All of our futures are increasingly linked to the challenges of the global community. The world’s population is predicted to grow from our current 7.3 billion to 8.5 billion in 2030 and to nearly 10 billion by 2050. Such population growth will affect a host of global issues including pollution, disease management, and depletion of energy, food and water resources.

All students — regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic status and cultural backgrounds — are equally deserving and capable of responding to educational experiences and opportunities that prepare them to be globally competent.

For students to participate effectively in this changing world, they must understand it. The 21st century student will sell to the world, buy from the world, work for international companies, compete with people from other countries, manage employees from other cultures, collaborate with people all over the world, and solve global problems.

Nine in 10 students recognize that jobs are becoming increasingly international in nature and believe they would be stronger employees if they had a better understanding of different cultures.

Students believe their appetite and enthusiasm for global education has not been met with an adequate level of instruction in global studies.

The mission of the United States Department of Education is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” Few would disagree that achievement, preparation, competitiveness, excellence and equal access are worthy aspirations for the educational systems serving students today. While specific definitions for those terms vary and strategies to achieve them are vast, there is a sustained expectation in the U.S. for elementary and secondary education to effectively prepare students to make their way through successive grade levels, college, jobs and the world in general.

In education, global competitiveness can be characterized as the set of skills and factors that support individuals’ personal and professional productivity in their communities and in the world. Being globally competitive today requires developing global competence. Equipping students with specific hard skills to compete in a global job market is important, but cultivating their abilities to effectively share ideas and communicate across cultures in appropriate and respectful ways is critical.

Eighty percent of teachers agree that it’s more important than ever for students to learn about other countries and cultures, yet only 30 percent say they often incorporate material about other countries and cultures into their lesson plans. Nearly six in 10 teachers report this is due to a lack of resources or administrative support, not for lack of student support.

Existing and emerging K–12 educational efforts — including 1:1 technology initiatives and language, International Baccalaureate, STEAM, and cross-cultural exchange programs — are in service to students’ global competence. But while these efforts are growing in popularity, they are still not available to every student. All students, regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic status and cultural backgrounds, are equally deserving and capable of responding to educational experiences and opportunities that prepare them to be globally competent. So how do we as educators continuously create opportunities and deliver instruction that affects the global competence of them all? One option is to provide students with instructional practices that consistently engage global content, multicultural perspectives and problem solving across subject areas.

A Simple Term For This Is Global Education.

The most successful global education approaches recognize the attitudes, skills and knowledge students needed to navigate, contribute to and flourish in the world — and they integrate activities that purposefully resolve opportunity gaps among students on a daily basis. So the big question is what do globally competent students look like?

While the definition of global competence is dynamic, these soft skills and characteristics are widely seen as what students need to be globally competent today.

Appreciation of Culture

Students see their own cultures as strengths, seek to understand the cultures of others, are aware of similarities and differences among cultures, and understand that behaviors and values are often tied to cultures. With that knowledge, we can better appreciate where others are coming from and even begin to understand certain thought processes behind decisions and behaviors. When students begin to appreciate different cultures, they have the opportunity to find similarities between themselves and others, instead of focusing on differences.

Evaluation Of Information

Students regularly question easily accessible information to seek deeper understanding and thoughtfully evaluate materials and perspectives, rather than accepting things at face value. Students who investigate information and materials on their own begin to uncover new information that may open other doors to new thoughts, ideas or practices. With this comes deeper understanding of the world around them.

Cross-Cultural Communication Skills

Students effectively exchange ideas with peers and adults from different backgrounds — either virtually or in person — and have the skills to enter new communities and spaces. Communication skills can come in many shapes and sizes and range from both verbal to nonverbal. What may be accepted as a proper greeting in one culture may be considered the complete opposite in another, making communication skills an integral part of global competence.

Perspective Skills

Students demonstrate curiosity and empathy and may show compassion for the perspectives of others. Perspective directly ties into several other aspects of global competence, as it is the culmination of many soft skills that enable us to have perspective on other student’s cultures and beliefs.

Intelligent Humility

Students understand that their knowledge is not finite and appreciate how much more there is to learn about the world. Students understand the grandiosity of the world and its complexities. Knowing what is going on in the world around you, or the fact that there is more to be known about life outside of your town can be the beginning of anyone’s global competence journey.

Divergent Thinking

Students see alternative or original solutions to existing problems and can envision the world differently from how it currently exists. Thinking outside the box can lead students to new ideas or inventions that may lead to the improvement of the lives of those around them. With creativity come new opportunities that have the potential to shape and enhance behavior.

Technological Literacy

Students utilize and explore existing technologies to communicate and collaborate with others and to learn and share new ideas and information. Students create new technologies or discover new uses for technologies that help them and others navigate their worlds. With 21st century students, technology is an endless possibility, and it should be explored and promoted as an innovative way of teaching and learning.

TJ Scholl is in the head of communications for VIF International Education. VIF International Education partners with districts and schools to prepare global-ready teachers and students. For more, visit

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