Friday 16 Dec 2022

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Teaching and Learning for the Global Citizen

By Karen Taylor, PhD., Director of Education and of the Institute of Learning and Teaching, Ecole Internationale de Genève

The Ecole Internationale de Genève, generally acknowledged as the world’s first International School, was founded in 1924 to support the educational needs of the children of the expatriate population working in the newly formed international organisations of the International Labor Office and the League of Nations, basically a corps of international civil servants. The mission statement of Ecolint is: “Educating students to be global citizens with the courage and capacity to create a just and joyful tomorrow together.” So, we make specific reference to global citizenship, as do many schools across the world.  

Ecolint runs a PGCE International programme in collaboration with Durham University (UK). Each year, our students participate in a conference that is at the heart of one of the MA level academic modules that make up this programme. It is a special moment for the Geneva cohort to engage with students across the Durham initial teacher education programmes and an opportunity for me to share with them my reflections on Global Citizenship Education (GCE). 

This is a subject that both fascinates and troubles me. I increasingly wonder if this term even makes sense on some fundamental level and yet it is referred to more and more in school mission statements, private and public. What is sometimes less clear is precisely what we mean by the terms citizen or global citizen. Perhaps most importantly, what are the challenges we face in promoting critical and nuanced global citizenship education? 

One of the things that interests me is the range of terminology associated with GCE, and also how that terminology has shifted over time: international mindedness, intercultural learning, intercultural understanding… Let’s take for a moment the two terms International mindedness and global citizenship.

International mindedness and global citizenship are intertwined but not precisely the same. One is a state of mind; the other implies a set of responsibilities and actions. This  strikes me as significant if we are looking to develop a curriculum that will prepare children to recognize and confront global issues and to do so in a spirit of openness towards those whose cultural, linguistic and personal experience is different from their own, or in the words of Harwood and Bailey (2012), if we are to assist our students in developing “a capacity to transcend the limits of a single world view” (p. 79).

Defining global citizenship

Most definitions of global citizenship either implicity or explicitly refer to issues of social justice, interconnectedness and sustainability.  Some common approaches to GCE are sometimes referred to as the “adjectival educations”: Citizenship Education; Social Justice Education; Development Education; Character Education; Global Education; Peace Education; Environmental Education etc. All of them appear to imply the sort of virtue ethics associated with the Aristotelian notion of the virtuous citizen. And yet upon closer examination, things may be more complicated. The emphasis on virtuous actions, for example: Do we unintentionally privilege those who are better positioned to enact change because they have time or access to resources? 

I mentioned at the outset that I would like to challenge a potentially western bias in thinking about Global Citizenship Education. In fact, both terms, citizen and global are contentious and I often wonder if we shouldn’t change our terminology altogether. When I am teaching sessions on GCE to our trainees, I often show two images. One is a typical poster one might find in a school reminding people to avoid single-use plastics. The other shows someone, somewhere in the global south, picking through a mountain of plastic. In discussing the latter, it strikes me as particularly important to address the notion of empathy. Why is all that plastic there? What is this person doing? Where is this? What global systems and mechanisms are responsible for this? What are the consequences? Economic? Environmental? Social? 

The simple thing to do would be to encourage students to conclude that if we engage in right or virtuous action (avoid single-use plastic) the world will be a better place and this is important because in other parts of the world there is environmental degradation because of plastics. Fair enough.  We may also assume in showing this slide to students that it will inspire empathy. 

There is a very thought-provoking statement in a paper by Swanson (2015) by an anonymised South African who says: “I don’t feel disempowered but I am told that I am disempowered and what I have to be to be empowered…” (p.32). Swanson goes on to discuss the problem of deficit meta-narratives and the potential danger of reinforcing “hierarchical dichotomies” (Andreotti, 2016). If we portray people in developing or low-income countries as victims, we may be inadvertently reinforcing stereotypes and positions of privilege that oversimplify the issue. The Global South and the Global North are not binary opposites, they are “contested sociopolitical constructs” (Kurian, 2019, p. 124).  And yet there is also great potential for deep reflection and critical questioning, for Geert Biesta’s (2012) idea of being taught by the other. Seeking to learn from the other signifies anticipation of what is to be learned; seeking to be taught by the other is open and more ethically responsible. (Bruce et al., 2019). 

As Gayatri Spivak argued, knowledge is never innocent; it is never apolitical. In fact, that is the point, we need to think about how to develop a contextually, historically, and politically sensitive pedagogy. In other words, if we are to nurture true empathy, it may mean embracing a pedagogy of discomfort. I am suggesting that it is worth deliberately creating space for negotiation about meaning and interpretation amongst faculty and for students. To cite Vanessa Andreotti, “global citizenship is not about ‘unveiling’ the ‘truth’ for learners, but about providing the space for them to reflect”. (2006, p. 49) Teachers as well as students need to be comfortable with or accepting of dissonance and ambiguity. The Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire, spoke about “critical consciousness” as a means for emancipation because through it we become aware of issues that maintain social injustices. A key element to Freire’s approach is to problematize the/a dominant group’s ways of thinking as they are often embedded in the curriculum (written, taught or hidden…). 

