Curriculum Updates

Education leaders around the world are increasingly talking about the need to teach "global competences" as a way of addressing the challenges of globalisation.

It was one of the key topics at this month's meeting of education ministers from the G7 group of leading industrial countries, held in Japan.

digital economyImage copyright Reuters The digital economy will need workers who can work in different cultures

Globalisation can mean different things to different people. It can mean innovation and higher living standards for some - but it can also contribute to social division and economic inequality.

Automation and the digital economy could be seen as an entrepreneurial opportunity - or a weakening of job security.

For some "cross border migration" means being able to travel for work between different countries, while for others it means escaping from poverty and war.

Educators have been struggling with how to prepare students for the culturally diverse and digitally-connected communities in which they work and socialise.

In the past, education was about teaching people something.

Migrants arrivingImage copyright Getty Images Navigating a changing world: Globalisation can mean benefits and challenges

Now, it is also about making sure that children develop a reliable compass, the navigation skills and the character qualities that will help them find their own way through an uncertain, volatile and ambiguous world.

Schools need to prepare students for a world where many will need to collaborate with people of diverse cultural origins.

They will need to appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values. It's a world in which people need to decide how to trust and collaborate across differences.

Schools can provide opportunities for young people to learn about global development, equip them with the means of accessing and analysing different cultures, help students engage in international and intercultural relations, and foster the value of the diversity of people.

Stock marketImage copyright Reuters A meeting of ministers in Japan highlighted the importance of pupils learning global skills

These objectives already feature in many countries' curriculums.

But nowhere do policymakers or educators have ready answers about how to embed global competence in schools and learning.

A big part of the problem is that there is no clear definition of what global competence should embrace, and how to make it measurable for educational policy and practice.

The OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) has now put that on its agenda.

It defines "global competence" as:

  • "the capacity to analyse global and intercultural issues critically and from multiple perspectives, to understand how differences affect perceptions, judgements, and ideas of self and others, and to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with others from different backgrounds on the basis of a shared respect for human dignity".

The idea is to provide an internationally comparative Pisa assessment that would offer the first comprehensive overview of education systems' success in preparing young people to have such global competence.

It could assess the knowledge and understanding of 15-year-olds of global issues and interactions with other cultures.

The proposal also includes asking students questions about communicating appropriately and effectively with people from other cultures or countries

How well can they comprehend other people's thoughts, beliefs and feelings, and see the world from their perspectives?

Greek-Macedonian borderImage copyright Reuters Family life: A refugee family on the Greek-Macedonian border

How can they adjust their own thoughts, feelings or behaviours to fit new contexts and situations? Can they analyse and think critically in order to scrutinise information given to them?

There is also a discussion about looking at more general attitudes, such as the openness of students towards people from other cultures. What is their sensitivity towards, curiosity about and willingness to engage with other people and other perspectives on the world?

Pisa is just at the beginning of exploring how to measure these dimensions.

But comparative evidence from tests could help countries to study how well their students are prepared for life and employment in a globalised world.

Paris protestImage copyright Getty Images An anti-globalisation protest earlier this year in Paris

It could find out how much their students are exposed to global news and how they understand and critically analyse global issues.

What are the different approaches to multicultural and global education used in different countries? How are culturally diverse groups of students being taught?

How well are schools challenging cultural and gender biases and stereotypes?

The OECD sees global competence as being shaped by three principles - "equity", "cohesion" and "sustainability".

  • Equity: The increased inequality of income and opportunities, along with the fact that poor children receive poor education, puts the issue of equity and inclusive growth high on the global agenda. The digital economy is hollowing out jobs consisting of routine tasks and radically altering the nature of employment. For many, this is liberating and exciting. It's a great moment to be a twentysomething entrepreneur with a disruptive internet business model. But for others, it means the end of a livelihood.
  • Cohesion: In all parts of the world, we are seeing unprecedented movements of people, with the most dramatic flows coming from countries mired in poverty and war. How can receiving countries integrate diverse groups of people and avoid rising extremism and fundamentalism?
  • Sustainability: Delivering on the UN Sustainable Development Goals is a priority in the international community. Development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, is more relevant than ever before, in the face of environmental degradation, climate change, overconsumption and population growth.

Today, all three principles are at risk. But the OECD sees global competence as the centrepiece of a broader vision for 21st-Century education.