Global Education

How Are You Helping Your Students Become Global Citizens?

A globally competent student is one who can investigate the world, weigh perspectives, interact with diverse audiences, and take action.
October 26, 2016
Five diverse, young students and a female librarian are standing by a table with atlases spread open in a library.
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What does global education look like in your classroom or your school? Is it an annual cultural celebration with a heavy emphasis on food and music? Or do your students engage regularly and deeply with world issues, communicating and collaborating with people whose perspectives may differ from their own?

For too many students, global education remains at best a sidebar to the regular curriculum. “In so many places, it’s an annual festival. Schools check the box and say, ‘OK, we’ve done global,’” says Fernando Reimers, professor of international education and the director of the Global Education Innovation Initiative and the International Education Policy Program at Harvard University.

One-shot events or content-light programs do little to help students develop the global competencies that the 21st century demands of them. According to the U.S. Department of Education, a globally competent student (PDF) is one who can investigate the world, weigh perspectives, communicate effectively with diverse audiences, and take action.

That’s a tall order, but is essential learning for students coming of age at a time of daunting challenges—social, political, economic, and environmental—and also remarkable opportunities.

To develop these competencies, students need learning experiences that build over time, developing their academic understanding and empathy along with their confidence to take action. That means teachers in diverse contexts also need to develop their skills as global educators.

A Course for the World

To help the world’s teachers seize this opportunity, Reimers and colleagues have written Empowering Global Citizens: A World Course. Inside, readers will find a comprehensive curriculum that extends from kindergarten through high school. Units are interdisciplinary, inquiry based, and developmentally appropriate. Primary grades focus close to home (for example: Where do we live? How do we move around) while high school students wrestle with complex issues, such as global conflicts and public health. Throughout, teachers will find an emphasis on best practices for 21st-century learning, such as project-based learning and authentic assessment. In an introductory essay, Reimers and co-authors recount the historical roots of global education and explain the significance of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015. Quality education for all is not only one of those goals, they point out, but it's also central to the achievement of every goal on the list. 

What This Book Won't Give You

What you won’t find in the book is a step-by-step instructional guide.

“No good teacher wants someone to say, here’s what you need to teach,” Reimers says. Instead, he describes the world course as “an invitation. Teachers can build on this and make it their own. The book is an invitation to co-creation.”

A Global Goal

The curriculum has an interesting history. Reimers and colleagues developed the first version of the course for Avenues: The World School, an elite independent school that opened its first campus in New York City in 2012. Their intent with the Creative Commons license is to make the same course offerings available to students and teachers in every kind of setting, regardless of resources. With 60 million teachers in the world today, Reimers expects to see “60 million variations.” That should set the stage for more collaboration and cross-pollinating of ideas and resources.

Join the Global Education Conference

Educators eager for more global learning should mark their calendars for the seventh annual Global Education Conference, a free, online, worldwide event taking place November 13-16. Call for proposals is open until November 1st. Conference organizers are looking for ideas, examples, and projects related to connecting educators and classrooms with a strong emphasis on promoting global awareness, fostering global competency, and inspiring action towards solving real–world problems.

Participate in the Great Global Project Challenge

Another effort to inspire global education (and project-based learning) is the Great Global Project Challenge. Organized by the Global Education Conference Network, the challenge is designed to bring together students and teachers on globally connected projects that will take place during this school year. If you’re new to global education, view ready-to-join projects and learn alongside experienced colleagues.

How are you helping your students become global citizens? Please share your ideas and resources in the comments section below.