International education and global citizenship in an Islamic context: case studies in policy enactment

Year: 2015

Author: Stevenson, Howard, Shah, Saeeda, Bailey, Lucy, Cooker, Lucy

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper explores data from six international schools in the UAE as they implement an international curriculum in an Islamic country with significant local curriculum mandates relating to the teaching of Arabic language and Islamic civic values. The paper explores how each school seeks to implement an international curriculum, reflect local community context and meet local state mandates and identifies the tensions that can arise in this process. Within the paper the particular differences between expatriate and Emirati schools are identified and discussed.

The ‘International Schools movement’ has grown rapidly in recent years with the International Schools Consultancy Group recording a three fold expansion in the last ten years, and future growth expected at this rate at least (Dearden, 2015). Much of the history of the international schools movement has been rooted in the Anglophone nations and Europe, but with recent growth being most conspicuous in South East Asia. However, more recently, growth has been noticeable in Central and South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
This paper is concerned with the development of international schools in the context of two MENA areas, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The specific concern is how international schools, with their particular ethos and philosophies, connect their ‘global curricula’ with their local contexts, and more precisely how international schools navigate the requirements of local state bodies to meet curriculum requirements such as those relating to the Arabic language and the teaching of Islamic religious and civic values.
These issues have long been acknowledged as problematic amongst international schools. The International Baccalaureate programmes for example have a strong commitment to developing international mindedness and a sense of global citizenship. However, in Towards a continuum of international education (IBO, 2008) the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) recognises that its programmes ‘have grown from a western humanist tradition, [and now] the influence of non-western cultures on all … programmes is becoming increasingly important’ (IBO, 2008. p. 2). Walker’s work in East Asia argued that IB programmes have a difficulty in adequately reflecting the rich intellectual tradition of East Asia. These issues are also likely to exist in the context of MENA and indeed such concerns need to be set against local anxieties that the growth of international schools in the area represents a form of intellectual imperialism (The National, 2013a) and threaten to weaken Emirati identity (The National, 2013b).
This paper presents work focused on how six schools in the UAE, and uses a framework that sees curriculum ‘delivery’ as a form of policy enactment (Ball et al, 2012). Each case study highlights the ways in which schools seek to implement an international curriculum, reflect local community context and meet local state mandates. Schools include those focused on the expatriate community and those with a largely Emirati. Within the study these emerged as significant differences.