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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Building global citizenship

Cathy McNicol
Cathy McNicol is the Global Education Project Manager at Curriculum Corporation. She has used Global Education perspectives as a primary teacher, writer and teacher educator. She has also worked with several non-government organisations, including the Australian Red Cross, World Vision and Australian Volunteers International.

Global education is a distinctive approach to engaging students in learning about the world, with an orientation towards active participation in shaping a better future. While closely linked in with developments in education internationally, global education has developed a distinctive style in Australia, and is strongly supported in schools throughout the country. As students and teachers alike grapple with the need to understand an increasingly complex and dynamic world, global education offers an approach that fulfils this need, while maintaining the carefully articulated scope and sequence built into the formal curriculum.

Global education is a cross-curricular perspective, although it has particular resonance in the Society and Environment learning area, with its emphasis on understanding global systems, social and political change and environmental sustainability. Part of its appeal for teachers is the liveliness and richness it can bring to the curriculum, yet it does not add to the curriculum burden. Rather it offers exciting and satisfying ways to fulfil the already existing requirements of formal curriculum, across all year levels and stages of schooling.

Global education has at its heart the key concepts of interdependence and the essential unity of the global human community. This involves the notion that individuals and communities throughout the world are increasingly linked, and that our prospects of living in secure, peaceful, prosperous and sustainable ways are contingent on the same opportunities becoming available to all. As we come to terms with the complex set of phenomena represented by the catch-all term 'globalisation', it is vital that schools provide students with an opportunity to engage seriously with the global forces and factors that will increasingly affect their lives.

Although a popular view exists that today's students are in some ways alienated or disengaged from social issues and civic participation, the experience of educators involved with global education has been that students actually find these issues compelling. However, an important key to engaging students is that the issues must be presented as educationally important - not just as a worthy adjunct to the 'real' curriculum.

While offering students important conceptual knowledge and skills, global education also contributes usefully to prominent curriculum priorities of recent years - especially Values Education and Civics and Citizenship. Global education emphasises the development of positive values and attitudes, based on a strong sense of identity and self-esteem and encompassing caring for others, recognising responsibilities, a commitment to upholding the rights and dignity of all people and an appreciation of diversity and difference. It also encourages and empowers learners to translate their knowledge, skills and values into a preparedness to participate actively in community life. At the same time it is vital that students develop a realistic awareness of how effective such action and participation will be. Students should never be discouraged by thinking that they can make no difference at all, but they should also not be misled into believing they can remake the world.

A key focus of global education is action to improve the lives of people in developing countries. It is important that this is not presented to students in a negative, depressing way - global education is emphatically not just a study of poverty and problems. The challenges facing developing countries should not be understated, but they need to be balanced with a positive recognition of achievements and action. Care also needs to be taken to avoid the stereotyped imagery of people in developing countries as passive victims. The emphasis needs to be on positive initiatives that reduce poverty and enhance sustainability, and that reflect the active participation and leadership of people around in the world in working towards these aims.

It is also important not to look only at economic development projects, but to take into account contextual factors, such as social and political structures and environmental issues, that affect a community's ability to deal with challenges. A good example is the issue of governance. The need for forms of governance that are democratic, accountable, transparent and stable is a vital component of understanding the challenges facing countries such as East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Global education, however, goes well beyond the study of developing countries to embrace other important concepts in social understanding. These include appreciation of diverse cultures, religions and traditions, an emphasis on human rights and justice, and an understanding of concepts of peace, security and cooperation. This encompasses actions to prevent or resolve conflicts, as well as peace-building initiatives.

Part of the success of global education is due to the enthusiastic support of teacher professional associations and non-government organisations, which have a special interest in promoting awareness among Australians about issues affecting developing countries. Another important underpinning factor has been the Global Education program funded and managed by AusAID, Australia's international development agency. This program has supported several projects to develop curriculum resources, as well as a national program of teacher professional development.

This week has seen the release of a significant new resource, the Global Education website, developed and hosted by Education.au Limited, with content supplied by Curriculum Corporation in association with AusAID. Professional development providers and teacher professional associations are also having ongoing input into the project. The current release is Stage 1 of a longer project, and the site's current content will be progressively expanded and developed over the next two years.

The site content includes overviews of key issues such as water, environment, health and governance, with related case studies and teaching and learning activities. Country profiles offer snapshots of key developing countries that reflect their achievements and challenges, as well as links with Australia. Future stages of site development will include activity-based elements such as web quests and learning challenges.

Visit the new Global Education website at http://globaleducation.edna.edu.au

Key Learning Areas

Studies of Society and Environment

Subject Headings

Civics education
International education