Global Citizenship Education or Elite Reproduction?

After more than a decade working in international schools and living and working with expatriates from all walks of life in three different countries, it would be easy to see why I could define myself as a global citizen. Furthermore, the International Baccalaureate (IB) schools that I’ve had the privilege of working in promote their strong sense of international mindedness through global concepts in curriculum and international service learning experiences for their students. Global citizenship education (GCE) would appear to be, after a decade of apparent immersion in a global paradigm, be inherent in my practice and outlook on the world. However, as the rush of living overseas has worn off over the years, I’ve come to realize, and be more critical of, the elite circle of mobile labour my family and I inhabit. 

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We are more what Gardner-McTaggart (2016) calls a “globalised class” (p. 8), than we are global citizens. We enjoy the company of people like us. People who are educated, mobile, very often multi-lingual, and most certainly privileged (Groves & O’Connor, 2018) over the local cultures they live in. The global class is often present in any given country because the local population does not possess the necessary skills base for industry, so this elite group of people bring their western European values, and sense of self importance to a nation outside their own. These very same people send their children to the schools I work in. In a sense we are a positive feedback loop for a very specific group of educated, specialized, English speaking, mobile people. So can an international school be a facilitator of GCE? It’s an interesting question, considering that international schools are often community hubs for the elitist global class who in fact live in a bubble that reflects themselves, rather than a diverse range of cultural representation that is often implied in the name ‘international school’. According to the United Nations, global citizenship refers to having a “sense of belonging to a broader community and common humanity” (UNESCO, 2015).  So the question is can international schools act as models for global citizenship, or are they replicating wealthy western privilege in the guise of a soft global citizenship education (Andreotti, 2006)?

Deep Global Citizenship Education

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In their framework for global citizenship education the United Nations emphasises the interdependence of the world’s politics, economy, society and culture, and the need to understand our connections as humans from local to national to global participants (UNESCO, 2015).  Very often global citizenship is loosely seen as an initiative for everyone on our planet to happily help each other, and at the same time get along. Celebrity activists such as Bono, Angelina Jolie, and Oprah Winfrey have made great strides in promoting the thinking of what Vanessa Andreotti (2006) describes as doing what you love, but saving the world while you’re doing it. This popular notion, repeated often in western culture to encourage our young people to pursue their passions and make a difference on the global stage, fails to encourage deep and effective global citizenship by not addressing “the economic and cultural roots of the inequalities in power and wealth/labour distribution in a global complex and uncertain system” (p. 41). Andreotti’s central concern and argument is that if the world produces a generation that wants to make a difference to people on a global scale, but is only equipped and capable to do it by projecting their myths and beliefs as universal, we will end up with a reproduction of colonial power relations and violence (2006). As a response to this troubling phenomena, Andreotti introduces an argument for critical citizenship education (2006). She begins with Andrew Dobson who challenges the idea of a global citizen and global interdependence by pointing out that there is no examination of power relations among nations, and that not all people have equal global mobility. In fact it is only the nations with power who dictate global affairs. They privilege their citizens with mobility in a global market and the capacity for global employment (Dobson, 2005 as cited in Andreotti, 2006; Shiva 1998 as cited in Andreotti, 2006). Other nations on the periphery of that privilege often suffer global mobility barriers. Andreotti (2006) is critical of Dobson saying his account “over simplif[ies]” (p. 44) the North-South relationship, and that there are more “complex” (p. 41) issue at play.

