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International education can mean many different things and its definition is debated. Some have defined two general meanings according to its involvement of students. The first refers to education that transcends national borders by the exchange of people, for example, by students travelling to study at an international branch campus, as part of a study abroad program or as part of a student exchange program. The second is a comprehensive approach to education that intentionally prepares students to be active and engaged participants in an interconnected world.
The International Baccalaureate defines the term according to criteria such as the development of citizens of the world in accordance to culture, language, and social cohesion, building a sense of identity and cultural awareness, encrypting recognition and development of universal human values, encourage discovery and enjoyment of learning, equip students with collectivist or individualistic skills and knowledge that can be applied broadly, encourage global thinking when responding to local situations,encourage diversity and flexibility in teaching pedagogies and supply appropriate forms of assessment and international benchmarking.
While definitions vary in the precise language used, international education is generally taken to include:
- Knowledge of other world regions & cultures;
- Familiarity with international and global issues;
- Skills in working effectively in global or cross-cultural environments, and using information from different sources around the world;
- Ability to communicate in multiple languages; and
- Dispositions towards respect and concern for other cultures and peoples.
Millennium Development Goals
International education is also a major part of international development. Professionals and students wishing to be a part of international education development are able to learn through organizations and university and college programs. Organizations around the world use education as a means to development. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals include some objectives pertaining to education:
- Achieve universal primary education in all countries by 2015
- Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2015
Other mentions of education in regard to international development: Education For All (EFA): An international strategy to operationalise the Dakar Framework for Action; The World Education Forum (Dakar 2000) agreed to reach 6 goals by 2015:
- expand early childhood care and education
- improve access to complete, free schooling of good quality for all primary school-age children
- greatly increase learning opportunities for youth and adults
- improve adult literacy rates by 50%
- eliminate gender disparities in schooling
- improve all aspects of education quality.
Dakar Framework for Action
See also Comparative education; and Liberalism, Realism, Power Transition Theory, International Development, as focus areas that provide insight into international phenomena relevant to "International Education."
International education both as a field of study focusing on study abroad and preparing students for international occupations as well as an active part of international development is taught in many colleges and universities around the world.
Virtual Educational Exchange
Although very successful programs such as Engineers Without Borders enable students in one country to obtain an international education while working on open source appropriate technology projects abroad, the cost of this approach can be prohibitive for large scale replication. Recent, work has shown that using a virtual educational exchange, can have many of the positive benefits associated with international education and cross cultural experiences, without the prohibitive costs of trips.
International Education Week
International Education Week is held in the United States by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Education. The choice of week for celebration is determined at each institution, but is generally the week before the week that includes U.S. Thanksgiving: November 14–18, 2016; November 13–17, 2017; November 12–16, 2018; November 18–22, 2019. The aims of this event are to provide an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and global exchange.This joint initiative promotes programs that prepare Americans for a global milieu and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn and exchange experiences in the U.S. This shows how International education is not just about physically crossing borders, but is also about thinking globally in local situations. Schools throughout the US celebrate this week through on-campus and off-campus events. 
Challenges Facing International education
International education has a somewhat unusual position in higher education. While recognized as an important sphere of activity, it tends to be handled by administrative offices at the top of departments of languages and literature and international affairs. The scholars involved in international education usually have their primary involvement in other teaching and research. This leads to four distinctive characteristics particular to the field of international education:
- There is little consensus concerning the guiding theme of the field as well as its scope. Should the field stress internationalization, transnationalization, or globalization?
- International education is not a prominent feature of the contemporary higher education experience. Using enrollment in foreign languages as an indicator, 16 percent of all U.S. college students were enrolled in foreign languages in the peak period of the 1960s; the proportion is currently down to 8 percent (Hayward, 2000, p. 6).
- There is imbalance in regional coverage. The regions and languages covered at a particular institution are a function of idiosyncratic patterns of faculty recruitment. Nationally, there is reasonable coverage of Western Europe and Latin America and most European languages compared to limited coverage of Africa and the Middle East. For students enrolled in foreign languages, Spanish is the most popular followed by the other major languages of Western Europe; 6 percent enroll in Asian languages. Languages of the Middle East make up only 2 percent (1.3 being Hebrew and .5 percent Arabic). The languages of Africa constitute only 0.15 percent of enrollments.
- Because international education is not a primary concern of most scholars in the field, research is somewhat sporadic, non-cumulative, and tends to be carried out by national organizations as part of advocacy projects (e.g. Lambert, 1989; Brecht and Rivers, 2000). The most recent example is the American Council of Education's (ACE's) Internationalization of Higher Education: A Status Report. (Hayward, 2000). However, programs through various institutions, such as the Fulbright Program offer research opportunities for those wishing to study abroad.
Additionally, one of the challenges of international students is that increasingly higher education institutions are treating them as cash cows for meeting their budget challenges. Institutions must do more to support international students in their academic and career success by providing advising, training and coaching that is culturally attuned.
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