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Education for global citizenship at schools: From critical thinking to everyday actions… and back

Jan Bazyli Klakla

Education for global citizenship, in its critical rather than “soft” version, invites students to question existing social order and to engage into transformative action (Banks, 2008). Students are at the centre of this education with their attributes, experiences, and potential. Thus understood, education marries students’ personal and collective experiences with a global world. On the one hand, to respond to its various challenges, students need to know that their actions have an impact, especially in their immediate environment. On the other hand, however, education for global citizenship requires from them to broaden the perspective by identifying with humanity as a whole.

Educating the whole child

The role of the education for global citizenship is to prepare pupils to collaborate with youths representing different linguistic, cultural, and social origins with the goal of solving urgent world problems. To paraphrase Orozco and Sattin (2007, p. 4), it is about educating the whole child for the whole world.  Learning and teaching about global issues, such as internal and external migrations of people, human rights abuses, destruction of environment, famine, and wars, may at times prove a daunting task for teachers and a bit discouraging for their students. These issues may be perceived by teachers as somewhat depressing, that is, overwhelming  with a little room for a positive change. In addition, they may seem highly politicized and requiring an in-depth analysis of sometimes controversial issues (Andrzejewski & Alessio, 1998). For students, in turn, merely learning about those global issues is hardly sufficient, if the knowledge obtained is not coupled with possible solutions (Chung, 2017). Examples here are plenty. To name but a few: Rosa Parks and her act of resistance to racial segregation in 1950s’ America or, closer to our times, a plethora of inspiring NGOs to emulate, or manifold grassroots movements and citizens’ initiatives. The main idea is to approach the global issues with the emphasis on possible solutions based on interdisciplinary knowledge, values, and skills.

According to Oxfam, an international charity focused on fighting poverty, efficient education for global citizenship encompasses three ingredients: first, knowledge necessary to understand the background of global problems; second, skills such as: critical thinking, conflict resolution, cooperation, intercultural communication; third, values and attitudes, for example, commitment to equality, assuming responsibility, displaying engagement, and concern for environment (Davies, 2006). Thus,

… developing students’ critical thinking about global dynamics and about the way globalization impacts the life on the planet is crucial. When put to use, critical thinking is a powerful tool for creative response to pressing issues the humankind is facing in the interconnected and interdependent world of today.

Furthermore, critical thinking among others amounts to learning about global issues in the way that recognizes different viewpoints and perspectives.

The importance of scientific method

What the foregoing requires is the mastery of scientific method, particularly, in the capacity of finding, classifying, and understanding information in order to become a knowledgeable user of publications disseminated by both, the media and research centres.  It is particularly important to master scientific method nowadays when all sorts of information is readily available at all times. It is not only about a matter of checking  the source of the information carefully, as well as the validity and reliability of the research, but also about taking into consideration the complexity of the contemporary world where social, economic, geopolitical, and cultural perspectives are interwoven in a variety of ways. When approached systematically, learning critical thinking with the view to be utilized in democratic process, can follow these stages:

  • analyzing the premises and functioning of democracy from different viewpoints and historical perspectives, transcending the “White perspective”; 
  • exploring rights and obligations of citizens in their respective communities and in the world; 
  • reflecting upon students’ own life experiences in relation to participatory democracy; 
  • connecting global citizenship with the responsibility of participation in public life. (Andrzejewski & Alessio, 1998)

An interactive and empowering learning process, coupled with democratically organized discussions, opens doors for building more inclusive societies with potentially more engaged citizens. Although this method does not give all the answers or ready-made recipes, it does offer a disposition to ask questions and to search for answers.

Choosing the right cause

A myriad of concrete actions is possible. These can include things like participating in a school decision-making structure or different forms of social activism, but they can also include listening, sharing, exchanging, or talking to someone about a meaningful issue, posting on social media, etc. Some small everyday undertakings, such as consciously using tap water and choosing clothes to buy, helping someone, or denouncing observed injustice, when undertaken with the goal of creating a safer, more human and sustainable world are as meaningful as big collective actions, since they develop students’ attentiveness and openness to the here and now.

Any other way, taking part in organized activities, that is, voluntary work, social activism, or community service is part of the learning process, where working with others and for others or for the environment gives students an opportunity to learn how to work within a team: deliberate, collaborate, communicate; and where critical thinking is applied in concrete everyday situations. For example, when participating in a project for homeless people the questioning of the causes of poverty and exclusion may arise, whereas working with refugees or asylum seekers invites one to think critically about global social structures (Davies, 2006). Engaging in such activities provides food for thoughts and topics for the discussions in classrooms, which in turn introduces a profounder understanding of these issues.  

When selecting initiatives for students to participate in, the capacity for reflective investigation embedded in scientific method is essential.

The above-mentioned Rosa Parks undertook an act of civil disobedience in order to oppose the racial segregation in Alabama. She intimately knew how segregation impacted her and other Black people’s lives and was aware or the ramification of her act. Nowadays, finding a cause to stand for seems particularly easy as the Internet gives access to hundreds of them. In fact, for youths to make enlighten choices in this complex, interconnected, global world may be particularly tricky. So if they can rely on their capacity to apply critical thinking to concrete situations, they will more easily make choices aligned with the values of respect to oneself and to others, with greater concern about the natural environment, and commitment to equality of chances for all.   


References

Andrzejewski, J., & Alessio, J. (1999). Educating for Global Citizenship and Social Responsibility. Progressive Perspectives, 2(1), 2–17.

Banks, J. A. (2008). Diversity, Group Identity, and Citizenship Education in a Global Age. Educational Researcher, 37(3), 129–139.

Chang, K. C. (2017). Global Issues and Local Change: Teaching about power, possibility, identity, and inquiry for global competence. Education International, online.

Davies, L. (2006). Global citizenship: abstraction or framework for action? Educational Review, 58(1), 5–25.

Orozco, M., & Sattin, C. (2007) Wanted: Global Citizens.  Educational Leadership, 64(7), 58–62.

About the author
Jan Bazyli Klakla
Having obtained a Master’s degree in both law and sociology, along with a Bachelor’s at the Centre for Comparative Studies of Civilisations (all three degrees at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków), he then received a postgraduate degree in international migration from the University of Warsaw. Currently, he is pursuing double Ph.D. in law and sociology at the Jagiellonian University. Simultaneously, he manages a research project on the impact of institutional and legal factors on the choice of acculturation strategies among foreigners in Poland.
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