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Curriculum Opinion

Global Competence in Practice

By Richard Lee Colvin — February 05, 2018 5 min read
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Editor’s Note: Recently, the Center for Global Education at Asia Society and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released “Teaching for Global Competence in a Rapidly Changing World”. The publication sets forward a new framework for global competence developed by OECD, which aligns closely with the definition developed by the Center for Global Education, and provides practical guidance and examples of how educators can embed global competence into their existing curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Co-authors of the report, Richard Lee Colvin and Virginia B. Edwards, examined teacher practices currently happening around the world to integrate the teaching of global competence. Here are some examples of what they found.

Efficacy is Key

While teaching a unit on people who make a difference in the world as part of her German curriculum, Mareike Hachemer came to a realization: her students felt powerless to address the issues facing their community, let alone their country or the world. Wanting to change their minds, Hachemer helped them choose projects that could be completed in a month or less, set goals, define success, anticipate challenges, and determine what resources they’d need and how to get them. The students took action in a variety of ways: volunteering in an animal shelter, making friends with homeless people and eating with them, talking to younger children about proper eating habits, and coaching children’s soccer.

Not earth-shattering, perhaps. But the students each learned a valuable lesson: although young, they could take steps to address community issues. “Efficacy is the best thing we can teach our students,” Hachemer says. “If they know that if they do something, that they can change something, even if it is a small thing, the next time it will be something bigger.”

Inspired, Hachemer became involved in an international, teacher-led, volunteer effort to help educators incorporate into their lessons the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015 by that body, to make education universal, fight poverty, protect the environment, create gender equality, improve health care, and create prosperity for all by 2030. To further those goals, teachers around the world are striving to help their students understand and appreciate others’ perspectives, interact productively with people from different cultures, and become both able and willing to act in the interests of collective well-being and sustainable development. “We want to show teachers that, for every unit, students can research and take relevant actions,” she says. “The more relevant learning is, the better it is. Why wouldn’t we want to teach them something that makes the world a better place?”

Efforts by individuals and organizations, including the Center for Global Education, to help students become globally competent have become so widespread that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and its member countries decided it was time to assess their impact on students. This year, for the first time, the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, will be assessing how well schools, school systems, and nations are helping students understand their communities and the world that lies beyond them, interact respectfully with others, and take action toward creating equitable, prosperous, and conflict-free futures for themselves and their countries.

Examining Global Issues

Sandra Arredondo Rodriguez, a teacher at a private school outside of Mexico City, had her students work with their peers at a public school to survey people about their experience with and attitudes toward corruption. After they learned that 75 percent of those surveyed had been victimized by corruption but that many didn’t even recognize it because it was so commonplace, the students came up with a plan for how to reduce corruption and presented it to local elected officials. “This is what democracy is all about,” Rodriguez says. “To be part of the community, you have to participate.”

There are many more examples. Students in a biology class at a school in northern Virginia in the United States learn about the connectedness of the world by studying the Ebola virus outbreak in Western Africa and the availability of medical treatment in that region. Students from Hiroshima, Japan, which was devastated by an atomic bomb at the end of World War II, tour the memorial at Pearl Harbor that honors the men and women who died to gain a new perspective on the war. Students at a high school in Bergen, Norway, use communications technology to interview a police officer in Chicago about shootings, people in South Africa about their experiences under apartheid, and older people in Russia regarding their perspective on the Cold War. Political science students in Jammu, India, learn about the global problem of people displaced by war, oppression, persecution, and famine by talking with refugees from Myanmar living in a nearby camp. Students in one Illinois community learn to use math to understand issues as diverse as the poisoning of the water in Flint, Michigan, the murder rates in different communities, and an unprecedented spike in the cost of some critical pharmaceuticals.

Just Get Started

Eltham High School, in Melbourne, Australia, has been working for eight years to create an academically rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum for teaching global competence and twenty-first-century skills. Educators at the school created a school-wide curriculum and an instructional approach aligned with it. Loren Clarke, the head of curriculum, works intensively with three or four teachers from different disciplines at a time to design specific lessons. The curriculum addresses issues such as sustainability and livability as well as controversial issues such as nuclear power, stem-cell research, world hunger, spending on eradicating AIDS, and the relationship between military spending and poverty.

Although carefully designing a curriculum and planning how to implement it are important, Clarke says, it is also important to just get started. “You can spend all your time planning but ... you won’t fully comprehend how it’s going to work until you get in there and actually do it,” she says. “The more you do it, the more you can refine your plan.”

Undoubtedly dedicated and talented, the educators featured are, in many ways, no different from most of their peers around the world. These examples show that global competence can be taught in specialized classes but also can be developed by adapting the curriculum and assignments in a variety of disciplines.

Learn more about the Center for Global Education’s work on global competence and new online professional development modules.

Connect with Heather and the Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Image courtesy of Asia Society.

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.

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