International education is a broad-based term with two interpretations. In the first instance, international education refers to student exchanges taking place across countries or the pursuit of study by a student from one country to another international location. The second meaning of international education deals with an educational concept whereby students engage in study that encompasses a globalized view of the world. Students who participate in this type of education are thus seen to be better equipped to deal with a global community that requires an understanding of nations and cultures around the world.
The notion of international education as part of a global orientation is the most pertinent field of interest in the early 21st century. Given the interconnectedness of the world through the speedily advancing technological breakthroughs, an international approach to education has gained ground. The benefits are seen in preparing students for a personal and professional future requiring greater understanding and knowledge of people and countries. Thus, geographical regions outside the students' own locations and the cultures therein are studied, together with possibilities of learning additional languages. Respect for other cultures is encouraged, along with gathering information and knowledge from a broader range of sources and places. The ability to work cross-culturally and the development of concomitant skills are key features. Whether students choose to study abroad, or to work within a multicultural or cross-cultural field of research or employment, that decision forms part of the concept of the preparation imbued in international education.
In the United States, heightened awareness of the importance of international education has been seen in the creation of International Education Week. This was launched jointly by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education in 1999 and takes place in mid-November every year. A synthesis of the two meanings of international education is evident in the practical and philosophical aspects of International Education Week. On the one hand, the initiative encourages opportunities for student exchanges and for foreign students, educators or leaders to share experiences in the United States. In addition, the project is designed to draw attention to the significance of promoting a globalized view of the world educationally and the importance of thinking in a global way in this new millennium. Individuals, schools, colleges and universities have been encouraged to participate in the initiative. Furthermore, community and international organizations, as well as embassies and businesses, have been asked to join the international education project.
International education gained prominence following the end of the Cold War. Although an Institute of International Education had been founded in 1919 as an independent not-for-profit organization, prior to the post-Cold War period, international education was not a significant feature of high school education, and not much research was done in the area.
President Lyndon Johnson tried to create a vision of an international understanding through educational strategies in the International Education Act of 1966 (IEA).
In 1991, the National Security Education Act was passed. A trust fund and available budget made provisions for higher education similar to those of the IEA. The act has facilitated an increasing awareness of the importance of knowledge of the broader world. Heightened understanding, interconnectedness and cooperation among countries internationally, through education, are at the forefront of the agenda of international education in the 21st century.
In March 1990, when the World Conference on Education for All was held in Jomtien, Thailand, the Declaration and Framework for Action to Meet Basic Learning Needs was formed. A total of 155 countries, 20 intergovernmental organizations and 150 nongovernmental groups were involved with setting this up. The U.S. Coalition for Education for All was also established to bring people together in a shared vision of the benefits of international education.
The National Association of Foreign Students Advisers (NAFSA) (originally established in 1948 as the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers, with its current name as of 1990) is concerned with international education and educational exchanges. Furthering understanding among nations and the preparation toward the new era of inter- and cross-cultural globalization are considered fundamental to bringing the world together peacefully.
As the focus on international education grows, there are moves to integrate international education into the school system, rather than keeping it a separate entity, thereby making the global perspective increasingly part of the curricula and learning content and thought.