The Critical Voice of Youth in Education Advocacy and Global Citizenship

Last week, at the Countdown to 2015 Summit in Washington, DC, “The Education We Want: An Advocacy Toolkit” was launched, featuring real-life stories of youth who have successfully advocated for expanding national education programs to reach the most marginalized children and youth. The toolkit outlines practical steps in a user-friendly and engaging format to help youth carry out their own advocacy campaigns. As part of a final push to get all children into school by 2015, the Youth Advocacy Group (YAG)—a group of young leaders from around the world who have been working to strengthen momentum for global education as part of the UN secretary-general’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI)—will disseminate the toolkit to youth around the globe. Their plans also include staging youth “takeovers” of governments worldwide, following up on their successful Malala Day UN Youth Takeover on July 12, 2013.

With the sunset of the current Millennium Development Goals in 2015, the many stakeholders working on global education issues are focused on two things: 1) delivering on the promise of universal primary education, and 2) simultaneously ensuring that universal access plus quality teaching and learning are part of the next global development framework. The voices of youth have been critical in these debates, in no small part due to the leadership of the YAG.

The YAG youth demonstrate remarkable passion, leadership skills, and eloquence when speaking about the barriers to quality education in their communities and in the world. Their ability to apply diverse skills—including so-called 21st century skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, digital literacy, and creativity—to the major challenges facing our world is the quintessence of what it means to be a “global citizen.” In fact, the Youth Advocacy Group is co-convening a Global Citizenship Working Group along with UNESCO and the Center for Universal Education here at Brookings to dig deeper into what it means to be a global citizen and how education programs can foster and track these skills and values, which is one of the three GEFI priorities. Defining and tracking the competencies related to being a “citizen of the world” was also one of the recommendations of the Learning Metrics Task Force (LMTF).

There is now an opportunity to include global citizenship education in the post-2015 development agenda as part of the knowledge, skills, and competencies that all learners require in the 21st century. However, there is currently a lack of consensus about what skills and values constitute global citizenship. There is also much debate on the terminology used to describe these competencies, as the term “citizenship” is usually associated with a political entity. However, some important groundwork has already been done by UNESCO and the LMTF.

Through meetings on this topic by UNESCO, the following core competencies have emerged as likely outcomes of global citizenship education:

  • knowledge and understanding of specific global issues and trends, and knowledge of and respect for key universal values (e.g., peace and human rights, diversity, justice, democracy, caring, non‐discrimination, tolerance);
  • cognitive skills for critical, creative and innovative thinking, problem‐solving, and decision‐making;
  • non‐cognitive skills, such as empathy, openness to experiences and other perspectives, interpersonal/communicative skills, and aptitude for networking and interacting with people of different backgrounds and origins; and
  • behavioral capacities to launch and engage in proactive actions.

The LMTF also discussed this topic with education ministries, teachers, civil society actors, and other stakeholders  and these conversations revealed a similar set of competencies with an additional emphasis on climate change, environmental awareness, leadership and digital literacy.

Based on the results of these consultations and a review of existing efforts—together with the LMTF’s recommended seven domains of learning—the global citizenship working group that YAG, CUE and UNESCO are convening will work over the next year to build consensus on the core competencies of global citizenship. Members of the Youth Advocacy Group in particular expressed an interest in shaping how learning related to global citizenship is assessed. However, they cautioned that the traditional ways of testing may not be appropriate for measuring global citizenship and could stifle innovation and creativity. In this absence of reliable measurement tools, there is an opportunity to move beyond traditional methods and redefine how learning is measured in the context of global citizenship. This includes looking at new ways of measurement that are more engaging to children and youth, including through technology. Without a collective effort on measurement by the actors involved in global citizenship education, the education community risks having a continued focus on testing and learning of only cognitive or academic skills, such as reading and numeracy.

The working group process will include: exploring the different definitions and competencies related to global citizenship; identifying ways in which these competencies are currently measured, with an emphasis on educational outcomes; building consensus on core competencies of global citizenship that are relevant in all countries; and proposing new and innovative ways of assessing learning in this area.

The Youth Advocacy Group is well-positioned to lead the conversation among youth on this complex topic, as the success of the project is dependent on their energy, innovative spirit, and willingness to tackle the most difficult problems of our time.

The deadline for applications to join the Global Citizenship Working Group is being extended to April 22, 2014.