Global Education & Skills Forum Blog

Mainstreaming Education for Global Citizenship

Answering the question “how do we create ‘real’ global citizens?” is not an easy task since developing global citizens requires holistic education strategies and actions at global, regional and local levels.

This is exactly what the United Nations strive to achieve by adopting the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) on quality education.  Through it, the global community agreed to ensure knowledge, skills, values and attitudes of citizens to lead productive lives, make informed decisions and assume active roles locally and globally with facing and resolving global challenges.  According to one of the agreed education targets, the learners should “acquire the knowledge and skills needed … for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity….”  Consequently, teaching global citizenship across all education levels is key to achieving the goal on education and other Sustainable Development Goals.

To do this, it is important first to reflect practically about the skills and competences of a global citizen and then develop strategies to promote global citizenship education laying out innovative approaches of how these strategies could be implemented at national policy and school levels.

Skills and Competences of a Global Citizen

Contrary to schools aiming to produce the workforce for the factories in the 19th century, schools nowadays need to provide knowledge in sustainable development and global citizenship helping students to succeed in the 21st century. Rapid advancement in information and technology fields create lots of uncertainty for future jobs. To prepare for this uncertainty, students need to develop non-cognitive skills besides practical and technical cognitive core skills such as literacy, numeracy, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and financial literacy. To be successful in the future, they must develop and strengthen character qualities such as curiosity, initiative, persistence/grit, adaptability, leadership and social and cultural awareness which determine how they could approach their changing environment.  

Current and future generations should have competences to be able to solve complex challenges of the 21st century.  UNESCO’s Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education (UNESCO Bangkok) called these skills transversal competencies and defined them as critical and innovative thinking, inter-personal skills, intra-personal skills, global citizenship and media and information literacy.

Comprehensive Strategies to Create Global Citizens

The Education 2030 Framework of Action indicates some strategies, which could be adapted according to a country context and could help students to become global citizens.  This requires strengthening partnerships, education systems, policies and plans, financing and monitoring processes to address education for sustainable development (ESD) and global citizenship education (GCED). Countries need to “develop policies and programmes to promote and bring ESD and GCED into the mainstream of formal, non-formal and informal education through system-wide interventions and pedagogical support”.

Curriculum and Textbooks

The integration of global citizenship education and the 21st century non-cognitive skills in the national core curriculum and textbooks would enable the system-wide change. It is useful to learn from different worldwide experiences in integrated core and local curriculum and textbook development to foster global citizenship skills. For example, Finland has developed a new core curriculum for basic education, which emphasizes interdisciplinary and student-centered learning. The International Baccalaureate programmes offer probably one of the best known international curriculums that aim to develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalized world. 

Similarly, Baltos lankos” publishing house in Lithuania offers textbooks which enable children to get holistic education and develop universal scientific, artistic thinking, social problem solving and emotional literacy competences by not separating subject-specific and general skills.

Pedagogical Support for Global Citizenship Promotion

One of the effective approaches to reach schools in producing global citizens is through  appropriate pedagogical support. Developing educator guides and materials explaining the concept of global citizenship with the integration of intercultural dialogue and happiness and peace education in schools is one of the ways to support educators.

The concepts of ESD, GCED, peace and human rights education, intercultural dialogue and education for international understanding can be confusing to many. They sometimes overlap and there are challenges in integrating them. Publications such as Global Citizenship Education: Topics and Learning Objectives could provide curriculum support and pedagogical guidance on global citizenship education, presenting interconnected domains of learning, key learning outcomes, learner attributes, topics and corresponding learning objectives. This document establishes a conceptual framework on GCED from early years learning up to upper secondary education, which is a fundamental aspect of the education system reform.

The Guidelines for Educators “Learning with Intangible Heritage for a Sustainable Future” explain how intangible cultural heritage could be integrated into the curriculums following principles of education or sustainable development.

A Happy Schools Framework for Learner Well-being in the Asia-Pacific proposes practical strategies and interrelated criteria across the three categories of People, Process and Place, which could help to recognize student values, strengths and competencies that contribute to enhancing happiness. On the other hand, A Teacher’s Guide on the Prevention of Violent Extremism seeks to provide practical advice to teachers at primary, secondary and non-formal education settings on when and how to discuss the issue of violent extremism and radicalization with learners. In addition, it aims to help teachers to create classroom climate that is inclusive and conducive to respectful dialogue, open discussion and critical thinking.

UNESCO Clearing House on Global Citizenship Education, hosted by the Asia-Pacific Center of Education for International Understanding under Auspices of UNESCO, provides more teacher and curriculum guidelines.