Diving deeper into the complexity of the relations between North and South, Andreotti (2006) presents Gayatri Spivak who says that by projecting western values and interests as universal, acts to naturalise western supremacy by “the worldling of the West as world” (1990 as cited in Andreotti, 2006). This process of normalising the values and dominance of the West, eliminates the significance of colonialism and its purposeful actions in disabling the Third World in the “maintenance of…[the West’s] wealth” (Andreotti, 2006, p. 44). Furthermore, this narratives subverts the South into buying from the North, and creates the discourse of development furthering the notion that poverty is a lack of resources and market access as opposed to the reality that it is a lack of control over the production of their own resources (Andreotti, 2006; Bicuum, 2005 as cited in Andreotti, 2006). Finally, the South forgets that it has been exploited and manipulated by the worldling process, believes in western supremacy, and wants to civilise itself and catch up with the West (Andreotti, 2006). These notions of power differentials among nations, and a narrative privileging western global interests has significant impact on the idea of global citizenship education. For Spivak, the significance it not so much the geographic lines, but the globalized professional class involved in development. This elite group consisting of the privileged from both North and South, if unchecked, will continue to project ethnocentric and developmentalist mythologies onto the Third World people that they come to develop (Spivak, 2004 as cited in Andreotti, 2006). This globalised professional class are more than likely to be found as families in international schools. It would appear that an international school would be a petri dish for the reproduction of universal western values. Particularly because, though IB international schools require service learning and international mindedness as part of their practice, the approach to GCE is more than likely what Andreotti calls soft global citizenship (2006) and lacks any critical depth. Simply because to dig critically may in fact be too much of a risk for a teacher to consider in light of the fact that they would be making their elite community uncomfortable. However, it is important to not run the risk of repeating the western universal mythology of supremacy. Considering Andreotti’s (2006) notion of critical literacy for global citizenship education becomes essential.

Critical literacy in global citizenship education is not about establishing a right or a wrong perspective, but rather an opportunity giving learners space to consider the implications of “power, voice and difference” (Andreotti, 2006, p. 49) Critical literacy is based upon the notion that our knowledge is incomplete, and rooted in our own culture, perspective and experiences. To connect with others and to understand their perspectives, cultures, and experiences is to fill in our gaps in our own knowledge and change our assumptions. Andreotti concludes that educators in the North need to engage in critical literacy in global citizenship education to address their own assumptions and limitations, or they are at risk of repeating the cycle of harm to those they wish to help (2006). Andreotti’s conclusions are even more important in an international school setting in which the whole school community is possibly involved in the reproduction of the myth universal western values and privilege. This is however, easier said than done considering the complexity of the international school paradigm.

Tensions Between Globalist and Internationalist

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Cambridge and Thompson (2004) unpack the globalist and the internationalist approach to international education. The globalist approach to international education expresses free market values through a meritocratic competition and positional competition with national school systems, quality assurance of educational standards through international accreditation to serve the mobility of the student client, and finally, creates a convergence of global educational values as that of the transnational capitalist class (Cambridge & Thompson, 2004). On the other hand the internationalist approach is rooted in international relations and the spirit of international peace and understanding between nations (Cambridge & Thompson, 2004), much like the International Baccalaureate Organization who strive to create a more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect (2017). Cambridge and Thompson go on to say the internationalist approach values moral development, service to the community, responsible citizenship, cultural diversity all through the lens of international mindedness (2004). They discuss three types of applied international education with an internationalist approach, unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral as described by Robert Leach as a way to maintain relations with other nations (1969 as cited in Cambridge & Thompson, 2004). 

Unilateral international education is often in the form of an American school, or a British school. Students in these schools are often limited in their ability to interact with local community due to language, culture, and or politics. Essentially these schools deliver a preferred national curriculum from any given expat’s home country (Sylvester, 1998 as cited in Cambridge & Thompson, 2004). These kinds of isolated international schools have given birth to the classic expat bubble in which foreigners live in privileged isolation from their host nation while being prepared to reintegrate into their host nation at any given moment (Leach, 1969 as cited in Cambridge & Thompson, 2004; Pearce, 1994a as cited in Cambridge & Thompson, 2004). Bilateral international education is a more conventional university level exchange program between two countries. Often focusing on short term experiences for students to gain some understanding of another nations’ experience. Very much what Andreotti (2006) would describe as soft global citizenship experience. An experience limited in scope and focused on the niceties of meeting someone new. Finally multilateral international education is defined as two or more governments coming together to fund and create one educational institution (Leach, 1969 as cited in Cambridge & Thompson, 2004). The example given is the United Nations (UN) schools (Walker 2000, as cited in Cambridge & Thompson, 2004), which is interesting considering that there are two UN schools currently in existence, one in New York City the other in Hanoi, Vietnam, and according to their websites boast loose affiliations with the UN and say nothing as to multilateral cooperation as the root of their existence (UNIS; UNIS Hanoi). By all appearances these UN schools’ internet profile may actually reflect more of an appeal to Gardner-McTaggart’s (2016) globalised class and the other side of international education, the globalist approach.

