International Opinion

Toronto: Developing Equity Through Global Competence

By Heather Singmaster — March 11, 2015 5 min read
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Monday’s post examined the latest research in Asia which shows a move away from rote learning and an increased emphasis on twenty-first century skills. Meanwhile, here in North America, the Toronto District School Board has made the integration of global competence a priority in their system. Asia Society’s Global Cities Education Network recently visited Toronto to see what this looks like in practice. I asked Gen Ling Chang, Associate Director, Karen Murray, Program Coordinator, and Colleen Russell-Rawlins, Executive Superintendent, Toronto District School Board to share with me how global competence supports their equity agenda and to recommend some resources for others.

1. How does TDSB define global competencies?

Here is The Toronto District School Board Global Learning & Education Framework 2014:

Gen Ling: If education is defined as ways of working, learning, and thinking, then to meet the current and future needs of our students, it is necessary to ensure the development and intersection of the three categories of knowledge and competencies as outlined in the Framework. This means we need to challenge the belief that learning happens only in schools and classrooms. With the exponential increase in technology systems and tools, it is essential that school learning is redefined as an eco-system of learning that connects the real and virtual worlds, and local and global issues of significance. If learning is going to be relevant and engaging, then this is the model that will allow students to pursue problems that are open-ended, ambiguous, and complex, and in doing so, research and construct knowledge and develop competencies that are valued and necessary to be successful in life and in the world.

2. We saw very clearly that you have a focus on equity in everything you do at the Toronto District School Board. How does the teaching of global competence support your equity agenda?

Karen and Colleen: The teaching of global competence and globalizing the curriculum provide the opportunity for deep exploration by both staff and students on issues associated with equity education. (Refer to The Global Learner in TDSB 2014 below). It allows for discussion, reflection, critical thinking, and analysis on inequity and issues of power and privilege at both the local and global level. It supports students in acknowledging and examining their mental models or frames of reference as they experience new ways of thinking about the world and engage in creative and meaning-making processes. Teaching through the Global Learning and Education Framework allows intentional learning that provides students with the opportunity to develop ethical social responsibility, explore issues of citizenship, discuss civic responsibility, and take positive action on issues of significance, as well as to understand, from multiple perspectives, how they connect and intersect with the world.

In our culturally diverse city, the lives of our students are shaped by what happens both locally and globally. Through our intentional focus on equity education we honor the knowledge that our students bring, affirm their identity of self with respect to others, and encourage them to utilize their voice to actively investigate controversial issues, consider and respect other’s perspectives, and work collaboratively. We also want them to develop an understanding of the complex power, socio-economic, and geographic-historical interactions occurring in the world around them.

3. How do you take advantage of diversity in the classroom?

Gen Ling: We are re-defining our image and assumptions by seeing that our classrooms are microcosms of the world and all our students as global learners in it. We value the benefits for every student of learning beyond their own ethnicity and culture because it contributes to empathy and the ability to know, learn, and understand from more than one perspective—going beyond the one defining perspective and/or story, so to speak.

We redefine and unpack the curriculum with our teachers from multiple perspectives and from a culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy. For instance, before, when teachers had to teach about ancient civilizations, they would only focus on Greek and Roman civilizations because they were examples cited in the curriculum. Now our teachers are informed by the students and their heritage. Students now investigate and explore how different civilizations around the world have contributed to human development and knowledge creation. That is what makes the curriculum culturally relevant and globally significant.

4. We visited Queen Alexandra Middle School when we were in Toronto and saw the students doing a lot of research on global questions using inquiry methods.

Gen Ling: Student-directed inquiry is used in that school and the students’ questions are pathways for them to investigate and make meaning of the world and society—past, present, and future.

However, to design learning conditions where student inquiry is central, teachers may face the challenge of limited resources that are culturally relevant to their students. One way to address this issue and to change learning conditions, is for teachers to invite their students to bring artifacts and resources from their homes, their communities, and from public libraries.

Then these resources become objects of inquiry, which include asking questions with respect to the dominant perspective. Through inquiry and anti-bias questions, students begin to uncover assumptions and deconstruct biases that are often tacit and left unchallenged.

5. What are some of the resources TDSB has given teachers to help them integrate global perspectives into their classrooms?

Karen and Colleen: Teachers and teacher leaders have been engaged in professional learning that investigates how to globalize the curriculum and teach for social justice. Teachers are provided with resources to support their planning and a forum to share their student work with each other. Here are a few of them:

  • Think Global - Global Learning a Whole School Approach (click for a larger image)

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Images provided by Toronto District School Board. “Global Learning & Education Framework 2014,” is adapted and inspired from Binkley et al. 2010; Kereluik et al., 2013; and Saavedra, & Opfer, 2012; as cited in Sinay, 2014, p. 19.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.