Global Citizenship Education

GCE often refers to certain types of knowledge and skills associated with GCE. Whether you look at the work of Oxfam, UNESCO or other curriculum guides, you will find that there are generally three conceptual domains into which the general content of GCE is placed. There are underlying assumptions here too, about pedagogy, that reflect the dominant culture in the discourse in education  - international or national. If I were to be deliberately provocative I might speak about pedagogical imperialism. 

  • Knowledge and understanding of global issues
  • Cognitive, social and practical skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, reflection, communication, participation and collaboration, leadership
  • Dispositions and values (e.g. empathy, tolerance, a commitment to social justice etc.)

What is the lens we will use in developing these areas in the curriculum? A neoliberal lens? A post-colonial lens? Liberal egalitarian? Radical humanist? We have a lens, perhaps overlapping lenses. The point is to be aware of them. What if we were to use the lens of Ubuntu or Confucianism? We know that effective learning takes place when it is contextualised. But what does that mean in China? In the Middle East? In the North of England? Does it have to be a “real world” context? Or could it be historical? Metaphorical? Ideal? 

There are various ways to go about all of this: 

One could...

  • focus on developing and embedding the curriculum in professional learning circles that involve all faculty. Advantages to this approach are that, from the very beginning, you bring to the table a variety of perspectives and knowledge bases. Such an approach also develops support from within the teaching staff and increases a sense of collective responsibility for something determined to be essential, usually linked to the mission and vision of the school. But think about the differences in orientation that may exist among your teaching colleagues, doubts they may have about how to integrate Intercultural learning into specific disciplines or developmental phases.
  • Link GCE to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. A word of caution though. As Davies et al. (2018) note, “a challenge in the use and application of the term sustainable development is the tendency for it to suggest change while avoiding the political nature of the actions that could actually address the roots of sustainability issues.” (p. 157)....the analysis of power relations must be at the heart of GCE.
  • Link GCE to Service Learning programmes: Yet we might want to think deeply about service learning and consider unforeseen consequences of our actions. Or
  • Link to pedagogical strategies that promote interdisciplinary approaches to content while ensuring both substance and purpose. 

Finally, assessment

Just as in any other domain, it is important to encourage student self-reflection and self-assessment as this contributes to student autonomy and agency in the learning process. It also promotes metacognitive and critical and evaluative thinking skills that embed knowledge in the long-term memory.  I would suggest, also, thinking about how to evaluate (not measure) the way students act within the school community: the way they treat each other, the initiatives they take, what they choose to write about in student journals, the subjects they focus on in student-led assemblies. 

My last word on assessment, and this is not limited to GCE - is that it is important to be as explicit as possible as to why you have chosen a particular area of focus, task or assessment. Students will perform better when they know what is expected of them and why. But, self-reflection should not be limited to students. Developing GCED content offers an opportunity for one’s own self-reflection. 


Martha Nussbaum (2002) tells us that “cultivating our humanity in a complex interlocking world involves understanding the ways in which common needs and aims are differently realised in different circumstances,” to see ourselves  “as human beings bound to all other human beings by ties of recognition and concern” (p. 296). 

The notion of “global citizenship” is both compelling and problematic. Citizenship implies a sense of belonging to a community that entails both rights and responsibilities. If we draw from an Aristotelian stance, then the wellbeing of the community is dependent on the virtuous actions of its members. Our challenge is to nurture in learners the capacity to act in ways that will ensure the rights of others (global) while respecting the specific, localised concept of identity (local).


Andreotti, V. D. (2006). Soft versus Critical Global Citizenship Education. Development Education in Policy and Practice. 

Biesta, G.  (2012) . Receiving the Gift of Teaching: From ‘Learning From’ to ‘Being Taught By.’ Studies in Philosophy and Education 32 (5):449-46.

Bruce, J., North, C. & FitzPatrick, J. (2019) Preservice teachers’ views of global citizenship and implications for global citizenship education. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 17:2, 161-176.

Davies, I., Sant, E., Shultz, L., & Pashby, K. (2018). Global citizenship education: A critical introduction to key concepts and debates. Bloomsbury Academic.

Dutta, U., Shroll, T., Engelsen, J., Prickett, S., Hajjar, L., & Green, J. (2016). The “Messiness” of Teaching/Learning Social (In)Justice: Performing a Pedagogy of Discomfort. Qualitative Inquiry, 22(5), 345–352.

Freire, P. (2002). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. ‎Continuum.

Oxfam (n.d.). Global Citizenship in the Classroom: A guide for teachers | Oxfam Education. Retrieved from

Harwood, R., Bailey, K. (2012). Defining and Evaluating International Mindedness in a School Context. International Schools Journal. 31 (2). 77-86.

Kurian, N. (2019). “Empathy: simple and inevitable? Development education and narratives of African poverty”. International Journal of Development Education and Global Learning. 11(1):120-37. 

Nussbaum, M. (2002). Education for Citizenship in an Era of Global Connection. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 21(4/5), 289-303. doi:10.1023/a:1019837105053

Spivak, G. C. (1988). Can the Subaltern Speak? In C. Nelson & L. Grossberg (Eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (pp. 271–313). University of Illinois Press.

Swanson, D.M. (2015). Decolonizing Global Citizenship Education. Brill. 

UNESCO (2015). Global citizenship education: Topics and learning objectives.