From the perspective of the globalised view, international education is defined by the “transnational practices that are identified with the process of globalisation” (Cambridge & Thompson, 2004, p. 168). Though international education can be traced to its origins in international relations (Walker, 2000 as cited in Cambridge & Thompson, 2004), in its contemporary context it is a part of economic globalisation and responsible for the spread of free market values (Cambridge & Thompson, 2004). Though IB international schools have a genuine mission to build global citizens in their student bodies, they are at the same time deeply embedded into globalist culture, and by default serve the globalist class.  They describe international education as “ambiguous and contradictory [with]…dual aspirations for international understanding and global free trade” (Cambridge & Thompson, 2004, p. 172). Cambridge and Thompson (2004) see international education as an ongoing reconciliation between the contrasting globalist and internationalist approaches evident in the international sphere. This tension challenges the notion that international schools are actually agents of social responsibility via GCE programs.

Sandra Dunne and Julie Andrews investigate if international schools could be agents of social change in developing countries. Though not a direct look at global citizenship education, social responsibility plays a key part in GCE, and their study offers insight into how international schools shape student communities and their perceptions of their host community. They examined the ways that two international schools in the Philippines develop social responsibility through connections with the community (Dunne & Andrews, 2010). However, they do not look at the children of the elite global class, but rather in they examined the host nationals at the schools, or in other words, the local elite who were in attendance. Both schools who participated offered the IB Diploma program, were co-educational and had roughly the same proportion of Fillipino students. The students who participated all identified as Fillipino (Dunne & Andrews, 2010). The study aimed to look at the more nuanced influence the schools had on students’ development of social responsibility within the local community. First of all, they found that Fillipino students felt that being able to speak the local language better served in their ability to engage and connect with the community in service projects. At the same time, their ability to speak English marked them as educated, elite, and wealthy and able to continue to maintain those privileges over other Fillipino classes. In terms of the academic programs in both schools, students perceived that they had little opportunity to develop social responsibility because of the curriculum’s lack of local relevance. Teachers however, disagreed and felt that the curriculum either contained enough local content or was international in orientation. The IB-DP program does not have any direct values education, but because of the strong Christian values in the Fillipino community, most students reported that their sense of social responsibility was rooted in their religious values. Furthermore, both schools showed evidence of an understanding of local and international politics. Hence, in both schools there was enough scope in curriculum to increase students connections with the local community and increase their social responsibility (Dunne & Andrews, 2010).

Local Fillipino teachers were the driver in both schools’ service learning programs through their connections with the local communities, common cultural identity, and longer term tenure than the transient expat. Furthermore the local religious and traditional values already mentioned were informally emphasised through their interactions with students (Dunne & Andrews, 2010). On the other hand the expatriate teachers prioritized students’ academic progress, but due to an often difference in values from local students they felt “a social agenda was not in their job description or the school’s charter” (Dunne & Andrews, 2010, p. 31). Despite the value transmission from Fillipino teachers, service learning commitments were generally paternalistic and oriented towards fundraising and gift giving than any interaction with those in need, and neither school were giving information about the “character and causes of social inequality” (Dunne & Andrews, 2010, p. 34). Ultimately the research showed that though it could be assumed that Fillipino students would have a connection to their local community, it was limited to the upper classes, and that their culture identity was less important than class (Dunne & Andrews, 2010). It is important to note that for the privileged and wealthy class in a poor country, enrolling their children in an international school may be a purposeful strategy towards “maintaining and reproducing existing socio-economic privilege (Cambridge, 2003; Lowe, 2000; Pearce, 2007; Wilkinson, 1998)” (Dunne & Edwards, 2010). This reproduction of privilege could be a phenomena of the fact that the international school isolates its community from the local community (Allen, 2002 as cited in Dunne & Edwards, 2010) connecting them more with the West and the global elite than with their own nation (Dunne & Edwards, 2010). In the case of this study it would appear the international school may be more a vehicle for class maintenance than development of critical global citizens.

