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How to prepare students for the complexity of a global society

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January 22, 2018 by Anthony Jackson and Andreas Schleicher

In all countries, rapidly changing global economic, digital, cultural, and environmental forces are shaping young people’s lives and their futures. From Boston to Bangkok to Buenos Aires, we live today in a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

The world’s growing complexity and diversity present both opportunity and challenge. On the one hand, globalization can bring important new perspectives, innovation, and improved living standards. But on the other, it can also contribute to economic inequality, social division, and conflict.

How well education systems prepare all of their students to thrive amid today’s rapidly changing world will determine the future prosperity and security of their nations – and of the world as a whole. Global competence education is what will empower students to do just that. Globally competent students can draw on and combine the disciplinary knowledge and modes of thinking acquired in schools to ask questions, analyse data and arguments, explain phenomena, and develop a position concerning a local, global or cultural issue. They can retain their cultural identity but are simultaneously aware of the cultural values and beliefs of people around them, they examine the origins and implications of others’ and their own assumptions. And they can create opportunities to take informed, reflective action and have their voices heard.

On top of the complexity of our increasingly interconnected world, and the call of employers for better intercultural skills, we’ve watched in recent years as waves of nationalism, racism, and anti-globalism have swept across countries around the world. It makes global competence education that much more critical. To put it simply, the number-one solution to combating nationalist fervor is increasing global understanding.

Both the United Nations and OECD have prioritized global citizenship and global competence education in recent years, with good reason. Globally competent individuals are aware, curious, and interested in learning about the world and how it works, beyond their immediate environment. They recognize the perspectives and worldviews of others and are able to interact and communicate with people across cultures and regions in appropriate ways. And most critically, globally competent individuals don’t just understand the world (which is no small thing in and of itself)—they are an active part of it. They can and do take action to solve problems big and small to improve our collective well-being.

At the end of the day, it is globally competent individuals who will be able to solve the world’s seemingly intractable problems. And it’s up to our world’s educators to prepare those individuals for their global futures.

Schools can make an important difference. They are the first place where children encounter the diversity of society. They can provide students with opportunities to learn about global developments that affect the world and their own lives. They can teach students to develop a fact-based and critical worldview and equip students with an appreciation of other cultures and an awareness of their own cultural identities. They can engage students in experiences that facilitate international and intercultural relations. And they can promote the value of diversity, which in turn encourages sensitivity, respect and appreciation.

But how to do that? In a new publication by the Center for Global Education at Asia Society and OECD, Teaching for global competence in a rapidly changing world, we set forward the PISA framework for global competence developed by OECD, which aligns closely with the definition developed by the Center for Global Education. Based on Asia Society’s extensive experience supporting educators in integrating global competence into their teaching, the publication also provides practical guidance and examples of how educators can embed global competence into their existing curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

As the publication demonstrates through its myriad examples, teachers from around the world have already recognized the importance of teaching for global competence. In one example from a political science teacher in India, students visited a nearby refugee camp to learn about the complexity of the global refugee crisis; in another, a social studies teacher in Mexico guided her students to make recommendations for reducing corruption that they then presented to local officials.

But it also shows that for all students to develop global competence – regardless of their wealth, ethnicity, gender, or background – we need to create access to high-quality professional learning for every teacher in the world. Teachers prepared to develop students’ global competence is a requirement for a sustainable, livable future.

Professional learning for teachers is key, and that requires leveraging digital technology to rapidly build capacity at scale. The challenge now is providing access to these types of professional development resources for all teachers, to transform their teaching methods, their classrooms, their schools – and, eventually, each and every one of their students.


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