How does the International Baccalaureate's Interpretation of International Mindedness Develop in Learners Over Time? A Case Study of an Elite, IB Continuum, International School in a Tier 1 City on Mainland China.

  • David Whitmarsh

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis aims to address the efficacy of the three main International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes when they are conducted in a context far removed from their original
mandate, namely that of mainland China. One of the primary goals of Geneva-registered IB programmes is to instil an attitude of international mindedness (IM) in their graduates, principally through the 10 attributes of the Learner Profile. However, within the current literature, there is little to suggest what this may look like in practice, especially in a Chinese context, and also whether the existing structures within the IB framework are conducive to producing what the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) would consider ‘internationally minded’ students. A more nuanced understanding of how IM develops and grows in this context is becoming increasingly pertinent with the near exponential rise in elite IB international schools in mainland China. Much of the literature that addresses the concept of IM, what it is, and how it should be delivered has been approached through a Western liberal-humanist lens and tends to be inconclusive about practice. This has potentially neglected the educational and national cultures of other significant areas of the globe, such as China. I conducted a case study of an ‘IB Continuum’ school in a tier-1 city in mainland China. Through a mixed-methods approach of surveys with students (n = 264), teachers (n = 60), parents (n = 136), and focus groups with students (n=29), I set out to address this discrepancy. I created a unique conceptual framing for my findings with the work of Pierre Bourdieu and his theories on fields, structures, and habitus being combined with the Bioecological Model of Urie Bronfenbrenner. I used the critical realist understanding of a stratified reality to ontologically position my work. This work contributes to knowledge in the following way: I was able to postulate a conceptual model to understand the process of creating internationally minded students within this context. Additionally, I found that, even in this Chinese context, IM is not thought to be supported through ‘traditional’ teaching methods but instead grows through exposure and is linked strongly to the educational field and structures within it – namely student and teacher demographics and interactions, specific pedagogy, curriculum outlook, and extracurricular activities. Additionally, due in part to cultures external to the school, time spent within the programme and age of commencement were found to be significant, with exposure to the programme at an early age considered a powerful factor in the development and internalisation of IM. Furthermore, the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) was considered the least conducive to producing internationally minded students. The practical implications of this thesis could be significant for the IBO and international schools within similar contexts
while complementing and addressing issues raised in several recent papers (Barratt Hacking et al., 2018; Bunnell, 2020; Hayden et al., 2020; Mansilla and Wilson, 2020; Wright, Ma and Auld, 2021). A re-evaluation of how the IBDP is conducted and its primary goals and focus may need to be undertaken, with a greater emphasis on pedagogical approach and social interactions suggested. However, there would undoubtedly appear to be benefits to running all three tiers of the IB programme, provided that the school can create internal structures in their institution that are conducive to the growth of IM.
Date of Award24 May 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorTristan Bunnell (Supervisor) & Lizzi Milligan (Supervisor)


  • international mindedness
  • International Baccalaureate
  • International Education
  • international schools
  • International schooling
  • China
  • Chinese education
  • habitus
  • Pierre Bourdieu
  • Urie Bronfenbrenner

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