The Importance of Global Learning and Strategies to Support Its Development by Helen D’Bouk

“Yet in spite of growing awareness of the importance of developing global skills, few students around the world have the opportunity today to become globally competent” (Reimers, 2009 para. 3). This statement resonates strongly with me, because it highlights the inequities and inconsistencies in education within and across countries. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills identified six core skills that all students need to possess, one being global awareness. Historically, the skills and abilities students needed to succeed in school changed little over the last 100 years. But the world has changed dramatically over the last 25 years and therefore education not only needs to follow this, but develop alongside it. Reimers (2009) defines global competency in terms of today’s flat world. The flat world term was coined by Thomas Friedman in 2005, meaning the world is now flat and accessible to all countries in terms of competition between the emerging market economies, like Brazil, and the old industrial ones, like Germany. All companies, whether small or large are now part of a global, highly complex, supply chain. Yet education is not keeping up with this flat world, there are still huge inconsistences in global competence within education.

Figure 1. Time. (2006). How To Build a Student For the 21st Century. Time,16641,20061218,00.html

Time had a front cover in 2006, (see Figure 1), entitled “How to Build a Student For the 21st Century”. Steptoe and Wallis (2006) wrote the article inside this edition titled, “How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century”.  They cleverly used the analogy of Rip Van Winkle, a character from a classic story, who sleeps for 100 years. When he wakes up in the 21st century, in 2006, after 100 years of sleep, he notices so many amazing and bewildering changes regarding lifestyles and the technology around him, yet when he walks into a 2006 school, everything seems just as it was! Steptoe and Wallis (2006) state there is a “yawning chasm (with an emphasis on yawning) …(which) separates the world inside the schoolhouse from the world outside” (para 3).

A school’s role should be preparing students to navigate their way across this flat and highly complex, interconnected world.  Students must be equipped to transition into global citizens with global competencies to compete and become successful in this current and future world. Reimer (2009) argues that global competency is having the knowledge, skills and ability to integrate ideas across disciplines and understand global events and design possibilities to deal with them. Having a global competency is also about holding ethical beliefs and attitudes which create peaceful and respectful interactions, with others from diverse geographies. Vander Ark and Liebtag (2017) concur with this philosophy, arguing that students must be taught the skills to communicate effectively with diverse audiences, those with different, geographic locations, religions, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. Education should be closely connected to the needs of the society, and if societies and communities are becoming more interconnected and global, education should be mirroring this. Reimers (2009) states that, “nothing so undermines teacher and student engagement as a dull curriculum reflecting low expectations (para. 18). The curriculum and its content should be relevant, real, challenging, dynamic and engaging, like the real world is.

There is a plethora of strategies, techniques, instructional design and practice ideas, topics and tools to support educators in developing global competence within their classrooms and schools. Teachers initially need to analyse their current curriculums, and good tool to use for this is the Project Y tool created by the, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2012). The template, (see Figure 2, below), can be used to re-orientate our curriculums and lessons to become more globally focused and aware. Teachers can check through their existing curriculums and themes and revise them, to become more globally and sustainably focused. I used the Project Y tool to revise an email writing skills unit, with tourism in Thailand as a topic.

Figure 2. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. (2012). Education for sustainable development: Sourcebook.

Applying the Project Y Tool opened up many opportunities for incorporating more global competency into my existing Thailand tourism email writing unit. There were actually so many ideas, that I had to select and channel only some of them into my unit. The unit still needed to remain focused on my English Language learning objectives and goals. But, it’s merits were adding interest, relevancy and authenticity to my curriculum, and by using certain teaching practices and techniques, it developed global skills of communication, understanding and problem-solving.

The world is awash with relevant, genuine global issues, and these should be our vehicles for exploring English Language learning and global competency skills. UKEssays (2018) argues that theme-based learning has many advantages the main ones being: it encourages transferable learning skills, knowledge and develops higher level thinking by interconnecting subjects, understanding and ideas. There are many strong arguments in favour of teaching English Language related to themes and topics. Vander Ark and Liebtag (2017) believe we should develop theme based curriculums and concepts related to investigation/enquiry, recognition of perspectives, communication and action if we are to promote and develop global competency. Students need to investigate the world beyond their local context, include global views into their studies, use real-world issues, collaborate to find solutions, and create an authentic global classroom.

So what types of global issues should be incorporated into our English Language curriculums? Which ones warrant the attention and focus of the next generation? The answer is almost anything that is affecting the society, economy and environment on a global, interconnected level. We can consider themes of conflict, like that in Myanmar; health issues, like global obesity; economic issues, such as the impact Covid-19 has on the tourist industry; or environmental issues, like plastic waste, pesticide use or deforestation. Our classrooms need to arm students with the skills to consider their local community in relation to the rest of the world. Students should have an understanding of how individual actions can have impact upon the environment, economies and the world communities. When applying our theme-based English Language learning we should focus on problem-solving learning which encourages deep thinking, collaboration, taking action and finding solutions for creating a more sustainable world.

Evans et al., (2014) provide us with some common themes or strategies, which can make global learning more accessible within your classroom. They advise us to analyse and embrace diversity and cross cultural issues, building critical views and having multiple perspectives of the world. Self-reflection should be embedded within the learning process. Using a strategy like De Bono’s Thinking Hats can support and promote investigation of complicated issues from multiple perspectives. It can be used as an independent learning technique or as a group. It pushes students to consider different angles and approaches, and to think proactively and constructively (MindTools, n.d).

Reimer (2006) argues that global competency needs to be from a grassroots level, using a bottom-up approach. Embedding global competency and sustainability issues into subjects and school life can be achieved using major global campaigns and awareness days, those conceived by organizations such as, Greenpeace and the United Nations. Events such as the United Nations World Refugee Day (on June 20th every year), or the Greenpeace Plastic Pollution Campaign can be used to develop understanding of global issues at both the local and national level. This need not all be done in the classroom. It can be embedded across the school in other ways, using extra-curricular opportunities, accessing assemblies and creating competitions, such as designing a T-shirt or a logo.
There are naturally some challenges in applying global awareness into schools’ psyche and curriculums. But it is possible to create new mind-sets where education is a preparation for real life, in a flat world, which incorporates global awareness, respect, civility, understanding, peace and sustainability. We know that a student’s access to a globally competent education is unevenly distributed across areas, but I believe it is our responsibly to attempt to level that playing field. Teachers need to provide global competency skills in whatever fashion is possible, find solutions to our problems, utilize the resources we do have, always remembering that that the most powerful resource the world has is the young people in front of us!


Evans, M., Montemurro, D., Gambhir, M., & Broad, K. (Eds.). (2014). Inquiry into practice: Learning and teaching global matters in local classrooms. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.

Greenpeace. (n.d.). Fighting Plastic Pollution Campaign.

MindTools. (n.d). Six Thinking Hats: Looking at a decision in Different Ways. MindTools.

Reimers, F. M. (2009). Leading for Global Competency. Educational Leadership. Global-Competency.aspx

Steptoe, S and Wallis, C. (2006, December 10). How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century. Time.,33009,1568480,00.html

Time. (2006). How To Build a Student For the 21st Century. Time.,16641,20061218,00.html                                   

UKEssays. (November 2018). Advantages of Theme based teaching when teaching children.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2012). Education for sustainable development: Sourcebook.

United Nations. (n.d.). World Refugee Day. United

Vander Ark, T & Liebtag, E. (2017). Educating for Global Competence: 6 Reasons, 7 Competencies, 8 strategies, 9 Innovations. competencies-8-strategies-9-innovations

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