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Glossary of International Education Terms | NIS

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Enrolling your child in an international school means exposing them to an enriching environment and academic experience that could open up a world of options in their future.  


Finding an international school that is a good fit for your child involves a good amount of research which means reading through endless pages with educational terminology that may leave you feeling like you have more questions than answers.

To guide your research process, we’ve put together a glossary of terms often used in schools that could help you get better acquainted with the key terms used in international education. 

This glossary of international education terms will provide you with the clarity, confidence, and knowledge you need to support your decision to find a suitable international school for your child.

Are you searching for an international school for your children? Click here to learn why Japanese parents choose international education and the characteristics that define the best international schools.


Glossary of International Education Terms


International School: 

A school that provides an international education within a global environment, using a curriculum taught in a different language than the host country's language (typically English). The curriculum will often have a more international perspective and an emphasis on global citizenship, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB), and is accredited by international accrediting agencies. Students, families, and staff tend to be more transitory in nature, and graduates attend universities worldwide. International schools can exist in a variety of sizes and encompass a range of grades or divisions. They may be for-profit or non-profit, financed by corporations or could be completely independent and governed by owners, individuals, or groups of parents or volunteer leaders.


International Baccalaureate (IB): 

The IBO (International Baccalaureate Organization) developed the IB curriculum in 1968 to nurture global citizenship and international perspectives and allow for more transferability between countries for transitory families with school-aged children. The program consists of the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP), the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP), and the IB Diploma Programme (DP), in addition to a more recently created IB Career-related Programme.

Additional relevant terms regarding the IBO also include:

  • Primary Years Programme (PYP): The PYP provides an inquiry-based, transdisciplinary curriculum framework to build conceptual understanding in its students. It is a student-centered approach to education for children aged 3-12.

  • Middle Years Programme (MYP): The MYP is a five-year program that provides breadth and depth of understanding through study in eight subject groups (language acquisition, language and literature, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, arts, physical and health education, and design) and supports the development of flexible thinking to prepare students to evaluate information critically and apply knowledge in new and complex situations. The program provides students with the tools for lifelong learning and fosters responsible attitudes that influence students to become reliable, moral, and contributing members of society. The program can be implemented in a partnership between schools or several abbreviated (two, three, or four years) formats and is open to students aged 11 to 16 and at schools authorized to implement the program.

  • IB Diploma Programme (IBDP): The IBDP is an academically challenging program for students aged 16 to 19 with the objective to provide an internationally accepted program of study that is tailored to the needs of students, leading to successful pathways to universities around the world. The courses of this program are divided into six main categories: languages, social studies, experimental sciences, mathematics, and visual or performing arts. Students must choose to take a balance of courses as Higher Level (HL) or Standard Level (SL). 

An IB certificate for an individual course can be earned by taking the externally-assessed exam, or students can earn the full IB diploma by obtaining the required number of total points after completing the six courses mentioned above, writing a 4000-word “Extended Essay,” completing 50 hours of Creative, Action, and Service (CAS) activities, and the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course.

  • Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is a mandatory component of the IBDP that encourages students to reflect on the nature of knowledge and how we know what we claim to know. It is assessed through an oral presentation and a 1,600-word essay.

  • Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS) is another essential requirement of the IBDP. Although CAS is not formally assessed, it is completed alongside their academic studies and students are required to reflect on their experiences from their CAS activities and provide evidence of achieving the 7 learning outcomes of CAS.

Are you feeling unsure about the international school system? Discover why international schools are an innovative alternative to the Japanese school system. 


Inquiry-based Learning:  

Inquiry-based learning places students in the center of the learning process. Students are encouraged to ask questions, share ideas and explore material in depth. Teachers are present to guide and support them through this inquiry process. This learning method requires students to participate and answer questions about real-life experiences. The goal is to allow space for students to express their curiosity and use critical thinking and understanding, which would, in turn, enable deeper learning. 


Global Citizen: 

According to The Global Citizens Initiative (TGCI), this educational term describes individuals who see themselves as part of an emerging world community and whose actions help define this community’s values and practices. To be global citizens, students must acquire knowledge and understanding of the world's social, political, economical, and environmental factors and learn to use their critical thinking skills and pluralistic attitude to solve global issues.


Whole Child philosophy: 

The Whole Child philosophy is an approach to teaching that prioritizes the students' social, emotional, and developmental needs as well as their academic needs. The approach attempts to engage the whole student or the student's heart, hands, and head, encouraging the student to be more enthusiastic about learning. A child who feels happy, connected, confident, and self-aware will make significant academic progress. Equally, academic learning increases a child’s awareness of the world and helps them develop an understanding of who they are and want to be. A whole child philosophy recognizes this interdependence of the head and the heart and tailors teaching and learning activities to capitalize on this reality. 


Holistic Learning: 

This approach to learning attempts to engage all parts of a student's personality (mind, body, and spirit) so that the ‘whole child philosophy’ comes alive in the classroom. Teachers that exercise the holistic learning approach have high academic standards. Yet, they know that these can only be achieved through curriculum approaches that are relevant, engaging, and connected to learners' experiences, interests, hopes, feelings, and aspirations. Holistic learning helps students understand the interconnectedness of the world around them and not only answers the question ‘how does the world work?’ but also ‘how do I find my place to have an impact in that world?’ As such, it helps guide students on the path to becoming well-rounded, confident, and contributing members of society.