Alexander Gardner-McTaggart (2016) draws some different conclusions about the IB programmes in international schools, particularly in the global South. The core of what he is saying is that the IB is playing an important role in facilitating a concept of global citizenship in a globalised world that is in need of a “global civil society“ (p. 5). Different from the dilemma highlighted by Cambridge and Thompson (2004) between globalist and internationalist, Gardner-McTaggart (2016) suggest that IB programmes may be instead “ tried and tested social engineering, adapted for a secular globalised age” (p. 2). He explores the complexity of multiple forces pushing and pulling on IB international schools including the globalist internationalist dilemma already discussed, the forces of globalization deepening “social inequality” (p. 2), the “contested” (p. 1) notion of global citizenship education, all in the context of the rise in popularity of IB education in the global south for it’s “advantage” (p. 1). He suggest that because the middle classes of the global south have been “born into” (p. 6) globalisation and are not struggling to survive it like their Northern counterparts, and they are keen to invest in an education that will reproduce the social capital for their children that has advantaged them. The growth of the developing world’s middle class, projected to be three billion in the next seventeen years, means that the globalised class will neither be European nor North American. In terms of GCE he concludes from the literature that because of this changing demographic, GCE needs to “strike a chord of harmony” (p. 9) between the best of the Eurocentric modern viewpoint, and the best of the south to create a truly equitable global citizen (Gardner-McTaggart, 2016). Despite this, parents in the global south are choosing IB education not for its equitable approach to GCE, but for its status, marketplace value and social capital it gives. GCE in fact is a new concept that may be “irrelevant” (p. 22) to parents. According to Gardner-McTaggart (2016) the IB has found its role as an equitable provider of GCE that does not reproduce colonial racism and the myth of Western supremacy, while at the same time providing a globalized social capital that is now in demand from our globalised world. There is in fact not a dilemma according to Gardner-MacTaggart (2016), but rather a perfect “balance” (p.24) for our globalised world through secular values based education, containing leadership and market value, all through an equitable form of GCE. Essential he concludes that the IB framework is the ideal formula for our globalised world. However, not all of the globalised class are willing to adhere to this elite narrative.

An Alternative Elite

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As the elite of the global south continue to grow and pursue the advantages of international education for their children to build global social capital and replicate their privilege, it is interesting to note that there are western expatriates who, though they are quite capable of sending their children to elite international schools, are choosing to send their children to local schools in their host country to build language skills, and cultural competence in pursuit of global citizenship. Julian Groves and Paul O’Connor (2018) examined wealthy expatriate parents in Hong Kong who purposefully sent their young children to local Chinese schools where the language of instruction was Cantonese. In the context of post colonial Hong Kong there were several factors driving this move. As previously noted, the middle class in the global south is increasing, and it is no different in Hong Kong. Traditional expatriots held privileged positions in the Civil service and corporate sectors; however, with the return of Hong Kong to China, and the pressures of globalisation, western expats have found themselves dealing with economic uncertainties once reserved for the working class as their positions have been equalised with Chinese nationals (Groves & O’connor, 2018). At the same time criticism that third culture kids are privileged and isolated through international school education (Wordie, 2015 as cited in Groves & O’Connor, 2018) has driven expat parents to view their expatness as a disadvantage in post-colonial Hong Kong, and driven them to want to shed the colonial baggage of their predecessors and write themselves and their children a new narrative (Groves & O’connor, 2018). They sought to do this through school choice and “construct a ‘global child’ through language mastery, bi-culturalism and egalitarianism” (p. 385). Parents participating in the study cited that language acquisition was the primary motivation for enrolling their child into local school with Cantonese as the primary language of instruction. Some perceived this a necessary skill for future employability for their child. They feared a monolingual third culture kid, unsuited to live in their home country, who would likely move back to Hong Kong, but would be disadvantaged to compete with their global peers who spoke both English and Cantonese (Groves & O’Connor, 2018). Parents felt it was their duty to provide their children with this kind of “trans-cultural capital”(p. 386). Other parents claimed they were looking for a deeper immersion into Chinese culture. They sought a “biculturalism” (p.387) that represented an identity that was not just about the superficial language skill, but rather a cultural immersion that countered the in between identity of other expatriate kids. Some parents in the study claimed to be making an outright choice to reject the elitism and the purposeful “communication of wealth” (p.388) that came with sending a child to an international school. Furthermore, participant parents said that the local school provided more of a diverse range of children and taught lessons on reducing class divides and racism. However, parents were challenged and forced to manage the school environment they had hoped would shape their children’s global citizenship ideals and academic skills they wanted their children to acquire.

