Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

Globally-Minded Students: Defining, Measuring and Developing Intercultural Sensitivity

Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

Globally-Minded Students: Defining, Measuring and Developing Intercultural Sensitivity

Article excerpt


In this first of two papers, I argue that intercultural sensitivity is a critical part of being globally-minded (or interculturally minded in IB terms) and therefore needs to be understood, measured and developed.

I begin with a study of culture, identity and group interaction. After examining the validity of culture as a concept, I will examine the associated ideas of intercultural awareness, intercultural sensitivity and intercultural competence. The case for fostering intercultural sensitivity, as a core principle of globalmindedness, will then be made.

I contend that in an international school our cocktails of cultures are stirred but rarely shaken. In other words, I believe that we skirt around engaging in true cultural discussions and minimize differences to find a middle ground. On a continuum from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism, this is considered a midway point. Is this where international schools wish to be?

The Concept of Culture

Anthropologists and social psychologists use this term to describe humanity and the kaleidoscope of human groups that constitute our world. Many authors have tried to capture the essence of this concept. Hofstede (1980) defines culture quite tightly as the 'Collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group from another,' whereas UNESCO (2001) has a more expansive definition in its Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. It states that culture should be

...regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs. (UNESCO 2001)

Patterson (1975 cited by Fennes and Hapgood, 1997) offers a similar view that 'Culture is an identifiable complex of meanings, symbols, values and norms that are shared consciously or unconsciously by a group of people.' For those working in an international school, it is perhaps the view of Avruch and Black (1993 cited by McCarthy 2011) that resonates most clearly. They said: 'Our own culture provides the lens through which we view the world; the logic by which we order it; the grammar by which it makes sense.' Therefore, culture can be seen to give shape and meaning to life for an individual or group.

In a school aiming for globally-minded students and where 50 or more cultures come together, the need to understand different groups and how they can interact successfully is of fundamental importance.

Identity and encounters

Bruner (1996 cited by Hayden, 2010) said that culture shapes the mind of individuals and 'provides us with the toolkit by which we construct not only our own worlds but our very conceptions of ourselves and our powers'. This suggests that individuals and the lives they lead are fashioned by their social environment. Tajfel (1981 cited by Smith and Bond, 1993) supports this view, believing that 'the social part of our identity derives from the groups to which we belong'. This later became known as Social Identity Theory.

Tajfel (ibid) explains that we identify ourselves with certain groups and then these groups reinforce our view of self. This also results, he says, in our view of 'in groups' and 'out groups', as well as how we should behave with each. When someone joins a group, members will often orientate the individual further to what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad, how to behave and how not to behave.

So, as the culture of a group influences individuals, their identity not only reflects the culture but can reinforce it. There are further effects. Hofstede, Pedersen and Hofstede (2002) noted that 'We perceive the values of our culture in moral terms, and therefore we tend to view other people's values as morally inferior.' This can be termed ethnocentrism.

Smith and Bond (1993) claim that Sumner's 1940 definition of ethnocentrism, 'the view of things in which one's own group is the centre of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it', as rather neutral and they claim that many cultures have a more active view of difference. …

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