Knowledge and Skills for Becoming Global Citizens

The current education e-discussion for the post-2015 development agenda on the World We Want platform offers an opportunity for all stakeholders to weigh in on the issues of global citizenship, jobs and skills. This consultation, taking place from January 23 to February 6, is gathering views from around the world to build a collective vision for the education sector on priorities for a post-2015 development framework.  This discussion is not only important in building education sector consensus, but it is also important because a summary of these opinions will be given to the United Nations General Assembly and world leaders when they meet in September to propose a new development agenda. The Center for Universal Education encourages all stakeholders to add their voice to this discussion.

As pointed out within the World We Want consultation, ensuring that education produces individuals who can read, write and count is an important but insufficient step toward global development. The 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report Youth and Skills: Putting education to work noted that, beyond the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy, transferrable skills—such as problem solving and leadership skills—and technical and vocational skills that impart specific technical know-how are needed.  To be relevant, education must provide young people with the necessary knowledge and skills to become “responsible global citizens who can take joint actions.”  Just which knowledge and skills will enable young people to reach this goal is a current matter of debate.

While there are clearly many important ways in which education contributes to global citizenship knowledge and skills, based on our research, one issue is clear: Given the global, interconnected challenges of sustainable development, peaceful and inclusive society building, and climate change mitigation and adaption, it is essential to prioritize knowledge and skills that are linked to 21st century livelihoods, conflict resolution and sustainable development. These skills include critical thinking, problem solving, and relevant content knowledge like environmental and climate change education, disaster risk reduction and preparedness, sustainable consumption and lifestyles, and green technical and vocational education and training.

Learning for Resilient, Sustainable Societies

The past 20 years have seen an accelerated process of globalization that has impacted countries around the world.  However, not all have benefited equally and many have benefited little or not at all from this process.  Moreover, a global economy based on current patterns of consumption and production is placing heavy stresses on many ecosystems.  As such, sustainable development—or development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs—continues to be an unrealized goal.

As expanded upon in a recent Environment Magazine article and Brookings Center for Universal Education commentary on learning for sustainable development, the education sector can help shift the global demand away from resource- and energy-intensive commodities and towards green products, the production of such commodities, and in sustainable lifestyles.  Empowering learners to contribute to sustainable development helps to make education more relevant and responsive to contemporary and emerging challenges.  For instance, a green economy calls for seizing opportunities to advance economic and environmental goals simultaneously.  Education can assist in the process of shifting the global demand away from resource- and energy-intensive commodities and towards greener products and technologies, sustainable lifestyles and less pollution.  Moreover, restructuring towards a green economy will require transferable skills, ones that are not necessary linked to specific occupations.  Thinking critically, solving problems, collaborating and managing risks and uncertainty are core competencies that are critical for employment in a green economy and living together peacefully in a sustainable society.

Since the effects of climate change are already being felt, the education sector can also play a critical role in teaching relevant skills for successful climate change adaptation and mitigation.  Teaching and learning should integrate environmental education, climate change and scientific literacy, disaster risk reduction and preparedness, and education for sustainable lifestyles and consumption.  Learners need a basic understanding of scientific concepts, including knowledge of the history and causes of climate change; knowledge of and ability to distinguish between certainties, uncertainties, risks and consequences of environmental degradation, disasters and climate change; knowledge of mitigation and adaptation practices that can contribute to building resilience and sustainability; and understanding of varying interests that shape different responses to climate change and the ability to critically judge the validity of these interests in relation to the public good.  Furthermore, evidence shows that educational interventions are most successful when they focus on local, tangible and actionable aspects of sustainable development, climate change and environmental education, especially those that can be addressed by individual behavior.

For instance, in the Philippines, communities have worked with the ministry of education, Plan International and other partners to prepare children and young people to adapt to climate change, thereby reducing vulnerabilities and building resilient societies.  Children learned about climate change adaptation and how to reduce their vulnerability to disasters through education and training in early warning systems.  This included education on rain gauges, disaster simulation and drills as well as carrying out risk mapping and learning first aid, swimming and water safety.  Children were then encouraged to express what they had learned through theater and music activities, thus delivering information on potential hazards and the practical solutions to the hazards to their communities.  These efforts have already saved lives.  For example, in 2006 after three days of continuous rain in Liloan and San Francisco villages, children and adults used the knowledge they gained from adaptation-focused risk reduction contingency planning and evaluation procedures to evacuate before landslides covered their homes.

In another example, the Global Action Network for Energy Efficiency Education (GANE) is using a multi-disciplinary teaching and learning approach to change energy consumption behavior within education programs and training institutions.  In order to prepare the next generation of workers for an energy-efficient future, GANE engages young people in hands-on experiential learning that will prepare them for the energy efficiency job market. GANE’s Green Schools Program in the United States provides training and tools that make students the focus of green schools by placing them in leadership positions to carry out energy diagnostics in their school building.  The green building becomes a learning lab for students to apply science, math and language arts to solve the sustainable energy and global climate change challenge.  Through basic changes in operations, maintenance and individual behavior, schools participating in the GANE Green Schools Program have reduced their energy consumption and equipped students to promote energy efficiency in their homes and communities.  Outside of the classroom, teachers, students and administrators’ knowledge and advocacy can influence their families, markets and decision-makers.

In order for education to truly be transformative and cultivate global citizens with a shared concern for the world, various strategies must be pursued, including: curriculum development for climate mitigation and adaptation community engagement and labor market partnerships, experiential learning opportunities outside the classroom, and safe and sustainable school environments. We must ensure that education systems work closely with community leaders and possible employers to cultivate experiences and knowledge that prepares young people for the labor market and for their future lives.  As is clear in these two examples, and supported by research from Bangladesh, El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal, the Philippines, Zambia and elsewhere, for global citizenship knowledge and skills to truly take hold, it is essential that community members, and especially young people, are empowered as active agents of change.