Participant parents were surprised that, despite their own egalitarian views of how a child should be able to be immersed in a culture they had always lived in, that they encountered barriers because of their whiteness, and an assumption from Chinese schools that their child would never be able to master Cantonese. These lower-expectations from Chinese teachers were an affront to these parent’s expectation of high academic success for their children. As a result of these barriers, parents categorised schools as ‘local’ or ‘local local’, meaning that some schools were more open to foreign children, and/or were local with an international attitude, while others were not conducive to what they wanted (Groves & O’Connor, 2018). Furthermore parents mitigated the traditional views of local schools for their children by living in gentrified diverse neighbourhoods that were populated by Hong Kong nationals who were representative of the globalised class as opposed to the ‘local local’ nationals.

Groves and O’Connor (2018) described a global imaginary of expat parents in Hong Kong in which the immersion into local culture through the learning of language would disappear racial differences, and level out economic classism by exposing their children to different economic groups of Chinese nationals. What Groves and O’Connor (2018) actually found was that these expats parents, despite best intentions, remained in their expat bubbles. Learning Cantonese was not a necessity for their children since they already spoke English the dominant language of status and power in Hong Kong. Furthermore, if Chinese primary school didn’t work out for them they had the resources to fall back on an elite international school. Though these parents sought out a diverse environment for their children, they did little or nothing to address or alleviate the causes of the poorer classes that they encountered. These issues were ignored and seemed to “replicate the aloof colonial mentality of Hong Kong’s expatriates from a bygone era” (p. 393). According to Groves & O’Connor (2018) their participants revealed their prejudice with their classification of there being such a thing as too local, and really were not looking for a diverse schooling opportunity, but rather a specific kind of diverse schooling experience that mirrored their multi-lingual, educated, and geographically mobile identity. In other words, their personal vision of global citizenship.


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Writing from the perspective of an educator deeply immersed in an a system of international education, the implications of this review are stark. The world of international education is an elite bubble, and is a powerful vehicle for the reproduction of global social “inequalities” (Andreotti, 2006, p.41). There appears to be more evidence for Gardner-McTaggart’s (2016) globalised class, than there is evidence that international schools are broadening students’ sense of community and common humanity as the UNESCO (2015) defines GCE. There is definitely little evidence that GCE is being addressed at the critical literacy level that Andreotti suggest is necessary. In my own IB school in the context of Andreotti’s (2006) soft versus critical GCE, makes the work that we do in terms of service to others seem shallow. There could be a lot more depth done by intentionally connecting the units of work in the classrooms to the larger service trips that are planned, and the smaller individual student efforts. Furthermore, though critical thinking is a much talked about skill, there is little intentional effort to embed it into units of work. Though our school prides itself in being a four program IB school, parents are not choosing us for our GCE program. Their decisions to join reflects Gardner-McTaggart’s (2016) point that the choice is about status and advantage the school may offer their child. Parents in international schools are buying a product, and they have no concern, or would not have any need to even consider such things as Cambridge and Thompson (2004) dilemma between an internationalist approach and a globalist approach to their child’s education. Regardless of my own perspective as an educator who sees the value of GCE framed in critical literacy, I’m not sure it is realistic that parents who are part of the global class are going to be self aware and critical enough to consider the contradictions between humanist values and market forces. They are comfortable in their current space, and more often than not looking for quantitative results on their child’s progress. That’s what matters to them. Though I’m very realistic about the parent community we have, it does not mean the school I presently work for, or any school, international or not should be soft peddling GCE. As Gardener-McTaggart states, it is the “citizenry that mitigates inequality and seeks for justice” (2016, p. 4), and it is the schools that have the power to shape citizenry, so despite what product an international school is selling, additional value is added with a critical GCE program.


