International schools: shifting sands and winds of change

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


Although the history of international schools suggests that a case may be made for their origins to be traced back to the nineteenth century, the ‘modern era’ of international schools is generally conceived as having begun around a century ago. While a steady growth in numbers of such schools could be observed until the late 20th century, it is largely during the past thirty years that the growth in numbers of such institutions has been unprecedented, associated with increasing diversity as the demand for such schools has extended beyond the largely globally-mobile professional families for whom they provided a form of education for children away from their national context. More recently, an international school education has been sought by rapidly increasing numbers of children from the aspirational middle classes in some developing countries, by whom an international school education may be perceived as providing a competitive edge and, effectively, a passport to a western, English-medium form of university education and subsequent career and lifestyle. This chapter begins with an overview of developments in the international school context from what we suggest may be thought of as its origins to the present day, including a number of attempts made at different times to categorise international schools according to a range of educational, social and political features. Attention is drawn to challenges arising from the absence of a universally accepted definition of the international school concept, as well as what can be an unhelpful lack of clarity in terminology in associated concepts including international education, international curriculum and global citizenship, in both international schools and national school systems. In raising a number of issues and challenges for international schools both currently and, it is suggested, in the coming years, the chapter includes consideration of what it means to offer an ‘international’ (as opposed to ‘western’) form of education, and the extent to which schools offering an international education should be expected to respond particularly to issues of contemporary global concern including, for instance, the Climate Emergency, the Black Lives Matter movement and questions relating to decolonisation of the curriculum. Of no less concern as international schools continue to grow in number and diversity are questions relating to the impact on national education systems of increasing numbers of teachers being recruited to the growing numbers of international schools worldwide, and the extent to which international schools may be viewed as offering an elite form of education which, while in one sense ideologically focused and encouraging the development of attributes generally perceived as wholly positive for future global citizens, may at the same time be contributing to the exacerbation of differences in the rapidly changing and increasingly globalised world.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Encyclopedia of Education (4th ed.)
Place of PublicationFrance
PublisherElsevier Masson
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9780128186299
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2023


  • Globalisation
  • International curriculum
  • International education
  • International schools
  • Internationalisation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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