A qualitative study of approaches to implementing basic education internationalization in Shenzhen

  • Xue CAO

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (Lingnan)


The Chinese government’s Education Modernization 2035 plan puts forward goals for China to achieve education modernization and become an education powerhouse by 2035. As a cornerstone of education development, basic education internationalization is an essential part of the country’s educational reforms. In 2019, the Outline for the Development of the Guangdong–Hong Kong–Macao Greater Bay Area explicitly called for building an internationalization education demonstration zone. However, in one of the cities in the Greater Bay Area, Shenzhen, the implementation of basic education internationalization has not been completely successful. The problem facing Shenzhen is that the traditional approach to internationalization, which is to introduce international curricula, open international schools, and organize various cross-border activities, generates an upsurge in younger students studying abroad for their basic education, which impedes the inheritance of China’s traditional educational advantages and the maintenance of national confidence in education. To address this problem, the Shenzhen municipal government lists the promotion of international competence among its training goals for primary and secondary schools.

Given the limited research that has been conducted against this policy background, this thesis explores implementation approaches and feasible development paths for basic education internationalization in Shenzhen. Adopting a theoretical model developed from Knight’s theory of approaches to internationalization at the institutional level, the global–national–local theory of Marginson and Rhodes, and Von Bertalanffy’s general systems theory, the thesis investigates the approaches to internationalization implemented in Shenzhen’s primary and secondary schools, the challenges faced by these approaches, stakeholders’ perceptions of basic education internationalization, and the factors driving primary and secondary schools to adopt internationalization approaches.

A qualitative study was conducted with a phenomenological approach, which describes individuals’ experiences of a phenomenon. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews. Using purposive sampling, 34 interviewees were selected from leaders, teachers, parents, and policymakers at four public and private schools in the Nanshan and Longgang districts of Shenzhen. A thematic analysis was performed on the interview data with the aid of NVivo (Version 12), focusing on the perspectives of policymakers, implementers (school leaders and teachers), and parents on basic education internationalization.

The findings showed that Shenzhen’s primary and secondary schools were implementing internationalization mainly by integrating international elements into their curricula and teaching (i.e., discipline penetration and school-based curricula), improving teachers’ international competence, organizing cross-border exchange activities (i.e., summer and winter camps), and organizing a series of activities and competitions (e.g., the Model United Nations Competition). The main challenges facing internationalization efforts were out-of-date curricula and China’s single evaluation system.

The thesis addresses research gaps regarding stakeholders’ experience (i.e., practical experiences, attitudes, and perceptions) of basic education internationalization. Drawing on the findings of the qualitative study, the thesis suggests some beneficial approaches to internationalization in primary and secondary schools in Shenzhen. It is recommended that the Chinese government optimize the system for evaluating the high school entrance and college entrance examinations, incorporate international elements into the curriculum reform of primary and secondary schools, and cultivate teachers’ global competence and leadership.
Date of Award19 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorPadmore Adusei AMOAH (Supervisor)


  • basic education internationalization
  • qualitative study
  • approaches to internationalization

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