What is most interesting about this review is the implication that the globalised class is evolving and changing from one that was traditionally dominated by expats from the global North to the global South. There is no real doubt that international schools reproduce privileged classes from both national and international elites. The commonality amongst the articles reviewed, other than Andreotti, is that regardless of the intention of the school, a reproduction of the myth of universal western values is occurring. However, as suggested by Gardner-McTaggart (2016), if IB international schools are in fact the right balance between market and humanism, and the perfect balance of the mix of forces influencing international education, including an ethical GCE approach much along the lines of Andreotti’s critical GCE, then as the global south grows changes will occur in global power structures. With the potential of three billion more global south middle class in the next seventeen years, all possibly in pursuit of an IB international education, the world could be in for a massive shift in the demographics of the knowledge based workforce. If Gardener-McTaggart (2016) is correct, then we could see a huge surge in highly educated globalised citizens who will be exactly what the  western parents in Groves and O’Connor’s (2018) study worried about; highly capable multilingual individuals with a global citizenship perspective blending the best of modernity and the south (Gardener-McTaggart, 2016). This highly savvy globalised class would be more than capable of out competing mono-lingual individuals who despite their education, are not savvy enough for a global economy. Though this seems somewhat idealistic, even if it did come to pass, it would still leave the world in its classist state of haves and have-nots. Furthermore, a huge surge in international schools would undermine national public school systems even more than they already are. In the context of an international school, IB or not, GCE is a valuable layer to a curriculum, but it is uncertain if even a critical GCE will overcome the power of classist reproduction to create social equity and an even playing field for all people.


In the international school context GCE is an embedded layer in most curriculums. However, despite a variety of efforts towards GCE, the examples given were what Andreotti (2006) would call soft global citizenship with no evidence of any depth of criticism. As the Philippines example showed, the ideas of service were limited to giving money, and there was little incentive for critical literacy at the level that Andreotti (2006) suggests. If Gardner-McTaggart (2016) is to be believed then the IB is the perfect balance of globalism and internationalism; however, if this is so the global class will only shift from the North to the South and any shared social equity will still remain elusive. Though this inquiry did not investigate public schools, it would be interesting to compare attitudes on social responsibility in global context between students in a public school GCE program, to those of students who have a globalised lived experience and attend an international school. I would be interested to see data on which type of student more closely met the UN definition of global citizen as demonstrating a sense of belonging to a broader community and shared humanity. With this kind of data, more insight could be had as to the perspectives that students develop through the variety of approaches to GCE and exposure to internationalism and globalism respectively.


Andreotti, Vanessa (2006). Soft versus critical global citizenship education. Policy and Practice: A Development Education Review, 3, 40-51. Retrieved from

Cambridge, J., & Thompson, J. (2004). Internationalism and globalization as contexts for international education. Compare, 34(2), 161-175. doi:10.1080/0305792042000213994

Dunne, S., & Edwards, J. (2010). International schools as sites of social change. Journal of Research in International Education, 9(1), 24-39. doi:10.1177/1475240909356716

Gardner-McTaggart, A. (2016). International elite, or global citizens? equity, distinction and power: The international baccalaureate and the rise of the south. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 14(1), 1-29. doi:10.1080/14767724.2014.959475

Groves, J. M., & O’Connor, P. (2018). Negotiating global citizenship, protecting privilege: Western expatriates choosing local schools in hong kong. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 39(3), 381-395. doi:10.1080/01425692.2017.1351866

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