition of international mindedness arises out of 'western knowledge' and they are mindful of the influence of non-Western linguistic, humanistic, scientific, mathematical and artistic cultures.

Activity 1: What do you think international-mindedness means?

Before we consider the history of international-mindedness and what the IB means by this concept, reflect on what you as a school think international-mindedness is.

  • Individually: what ten words come to mind when you think of international-mindedness?
  • As a group collate them as a Word clouds .
  • Reflect: which words occur more than once? Which are the top three words?

Activity 2: Facets of International-mindedness

Consider the following facets of ‘international-mindedness’. Organize the statements into a Diamond 9 with the most important aspect being at the top.

  • Being open to different outlooks and world views
  • Ability to understand different cultural contexts ands viewpoints
  • Being able to take yourself away from the center of what is right and acceptable.
  • Demonstrating respect for others
  • Not to narrow minded
  • Multilingual
  • Knowing where you stand in relation to cultural relativism – being able to substantiate your cultural position
  • Ability to work in diverse teams
  • A declining sense of egocentricity
  • Ability to adjust communication
  • Adapts to different cultures
  • The oneness of humanity
  • Aware of own culture
  • A critical examination of oneself and one’s traditions
  • Concern and ability to think what it might be like to be in the shoes of a different person.
  • Being globally engaged – a commitment to address humanity’s greatest 21st century challenges
  • Examine the ideas of others that challenge their own beliefs
  • Go beyond mere tolerance and acceptance
  • Enjoy the complexity of ambiguity
  • Nonetheless reach rational conclusions


  • On what criteria did you decide which statements to include in the 9 and which to leave out?
  • How did you order your statements?
  • What conclusions did you reach in your discussion?

Activity 3: International-Mindedness and the Learner Profile

The IB describes attributes of international mindedness in the IB learner profile.

  • Watch the following video and reflect how the attributes of the IB Learner Profile are central to being internationally-minded:

  • Read the descriptors of the IB learner profile and pick out all the words that are associated with international mindedness. You can access the descriptors on our IB Learner Profile page.
  • How do these attributes describe the person who is able to help create a better and more peaceful world?

Activity 4: International Mindedness Quotes

  • Read the following quotes.
  • Circle a single word that really stands out for you.
  • Underline a phrase that is particularly important or powerful.
  • Highlight a sentence that has deepened your thinking.
  • Explain your choice.

"I see international as a disposition and focus that seeks to help us become better at 'existing, occurring or carrying on' as positively and as harmlessly as possible with those who are different from and, at the same time, equal to, ourselves....If engaging positively, productively, and enjoyably with an other is at the heart of what it means to be international, then all schools that seek to help students grow in this way can be called international. International stops being a locational adjective; it becomes a dispositional one." Skelton, M. What Should Students Learn in International Schools, in International Schools: current issues and future prospects, Hayden, M & Thompson, J. (2016).

“International mindedness is about much more than knowledge of the world or speaking multiple languages, though both of these are of great value. It is a term that describes how people think about the world and how they see, react and respond to it. It is deeper and more profound than knowledge; it is about attitudes and values, mindedness or consciousness. It seems an enormous responsibility for teachers to have to develop international mindedness in their students, to maybe have to change the way that some students see the world, but that is what the IB is calling for in its programmes, and that is what schools buy into when they become IB World Schools. Through its programmes, the IB is aspirational and idealistic in a way that few other educational programmes or national curricula are today.” Fabian, J. Pedagogy for international education in International Schools: current issues and future prospects, Hayden, M & Thompson, J. (2016).

Dig deeper

The IB and Intenational Mindedness

Activity A:

Click here to read a blog in which ten IB community members share their perspective on the concept of international mindedness and why it is central to the IB educational philosophy.

The following link provides another viewpoint of what it means to be internationally-minded:

  • Click here to access a Principal's blog discussion from Hong Kong.

Professor Kathy Short's article Exploring a Curriculum that is International is a useful think piece to do a Jigsaw a document or book activity with. The document can be divided up according to its subtitles: Teaching for intercultural understanding, Personal Cultural Identities, Cross-Cultural Studies, Integration or International Perspectives, Inquiries on Global Issues and Critically reading the Word and the World. The article can be accessed by accessing the following URL:https://www.coe.arizona.edu/sites/coe/files/a_curriculum_that_is_international.pdf

Activity B: IB Thought Pieces

Assign the following readings to different members of the group. Each is to provide a brief summary of what the article says international-mindedness is. Do this by using the following  Think Piece protocol:

  • Allow individuals appropriate time (5-10 minutes) to read the think piece in silence. A facilitator is the time keeper.
  • Each individual has the opportunity to say what resonated with them. Other participants listen. This is not the opportunity for discussion but to listen to each other.
  • As a group have a discussion around the key concepts included in the term international mindedness. Is there agreement? Could you pick out key words that are central to the concept?
  • As a group summarize the key points that have been raised ready to feed back to the facilitator or whole group.

The articles are:

Promoting International Mindedness in Our Schools, Davy, I., IB, 2005.

Research summary: Conceptualizing and assessing international-mindedness (IM): An exploratory study,Paloma Castro, Ulla Lundgren and Jane Woodin, 2013, IB. 

Pages 12-25 of 21st century international mindedness: An exploratory study of its conceptualisation and assessment, Singh,M.,Qi, J, 2013, IB.

They can be accessed via the IB Online Curriculum Centre.

Bunting, N., How international is your school? January 15, 2017: “International mindedness should always be purposeful and meaningful, and should never just be a token gesture.”

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