How do we create transformative global citizens?

There is a shared resolve among educators across the world to ensure that young people acquire social, civic and global-intercultural aptitudes by promoting democratic values and fundamental rights, social inclusion and non-discrimination as well as active citizenship across all disciplines.

However, this raises many challenges, not least in a society epitomised by growing inequality and the rise of nationalism and populist ‘post-truth’ politics which is using social media as an agent for ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ with the purpose of provoking fear and hatred of ‘the other’.

All these challenges, on the one hand, raise questions about notions related to leadership, citizenship, belonging, otherness, recognition of diversity and active democratic participation at the personal, local and global level and, on the other hand, require an ‘evolution’ of teaching roles towards supporting learners in developing not only knowledge and skills, but perhaps most importantly, values.

Why are we in teaching and learning if not to be able to help enrich the lives of our students?

My research work is centred on developing and integrating innovative approaches to ‘Global Citizenship Education’. In particular it builds on a ‘transformative value-creating’ dimension of global citizenship education. The word transformative refers to a clear focus on self-reflection and awareness, while the words value-creating denote taking actions in order to create value in society.

I recently conducted a 24-week pilot survey study investigating 45 teaching staff involved with global citizenship courses in Japan, the United States and Europe.

The findings suggest there are three emerging interconnected dimensions of implementing the notion of global citizenship into universities’ curricula, namely:
  • • Social contribution,
  • • Civic commitment, and
  • • Global disposition.
These dimensions can be summarised in the following equation: Social contribution + civic commitment + global disposition (the development of knowledge, skills and values) = students’ ‘personal transformation’ and evolution towards value-creation within society.

The teachers were asked about whether the dimensions could in the short, medium and long term facilitate students’ “personal transformation” and enable them to develop a value-creating attitude within the local, national and, eventually, global community if they were holistically implemented in the curriculum or syllabus and wisely taught by teaching staff in their daily lessons. Of the 87% who replied to a question about what the most important dimension was to them 34% said civic commitment, 32% said social contribution and 21% said global disposition.

This equation not only offers a dynamic way of engaging students in the classroom, but is also a solid first step toward fostering global citizenship as well as implementing value-creating education in a well-rounded curriculum.

Defining transformative global citizenship education

This transformative value-creating approach to global citizenship education understands globalisation as something that is cultural, social, environmental and political as well as economic, which results in new patterns of inclusion and exclusion as well as the erosion of North-South hierarchies.

The transformative dimension of global citizenship education acknowledges that there is a necessity to transform not only educational institutions and systems, but also personal and cultural mindsets. From this angle, a global citizen recognises herself or himself as intricately connected to people and issues that cross national boundaries.

The value-creating dimension of global citizenship education has its origins in the notion of Soka (hereafter referred to as value-creation) as it was first articulated by the Japanese educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944).

In Makiguchi’s view, value-creating education focuses on the development of fully engaged human beings and makes developing the compassion, wisdom and courage of each individual its objective. It interprets the work of education from the perspective of absolute respect for the dignity of life with its purpose being to develop confident citizens who can create value in their own lives, communities and in society at large.

As we conceptualise it then, transformative value-creating global citizenship education involves a deep, structural shift in the basic premises of people’s thoughts, feelings and actions. This implies an authentic change in perspective towards interconnectedness and a real sense of the possibilities of social justice and peace.

In this view, global citizenship education interprets global disposition as knowledge, skills and values that lead to a contributive citizenship at local, state, national and global levels and it focuses on the development of social contributive, civic engaged and globally disposed learners.

Social contributive learners

Socially contributive students assess social issues and recognise instances and examples of global injustice and disparity. They examine and respect diverse perspectives and construct an ethic of social service to address global and local issues. They understand the interconnectedness between local behaviours and their global consequences.

Teachers focus on getting students to assess social issues and recognise examples of inequality and discrimination and on developing students’ sense of compassion by encouraging them to observe and respect different viewpoints.

Civic committed learners

Civic committed learners demonstrate a predisposition toward recognising local, state, national and global community issues and responding through actions such as volunteering, political activism and community participation.

Students who are civically committed contribute to voluntary work or assist in global civic organisations. They construct their political voice by synthesising their global knowledge and experiences in the public domain and they engage in purposeful local behaviours that advance a global agenda.

Globally disposed learners

Globally disposed learners identify their own limitations and abilities for engaging in intercultural encounters. They demonstrate a range of intercultural communication skills and have the abilities to engage successfully in intercultural encounters.

Globally disposed students display an interest and knowledge about world issues and events, demonstrate skills in dealing with societal issues and show an array of personal values which demonstrate they care about inequities on both local and global levels.

Belonging to a global community

Educating for global citizenship in higher education institutions poses challenges, particularly in relation to the new wave of post-truth populism that prioritises extreme neo-liberalism, shuns any idea that might imply a downgrading of national sovereignty and explicitly rejects the value of multiculturalism and internationalisation.

In order to confront such negative trends, now more than ever there is a need for a transformative value-creating pedagogical approach which gives students opportunities to transcend their local boundaries and enables them to develop a sense of belonging to the global community, while recognising instances of global inequality and discrimination.

A well-rounded, transformative, value-creating curriculum not only opens students' eyes, but also sets the stage for them to act in ways that are inspired by their course of study and driven by a desire to make a difference locally, regionally and globally. It challenges traditional views and assumptions, allows students to introduce and access non-dominant perspectives and encourages new ways of thinking.

Value-creating, transformative global citizenship education leads students to become more inclusive, non-discriminating, open, reflective and emotionally able to change and is vital to the development of critical thinking skills and critical reflection among graduates, and of teachers’ roles as ‘transformative intellectuals’. However, such an approach requires moving beyond the creative initiatives of individual teachers towards a more holistic redesign of university curricula.

We should ask ourselves why we are in teaching and learning if not to be able to help enrich the lives of our students?

Emiliano Bosio is a PhD candidate at UCL Institute of Education, University College London, United Kingdom. This is an edited version of the research paper “Implementing Principles of Global Citizenship Education into University Curricula”, presented at the Development Education Research Centre’s Evidence-Based Research for Policy Development in Global Education Conference, UCL Institute of Education, London.