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Global Competence Goes Global

Around the globe, countries are beginning to recognize global competence a key part of a 21st century education. Alexis Menten reports.

by Alexis Menten

For the first time, there is broad recognition around the world about the importance of educating for global competence. Different countries and organizations may use different terms, but they all are ultimately calling for the development of the same knowledge, skills, and dispositions that are now required for success in a global 21st century. 

The global conversation on education has evolved from focusing primarily on increasing access to education to also improving the quality of education, and the recognition that a quality education in the 21st century means educating for global competence. The challenge is how best to support the teaching, learning, and assessment of global competence worldwide; and how to do so in a way that results in comparable data and identifies effective practices that can be shared across countries and cultures.

Some education stakeholders believe that this cannot be done, or that the task is simply too overwhelming to undertake. And yet, efforts like those led by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have demonstrated that defining, measuring, and sharing data on complex but common education outcomes across countries is not only possible, it can help improve education worldwide.

What Brought Us Here?

As the 2015 deadline approaches for the Millennium Development Goals, it is clear that the goal of universal primary education will not be met. While gains have been made, the most recent Education For All Global Monitoring Report estimates that 57 million children worldwide are not in school. Furthermore, the data confirm that increased access to education does not always advance learning: one third of primary school children around the world are not learning basic literacy and numeracy, whether they are in school or not. Educational equity can reduce inequalities only when combined with a quality education that prepares students for equal participation in jobs and communities—both locally and globally. 

In 2012, the UN's Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) focused the global education community around three core goals: putting every child in school, improving the quality of learning, and fostering global citizenship education. This is a reflection of the fact that globalization now drives similar educational needs across all countries, regardless of where they stand on the spectrum of development. Every country around the world is contending with the continued acceleration of globalization and its economic and social repercussions, which directly impact the demographics of their education systems and how they prepare the next generation for success.

In this context, the basics are clearly no longer sufficient. All countries need to promote critical thinking, cross-cultural communication and collaboration, and the higher-order thinking skills that are required for workforce development in the 21st century. While at the same time, all countries need to support the development of tolerance and respect, active civic participation, and deep understanding of global issues and systems that are required to navigate today's changing communities and societies. A prosperous and peaceful future depends directly on educating the next generation to be able to work together to create the world we want.

Toward a Common Definition

The Global Citizenship Education working group of the Learning Metrics Task Force was established by UNESCO, the Brookings Institution, and the GEFI Youth Advocacy Group in response to the call to go beyond basic education to the values and skills necessary for success in our communities, countries, and the world. The goal of the working group is to provide guidance for governments and educators on how to foster teaching, learning, and measurement of global competencies.

The working group held its first in-person meeting in July 2014 in Bogota, Colombia, to build consensus on the key components that can be taught and measured in formal and non-formal education settings. Through these conversations and others, three areas have emerged as common characteristics of a quality, relevant, and meaningful education in the 21st century:

  • Understanding global issues and recognizing the interconnectedness of local and global issues. This is different from how international education has been traditionally understood, as learning about others—other countries, other cultures, and other languages. In addition to cultural competence, global competence now requires learning about the complex and significant issues facing the world as a whole, including environmental, social, and economic issues, and understanding the world as a single interconnected system.
  • Developing 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to communicate and collaborate with others. In an era of globalization, these types of education outcomes are relevant and necessary for all students, not only students in high-income countries. The goal is to develop students' 21st century skills in a global context, ultimately producing graduates who are productive and collaborative citizens as much as they are competitive workers.
  • Empowering young people to learn as well as act by applying their global competence to the local and global issues that affect them. This component positions young people from all backgrounds not simply as "adults in training" but as participating members of our global society. This approach extends young people's learning beyond the classroom, and conversely, can engage out-of-school youth by providing relevance to what they are learning in school to the world around them.

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite these areas of convergence, there are challenges. The concept of "global citizenship education" encompasses values and beliefs (in areas such as justice, human rights, etc.), which will make it difficult to create a common framework that can be readily adopted by governments worldwide. Also, the idea of global citizenship can be perceived as contradictory to national citizenship. 

Asia Society and others have proposed the term "global competence" to decouple the concept from concerns about inculcating cultural or political beliefs from outside a particular country, system, or context. Global competence is focused on the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to understand and act of issues of global significance—it is up to individual countries, communities, schools, educators, and students to determine which global issues are most relevant in their local context.

As countries and organizations work together to advance a quality education for all that includes global competence, we can leverage the expertise and assets that institutions and individuals have already developed in this area. We look forward to learning and sharing more on this topic, and we encourage all of you to join this growing global conversation.

Alexis Menten is Executive Director, Program Development, Asia Society. Follow her and Asia Society on Twitter. 

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