Innovative School and Extracurricular Approaches to Foster Global Citizens

The Curriculum and pedagogical support for the development of 21st century and global citizenship skills should enable the wider use of innovative school and extra-curricular approaches, methods and activities at all education levels. The inspiration for these activities could stem from analyzing best practices from countries with different contexts.

Educators in early years could learn from Innovative Pedagogical Approaches and Tools in Early Childhood Care and Education highlighting innovative practices such as of Kaede Kindergarten in Japan which promotes spontaneous child-initiated play and encourages children to freely explore their environment and to feel a range of emotions through their play-based experiences.

There has been a recent trend of supporting hands-on activities that encourage academic learning and promote experimentation, making and collaboration in schools. Nevertheless, such maker movement is not completely new since earlier generations have discussed the hands-on learning from different perspectives. For instance, Ron Berger’s “An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students” is focusing on the culture of craftsmanship and high work quality among students and Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman philosophically links the “work of the hand to the work of the mind” by providing craft examples from the history.

Stemming from the maker movement, The U.S. government and nonprofit advocacy groups such as Digital Promise and Maker Education Initiative have been supporting the making in schools. The Mantle of the Expert teaching and learning approach from UK encourages students to form a group of experts and to become imaginary scientists, archeologists or disaster rescue team which allows them to be exposed to work situations and challenges in a real life. Quest to Learn understood the potential of games to teach children to solve complex tasks. The Reggio Emilia approach, developed in Italy, provides attractive environment and ateliers, playful places for pupils to experiment and build knowledge by applying creative thinking.

Similar to Reggio Emilia schools, other schools also focus on the importance of the environment for successful learning. For example, Forest Schools and schools teaching Waldorf education allow children to learn from their natural outdoor environment to ignite their curiosity and to develop motivation and sound emotional and social skills.

There are many successful examples of global citizenship education implementation in schools globally. The HundrEd project is piloting 100 education experiments in classrooms in Finland to contribute to the new way of learning and teaching through the new Core Curriculum for Basic Education. The experiments encouraging an understanding of global citizenship include teaching Emotional Skills and Self Awareness in Schools, World Peace – Basics in Mediation, and Energy and Sustainable Development as a Part of a Local Curriculum.

Through its child-centered and collaborative learning approach, Escuela Nueva learning model, started in Colombia, has been transforming the traditional classroom and promoting 21st century skills such as learning to learn, leading processes, team work and decision-making in low-income schools in 16 countries.  In order to help students to research in groups and think critically, find information and ask big questions, the School in the Cloud, piloted in India and now opened also in UK and the USA, provides a self-organized learning environment (SOLE).  

Among such schools which instill leadership skills, Ashoka Changemaker schools focus on teaching empathy, as one of the most important skills of the 21st century. This skill underpins open collaboration needed for social entrepreneurship and change making which Ashoka fellows are groomed for.

Schools participating in the UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network and the UNESCO Clubs and Associations could also offer a few lessons in addressing global citizenship education such as annual organization of the International Festival Children are Painting the World which is encouraging creativity and understanding of different cultures in Kazakhstan and wider Asia.

In schools or as part of extra-curricular activities, innovative Information and Communication Technology (ICT) pedagogies could help to strengthen the global awareness of students. The UNESCO’s Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) develops innovative ICT approaches to teaching and learning within and outside classrooms to foster critical thinking and empathy. Inspired by the Inclusive Wealth Report, MGIEP, in cooperation with the Emergent Media Center at Champlain College, has developed the video game “Wealth Generator” and is launching a new video game “World Rescue”, to promote peace and sustainable development further.

Teachers could also encourage students to participate in the online Big History Project with a multi-disciplinary approach to help them grasp history as a whole and beyond specialized fields of study or to get inspired as global citizens through Microsoft‘s Skype in the Classroom online community.

System-wide Impact with Global Citizenship Education

Given that countries have obligations to the international agenda on Sustainable Development Goals, they will be collectively tracked through specific monitoring and evaluation indicators on how they are mainstreaming Global Citizenship Education. They therefore, need to develop comprehensive education strategies and actions aimed at developing global citizens with essential skills to succeed in the 21st century and to allow them better to compete in the global economy. To make a system-wide impact with global citizenship education, it is important to analyze how to integrate 21st century skills into curriculum, pedagogical support and actual practices in education institutions. This should take place in formal, non- and in-formal education and at all levels, including early childhood, primary, secondary, technical and vocational, and higher education.

Lina Benete is Education Programme Specialist, UNESCO Almaty Cluster Office for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. 

These are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official position of the Varkey Foundation.