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.
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.
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.
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.
Existing and emerging K–12 educational efforts — including 1:1 technology initiatives and language, International Baccalaureate, STEAM, and cross-cultural exchange programs — promote students’ global competence. But, while these efforts are growing in popularity, they are still not available to a majority of students.
All students — regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic status and cultural backgrounds — are equally deserving of educational experiences that prepare them to be globally competent. So how do we as educators continuously create opportunities and deliver instruction that ensures global competence for 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 need to navigate, contribute to and flourish in the world — and they integrate activities that purposefully resolve opportunity gaps among students on a daily basis. 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.
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.
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.
Perspective Taking Skills
Students demonstrate curiosity and empathy and may show compassion for the perspectives of others.
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.
Students see alternative or original solutions to existing problems and can envision the world differently from how it currently exists.
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.
How Do We Effectively Prepare Globally Competent Students
Instruction aimed at helping students develop global competence does not need to be restricted to social studies or global studies courses. Many global education strategies are relevant across grade levels and academic subjects, and can be applied in any classroom. The chart on the preceding page lists just a few examples of instructional strategies that can be used across disciplines to support students in developing key global competence skills.