What is global citizenship?

It is a way of living that recognises our world is an increasingly complex web of connections and interdependencies. One in which our choices and actions may have repercussions for people and communities locally, nationally or internationally.

What is global citizenship?

Global citizenship nurtures personal respect and respect for others, wherever they live. It encourages individuals to think deeply and critically about what is equitable and just, and what will minimise harm to our planet. Exploring global citizenship themes help learners grow more confident in standing up for their beliefs, and more skilled in evaluating the ethics and impact of their decisions.

What is a global citizen?

"An ethic of care for the world." Hannah Arendt

There is a great deal of debate and discussion around this question, as there is around the whole concept of globalisation. A useful working definition, however, is offered by Oxfam:

A Global Citizen is someone who:

  • is aware of the wider world and has a sense of their own role as a world citizen
  • respects and values diversity
  • has an understanding of how the world works
  • is outraged by social injustice
  • participates in the community at a range of levels, from the local to the global
  • is willing to act to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place
  • takes responsibility for their actions.

To be effective Global Citizens, young people need to be flexible, creative and proactive. They need to be able to solve problems, make decisions, think critically, communicate ideas effectively and work well within teams and groups. These skills and attributes are increasingly recognised as being essential to succeed in other areas of 21st century life too, including many workplaces. These skills and qualities cannot be developed without the use of active learning methods through which pupils learn by doing and by collaborating with others.

Why is global citizenship education needed?

"Education must be not only a transmission of culture but also a provider of alternative views of the world and a strengthener of skills to explore them" Jerome S Bruner

With the interconnected and interdependent nature of our world, the global is not ‘out there’; it is part of our everyday lives, as we are linked to others on every continent:

  • socially and culturally through the media and telecommunications, and through travel and migration
  • economically through trade
  • environmentally through sharing one planet
  • politically through international relations and systems of regulation.

The opportunities our fast-changing ‘globalised’ world offers young people are enormous. But so too are the challenges. Young people are entitled to an education that equips them with the knowledge, skills and values they need in order to embrace the opportunities and challenges they encounter, and to create the kind of world that they want to live in. An education that supports their development as Global Citizens.

The active, participatory methods of Education for Global Citizenship and Sustainable Development help young people to learn how decisions made by people in other parts of the world affect our lives, just as our decisions affect the lives of others. Education for Global Citizenship and Sustainable Development also promotes pupil participation in the learning process and in decision-making for the following reasons:

  • Everything done in school sends out messages, so we need to exemplify the values we wish to promote. If we wish to affirm beliefs about the equality of all human beings and the importance of treating everyone fairly and with respect, we need to ensure that learning processes, and relationships between pupils and teachers, reflect and reinforce these values.
  • Research shows that in more democratic schools pupils feel more in control of their learning, and the quality of teaching, learning and behaviour is better.
  • The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child affirms the right of children to have their opinions taken into account on matters that affect them.

What does it look like in the classroom?

"Education is not a preparation for life, it is life itself." John Dewey

Education for global citizenship deals with issues of global interdependence, diversity of identities and cultures, sustainable development, peace & conflict and inequities of power, resources & respect.

These issues are addressed in the classroom through a wide and evolving variety of participatory teaching and learning methodologies, including structured discussion and debate, role-play, ranking exercises, and communities of enquiry. Such active methods are now established as good practice in education, and are not unique to global citizenship. Curriculum for Excellence has at its core a commitment to improved student participation in order to develop the four capacities: successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

It is crucial to be aware that, far from promoting one set of answers or values or attitudes, education for global citizenship encourages children and young people to explore, develop and express their own values and opinions. (Always requiring too that they listen to and respect other people's points of view.) This is an important step towards children and young people making informed choices as to how they exercise their own rights and their responsibilities to others.

It is also vital that teachers at all levels do not approach education for global citizenship with the feeling that they must have all the answers – impossible anyway in such a fast changing world. The role of the teacher is to enable pupils to find out about their world for themselves and to support them as they learn to assess evidence, negotiate and work with others, solve problems and make informed decisions.