Incorporating global citizenship teaching and learning into post-secondary education curricula provides students with essential knowledge and skills to successfully navigate their lives in an increasingly interconnected world. My research and teaching on global citizenship explores the efforts of higher education institutions to promote a global citizenship ethic that leads to students identifying and actively engaging as global citizens. Post-secondary education has a responsibility to help students develop a global citizenship ethic by promoting global awareness and cultivating a critical understanding of one’s place in an increasingly globalized society.
Equally important to students’ perspective-taking and identity development as global citizens, however, is the provision of opportunities to participate in global citizenship activities that can serve to develop a sense of responsibility as someone who contributes to making the world a better place to live. Global Citizenship Education (GCED) should inspire students to continually seek the meaning of global citizenship in their daily lives through both critical reflection and active engagement as global citizens. The world needs young people in increasing numbers around the world to engage as global citizens who can take ownership, responsibility, and action for greater global and social justice and wellbeing.
A Holistic Approach to GCED
Bourke (2012) provides a helpful distinction for conceptualizing GCED by contrasting education about global citizenship with education for global citizenship. The former pedagogy typically entails practices that provide students with an understanding of various global issues, as well as the customs and traditions of multi-cultural/multi-ethnic/multi-faith populations. It is an important initial approach for teaching global awareness, as it gives students a platform for identifying and connecting with unknown others around the world.
According to certain theorists, students who are equipped with this type of knowledge are more likely to adopt a global citizenship perspective, which often leads to, or enhances their endorsement of prosocial attitudes, such as empathy, diversity, and social and environmental justice. It is not clear, however, if simply identifying as a global citizen or endorsing global citizenship beliefs leads to active global citizenship engagement.
The second broad approach to GCED, classified as education for global citizenship, goes beyond knowledge transfer and involves the integration of applicable skills, values, and attitudes that are germane to encouraging active global citizenship engagement. In this approach, students are provided with opportunities for experiential learning, such as volunteering locally (e.g., food banks, settlement agencies) and abroad (e.g., orphanages, wildlife reserves), studying abroad, and developing initiatives that help them connect local and global issues (e.g., tree planting, charity drives). My empirical research in this area suggests that after participating in short-term study abroad, post-secondary students significantly strengthened their views of global citizenship, their endorsement of prosocial values, and their inclination to participate in global citizenship activities.
Educational practices that teach about global citizenship are invaluable, but in isolation they may limit the capacity of the student to sufficiently engage as a global citizen. To accomplish this outcome, educational curricula need to integrate knowledge about global citizenship with learning opportunities that help motivate the student to actively participate as a global citizen. Combining education about global citizenship with education for global citizenship is the most comprehensive and holistic approach in higher education for cultivating both a global citizenship identity and a desire to take proactive action on behalf of the global society. More research is needed that explores the connection between global citizenship identity, prosocial values endorsement, and civic engagement. For example, does one’s prosocial values belief system act as a mediator between initially identifying as a global citizen and subsequent global citizenship engagement? If this relationship is indeed found to exist in the GCED curriculum, then we might want to strengthen our educational approaches that cultivate and strengthen prosocial values within students, such as developing empathy for others, taking greater responsibility for environmental stewardship, and respect for how all life on this planet is interconnected.
Global Citizenship and Interconnectedness
One of the first informal assignments in my undergraduate course on global citizenship is to have students draw their individual conceptions of global citizenship. This is because before we discuss such weighty topics as the cosmopolitan roots of global citizenship, global citizenship theory and research, and practical initiatives, I want to understand, unfiltered through their own lenses, how my students comprehend this relatively unfamiliar concept. I give the students drawing materials and no other instructions other than, “Draw what you think global citizenship looks like”.
While expectedly the depictions do vary, I am struck by one particularly consistent illustration of global citizenship (see Figure 1), which is the notion of humankind’s interconnectivity. In the research literature, recognition of our interconnectedness with each other, and with the environment, is frequently associated with a global citizenship perspective. The student illustrations depict people around the world connecting with each other, as shown variously by wavy lines, by holding hands, or by a plus sign [+]. Somehow, even individuals who are relatively unfamiliar with the idea of global citizenship perceive human interconnectivity as one of its defining characteristics.
Figure 1. Student drawings conceptualizing global citizenship
Conclusion: Global Citizenship as Personal Aspiration
Through my research and teaching, I have found that the praxis from understanding global citizenship to doing global citizenship can be quite challenging for students. It is not uncommon for them to struggle in defining their roles or contributions as global citizens, as expressed, for example, by this student in one of my studies, “I don’t think I’m a full global citizen because even though I have had the opportunity to think about global citizenship a lot, I still can’t figure out what I should do right now”.
While active participation as a global citizen is often seen as a challenging endeavor by many young people, my research suggests that intentional curricular programming of global citizenship content is a critical component for motivating students to seek global citizenship in their own lives. Once inspired to seek the meaning of global citizenship as a personal aspiration, it is not a stretch for young persons to feel a sense of responsibility for their interconnected planet and take whatever action they can to protect and sustain it.