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The essential ‘soft skills’: Global citizenship education at the heart of learning to live together

Date: 1 Aug 2018 | By: | Story Source: UNESCO Bangkok ~ Go to Original Article


About 246 million children and adolescents experience school violence and bullying in some form every year, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. We know most of these victims are bullied because of their physical appearance, national origin, gender or sexual orientation, but this isn’t the answer to why victims are bullied. Why do perpetrators exhibit such an intolerance for diversity, so much that they infringe on their victims’ rights to education and health? The main reason boils down to the fact that bullies lack certain ‘soft skills’ – including social and cultural competency, empathy, collaboration, communication and, quite possibly, problem solving.

That in essence is the definition (or at least one definition) of global citizenship education (GCED), which UNESCO promotes to reduce intolerance and disrespect for diversity – the root causes of bullying, school violence, and other forms of prejudice and violence – by instilling a sense of belonging to a broader community and humanity as a whole. GCED’s goal is to teach individuals to have empathy, a capacity of understanding from different points of view, respect for differences and appreciation of diversity. Based on this knowledge and understanding, the vision is to encourage learners to take concrete action to pave the way towards a more just and sustainable world.


Within the Asia-Pacific region, a wide range of stakeholders have committed to promoting GCED. From ministries of education to private-sector businesses, groups have come together to discuss what it means to be a global citizen and how to implement this concept into formal and informal learning spheres. As a result, themes of global citizenship have been incorporated into schools’ curricula and programmes have been implemented to enhance global citizenry.

For example, curricula in India feature several key GCED elements: nurturing respect for all, appreciating diversity, developing a sense of belonging to common humanity and sustainable development, and developing a culture of respect and dialogue. Similarly, in Indonesia, GCED values such as teamwork, tolerance, concern for the environment, empathy, cultural sensitivity and political participation are taught through various subjects, including natural science, social science, Indonesian language, physical education and sociology.

GCED is also being implemented in institutions of higher education. For example, in China, at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen, there is a focus on being a global university. Along with multiple exchange programmes, the university promotes global and regional issues through its Regional Cultural Festival and World Earth Day. In another example, the Philippines Normal University (PNU) integrates GCED and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) into its curriculum for pre-service teachers.

Overall, there are many actors implementing diverse GCED initiatives, yet there are still many areas that need to be clarified through research in order to effectively implement national and regional strategies. There is a need for evidence-based resources for GCED pedagogy; specifically, we still do not know what factors help develop critical soft skills such as empathy and communication skills. Additionally, a clear monitoring and evaluation framework for the region and for individual countries is missing, while strategies for financial and human support conducive to effective and sustainable implementation needs to be developed. Furthermore, because teachers are front-line implementers of GCED pedagogy in formal learning spheres, there is a need to increase their capacity and ability to incorporate such concepts into existing curricula.

Work is underway as national and regional leaders meet periodically to discuss progress made and the way forward to implement GCED on a broad scale. On May 3-4, 2018, UNESCO Bangkok, UNESCO Jakarta and the Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding (APCEIU) organized the 2018 Asia-Pacific Regional GCED Network Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia. This meeting brought together key players to identify good practices, challenges and opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region.

At the meeting, a GCED framework comprising inputs (including curriculum, teacher training courses, materials and methods, and learning assessments); processes (the ways GCED is actually implemented and the expected transformation between educators and learners); and outcomes (individual learning outcomes and the overall impact on society) were identified and discussed. The conclusion: there is a significant amount of information, research and resources related to developing and assessing GCED inputs, but a number of gaps still exist related to measuring processes and outcomes.


In terms of GCED processes, teachers are already overloaded; how is it possible to incorporate GCED in classrooms without putting too much pressure on teachers to radically change their approaches? Additionally, it is challenging to identify which ‘teacher factors’ (ie, teachers’ value systems, mindsets and behaviours) promote effective implementation within the classroom. An observation study is currently underway to identify these factors, although it will be challenging to operationalize the findings of these studies to effectively promote GCED within all classrooms.

Core Members of the GCED Network include: UNESCO Bangkok, APCEIU, Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), National Council of Educational Research and Training of India (NCERT), Korean Society of Education for International Understanding (KOSEIU), Japanese Association for International Education (JAIE), ESD Centre/ Chulalongkorn University (Thailand), Philippines Normal University, Tamagawa University College of Education (Japan), Asia-Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU) and Korean Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE). Additionally, UNESCO Bangkok will work closely with other Field Offices in the region and with UNESCO Head Quarters (HQ) in Paris, France.

Specific GCED outcomes are categorized under three learning dimensions: cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioral competencies. The cognitive dimension includes acquiring an understanding of local, national and global issues; the socio-emotional dimension is related to experiencing a sense of belonging to common humanity as well as developing empathy and respecting diversity; and the behavioral dimension is comprised of acting at local, national and global levels to bring about a more peaceful and sustainable world.

In traditional learning assessments, the cognitive dimension and, to some extent, the socio-emotional dimension can be measured. For example, the PISA 2018 measures knowledge, cognitive skills, social skills and attitudes (the last two being assessed only in a student questionnaire). However, experiencing a sense of belonging to a common humanity is not specifically assessed, not to mention being difficult to measure through traditional learning assessments. Similarly, the desired behavioural outcomes of GCED, such as getting engaged and taking action are not assessed and difficult to accurately measure. Indeed, it is possible to ask learners about their level of engagement in a questionnaire; however, individuals can be tempted to exaggerate their values and behaviours because of social desirability bias, which would ultimately raise questions about the validity of the questionnaire. Further complicating the measurement of outcomes is the fact that promoting a culture of peace, non-violence and an appreciation of diversity must be examined within national contexts. In short, it is not possible to develop a universal assessment of GCED that is appropriate for every learner and context.

The GCED Network Meeting in Jakarta concluded with the adoption of a foundation document that lays the steps in creating an Asia-Pacific Regional GCED Network. This Network will allow partners from the region to collaborate, consult and share information with each other surrounding five action areas for GCED implementation: policy, capacity building, teaching and learning materials, research and advocacy.

Over the next five years, the Network will undertake activities to promote GCED, including supporting a review of national education policies and practices with a GCED lens and hosting more meetings involving ministries of education and parliamentarians to develop leadership at the national level. In terms of local capacity building, the Network will collaborate in organizing workshops for teachers and promote the use of existing capacity building training platforms and materials. Additionally, the Network will conduct research to understand how the rapport between teachers and learners influences GCED outcomes. Separately, research about the ‘teacher factors’ conducive to promoting GCED in the classroom will continue, with further work to be developed on how to operationalize the findings of the study. Finally, the Network will research how to promote GCED that reflects various cultural backgrounds.

For more information on GCED and for related resources see the UNESCO Clearinghouse on Global Citizenship Education.



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