Parent Partners: 

This term, specific to NIS (may be phrased differently by other schools), refers to an established partnership or collaboration between the school and the students' parents that agree to work together to serve the best interests of the students and the school community. Parents play a vital role in making the school community as supportive and nurturing as possible. They not only support students in the classroom through PTA-related activities and events but also help parents and families transition into our school community and consider educational options by sharing their experiences as families within our community. By doing so, Parent Partners provide diverse perspectives into the school's many cultures and communities to which the school otherwise would not have access. 



Accreditation is an act of granting credit or recognition, especially to an educational institution that meets suitable standards. Several organizations offer accreditations or authorize schools to provide service to students globally, but for international schools in Japan, the relevant and recognized accreditations and affiliations include:

  • The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC): WASC is a globally-recognized accrediting association and one of six regional accrediting agencies in the United States. Students who graduate from schools accredited by WASC are awarded a diploma that is considered the equivalent of a US high school diploma.
  • The Council of International Schools (CIS): CIS is a global non-profit membership organization that provides services to elementary and secondary schools and higher education institutions. CIS aims to ensure that schools provide students with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to become global citizens and are committed to providing high-quality international education. CIS reevaluates schools every 5-years to ensure the school reaches required benchmarks and demonstrates a continued effort to strive for improvement.

  • The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO): the IBO is the governing body of the IB education programs, responsible for ensuring that schools take part in the authorization process to prove that they meet the required standards to become an IB World School. These schools are re-evaluated every 5 years to ensure that they continue to meet the required standards of the IB and are teaching the IB programs effectively.


English as an Additional Language (EAL): 

EAL is an educational term that applies to students whose first language or mother tongue is not English. It acknowledges that students are competent or more comfortable in a language other than English. As a result, these students can study English as an additional language to develop speaking, reading, writing, and listening skills in an English-speaking school environment.


Personalized Learning:  

This educational approach aims to customize learning for each student's strengths, needs, skills, and interests. This instructional approach, which includes learning objectives and content, and the pace of learning, is personalized to meet the needs of each student. The aim is to help every student reach their potential by optimizing their learning experience to meet their specific requirements. 

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Play-based Learning: 

This early childhood educational approach uses play as a context for learning, knowing that children are organically motivated to play. In this approach, children are provided with the opportunity to become familiar with the world around them through exploration, discovery, interaction, and problem-solving. Studies have shown that play-based learning resulted in more long-term benefits and higher learning outcomes.

Here's why and how comparing preschool choices in Japan could help you find the right one.


International Mindedness: 

This concept is underpinned by a set of skills, behaviors, and values that enable individuals to embrace diverse opinions and cultures, care for local and global communities and the environment, and the motivation to take action to make positive changes in the world we share. Schools that value international mindedness can help students look at the world as the broadest context for learning, develop critical thinking skills across various subjects, and encourage opportunities to act, reflect, and question.


Differentiated Learning: 

Differentiated learning is an instructional approach that ensures that each child in the classroom has impartial access to learning. Differentiated teaching assumes that all children have equal rights to learning in the classroom but recognizes that different learners will find success on different learning pathways. Teachers in a differentiated classroom ensure that what a student learns, how they learn, and how they express their learning is aligned to the different ways in which students learn and to the readiness and interests of those learners. In practical terms, this means that while the key learning goals (concepts, skills, and dispositions) in a class are shared by all learners, teachers will discern their classroom based on the content being explored, the process through which learning is happening, the assessments that are used to show understanding, and the learning environment in which this all takes place. Consequently, in a differentiated classroom, students will be observed 'doing different things’ yet, when the class comes together to discuss and share their learning, children will be seen to be connected to a shared understanding of the big ideas that form the foundations of the curriculum.


Constructivist Curriculum: 

This educational term describes a curriculum developed through constructivist philosophy, which tells us that children learn by creating their own meaning of the world around them. That means that the human brain absorbs new knowledge and tries to connect that new knowledge to the things it already knows, and in so doing, ‘create’ new learning or meaning. This results in a hands-on approach to learning that enables students to pursue areas of meaning and interest, make mistakes, reflect on successes, and evolve their understanding of the world around them under the careful guidance of their teachers.



Student well-being refers to a child's physical and emotional safety and a student's positive sense of self, identity, and belonging within the family, the school community, and the broader community surrounding the child. Since the whole child philosophy tells us that strong and secure well-being is fundamental to whole-child development, good schools make an effort to focus on well-being as an integral part of the teaching and learning structure.

In practical terms, this requires developing and implementing school policies and practices that support a safe school environment. It also includes safeguarding and child protection policies, behavior and anti-bullying policies, and robust counseling and student support programs to help students and families in need. However, beyond this, an education that prioritizes well-being translates to classroom culture and a curriculum that both explicitly and implicitly teaches children the skills and dispositions necessary to help them understand who they are and how they can fit in the world. This means teaching healthy choices and a curriculum in which children can find themselves so they might develop a sense of personal worth, connectedness, identity, and efficacy.

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