Developing an Understanding of the Role of Learning in Internationalization

Elizabeth Yoshikawa, Naruto University of Education

As a graduate student I am encouraged to consider two questions: What is my contribution to knowledge? How is it original? This sounds simple. I need to state my claim to knowledge and outline how I make that claim. However, as an instructor I also have to wonder how my claims contribute to my students’ development; specifically to their development as learners of English.

I often struggle with how the research I am doing now equates to the broader scheme, particularly in the many guises of internationalization. When I look at how my own graduate studies and how the university where I teach broach the ideals of internationalization, I find that internationalization can only be equated with students’ experiences of others. This is typically through the development of programs, and more specifically through the development of student exchange programs. For the few students who do have the opportunity to study abroad for a short period of time, they may evolve and deepen their understanding of other cultures and their own. These experiences are, however, limited to a select few. Internationalization, Yamagami and Tollefson (2011) state, is just as much about citizenship as it is about economics. Meaning that the economic benefits of program development, especially through inter-university exchange programs should not be the only way to internationalize our education system. We must also consider how we are developing our students’ worldview as to what it means to be a part of the global community. My struggle lies within the system. I wonder how are we adapting our learning and teaching skills so as to include our localized actions within the broader, global scheme of things?

What Do our Students Consider to be International?

There is the argument that when we discuss internationalization within higher education, we do so within the framework of economic globalization (Svensson & Wihlborg, 2010). This is equated with education increasingly being viewed as a service industry. Furthermore this framework addresses the organizational, political, and economic issues related to higher education, but not the pedagogical structure for the internationalization of higher education with regards to learning and teaching. This leads to a situation where there may not be a framework where institutional curriculum development is used to develop an internationalization ideology, regarding the content and learning outcomes of a program or course of study. These are only expressed in idealized or general terms.

Thus, while the learning goals of a program of study may have the appearance of being international, if the actual contents of the curricula are examined it may be found that the course of study in fact is not international. As instructors, we have to address what it is that our students consider to be international or globalized within specific courses and how these can be developed to a point where our students are developing a mindset that would be productive for their participation in the global market force.

What Are We as Instructors Doing for Our Students?

This leads me to another question. As part of the learning economy, what are we as instructors doing for our students? While we might bemoan the frequency of policy shifts regarding EFL education in Japan, it should not negate that we individually must consider what we are doing to improve the learning situation for our students. The documentary Ivory Tower, promotes an idea in higher education that receives little attention: the need to humanize or keep education human, as without this element students will be unsuccessful.

If we look at what Barnett (2004), among others, has argued about the decentralization of higher education and its fragmentation, which all points to the dehumanization of higher education, it does not point to the human side of contact with instructors or the students’ freedom to ask questions and be creative. This would be at odds with the ideals of internationalization as a part of citizenship and the needs of a nation to adopt a creative and analytical approach to problem solving and life in general. This point is touched upon in the English versions of recent policies developed by the Japan Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) regarding grade school learning: the ideals of fostering a questioning/curious nature in elementary school students (MEXT, 2011). I have heard many instructors complain that this is then drummed out of students as they study and focus on getting to the next level and passing (hopefully) the Center Examinations at the end of junior and senior high school (Murphey, Kato, & Fukuda, 2010). Yet, once these same students reach university level, as instructors many of us have an opportunity to once again encourage our students to be analytical and curious. This would suggest that as university instructors we must rekindle this mindset, but to do so we must also consciously recognize that there is a disjuncture between Japanese national ideologies of internationalization in a globalized sense and how this is realized in a local context.

Do We have the Power to Change Attitudes in Classrooms?

With the development of a foreign language policy and an internationalization ideology, we must also consider how these policies are enacted within an institution. Many of us who teach EFL might bemoan our institutions’ mentality that students who take an English course have in fact become international. Through this we frequently dismiss the idea that we do have the power to change this attitude within our own classrooms. The process of internationalizing our institution is not only about the economics of improving the ‘foreign’ experience for our students. Internationalization also includes what we can do at our local level to develop and broaden our mindsets. In this, we can appreciate van Eijck (2007) who notes that policies are inherently ambiguous. This ambiguity is important, particularly to us as EFL instructors, as it allows different interpretations of a policy that can be adjusted according to the contextual needs of individual institutions and subsequently the classroom under the centralized ideology of incorporating an internationalization mindset into our teaching practices. This provides us with leeway to help our students develop an international mindset drawing from their local experiences. We can use local experiences and beliefs to integrate ideals of being a part of an international community within our teaching practices, thus broadening students’ experience within their classroom.

As a student, I am encouraged to remember that what I value in my research is culturally defined. As EFL instructors we must also strive to understand that what is valued as EFL interaction varies according to culture (Hofstede, n.d. in Harumi, 2011). As a foreign instructor there is no doubt that I have limited weight within both my department and my institution. However, it is still possible that I can make a contribution to my institution. This contribution is through what I enable my students to do in the classroom. This would mean that as an instructor, I acknowledge and work within the limitations of changes made to EFL educational policies so as to facilitate my students reaching the policy objectives and more importantly improving their confidence in using EFL.

What Are You Doing in Your Classroom?

I will end by asking, what you are doing in your classroom to facilitate your students in developing an international mindset? Are you helping your students to not only develop bridges between the English and the international community they already know, but also using that knowledge to develop an international citizenship ideology? Through our pedagogy we do have the power to help influence our students in their learning development.


Barnett, R. (2004). The purpose of higher education and the changing face of academia. London Review of Education, 2(1), 61-73.

Harumi, S. (2011). Classroom silence: Voices from Japanese EFL learners. ELT Journal, 65(3), 260-269.

MEXT. (2011, June 30). Five Proposals and Specific Measures for Developing Proficiency in English for International Communication. Retrieved from < 1.pdf>

Murphey, T., Kato, K., & Fukuda, T. (2010). The 619 paradigm shift in Japanese university admission processes. PeerSpectives, 5, 18-21.

Svensson, L., & Wihlborg, M. (2010). Internationalising the content of higher education: The need for a curriculum perspective. Higher Education, 60, 595-613.

van Eijck, M. (2007). Towards authentic forms of knowledge. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 2(3), 606-613.

Yamagami, M., & Tollefson, J. (2011). Elite Discourses of Globalization in Japan: The Role of English. In P. Seargeant (Ed.). English in Japan in the Era of Globalization (15- 37). London, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.