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A Cultural Perspective and Global Education

Part of the SpringerBriefs in Education book series (BRIEFSEDUCAT)


A cultural perspective on global education asks: how are the development of global awareness and competence relevant to the demands of society? Why should global education be a goal worth pursuing? The answer to this question is twofold. In many ways, education was always meant to be cosmopolitan, to empower students to understand and improve the world. But the velocity of change taking place around us, and the urgency to address the shared challenges we face as a planet, requires us to pursue with greater intentionality and effectiveness an education that is truly global.

A cultural perspective on global education asks: how are the development of global awareness and competence relevant to the demands of society? Why should global education be a goal worth pursuing? The answer to this question is twofold. In many ways, education was always meant to be cosmopolitan, to empower students to understand and improve the world. But the velocity of change taking place around us, and the urgency to address the shared challenges we face as a planet, requires us to pursue with greater intentionality and effectiveness an education that is truly global. Clearly, there is a diversity of perspectives and intellectual traditions from which these questions can be answered (Davies et al. 2018). The perspective adopted here traces the roots of global education to old cosmopolitan aspirations, and discusses the evolution to contemporary shared challenges that require global collaboration and global citizenship not just to understand a world that is increasingly integrated, but also to improve it by making it more inclusive and sustainable, as suggested in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Many parents understand this urgency to increase the relevance of schools. Over 90% of Americans see global education as key to preparing children for the twenty-first century (NAFSA 2003). At the same time, paradoxically, however, one of the responses to globalization includes new manifestations of tribalism which challenge these cosmopolitan aspirations of global education.

3.1 The Long Roots of Global Education

The question of what goals should animate the efforts to educate students is as old as the first educational institutions in many different societies and civilizations. Educational institutions exist to serve a variety of purposes and it is with respect to those purposes that it is possible to make decisions about how to educate. For most of human history, the purpose of educational institutions was to educate only some members of society, typically those expected to take on some type of leadership positions, either political, religious, or administrative. Some cosmopolitan aspirations date from this early period. Montaigne’s ideas in the sixteenth century that education should prepare for an engaged, cosmopolitan life, exemplify this view. The very idea that all should be educated so we could have peace, expressed in the seventeenth century by John Amos Comenius, a Moravian Minister, conveys a similar aspiration that education should aim to help us find a shared humanity with others to avert conflict (Piaget 1993).

But as the idea that schools should educate many, perhaps all, of the younger members of a society took hold and led to the creation of national systems of education in the eighteenth century in Europe, questions of purpose resurfaced with new urgency. Because the idea that all people should be educated was a product of the Enlightenment, the philosophical movement that proposed that people were capable of ruling themselves and fundamentally equal, public education was from the outset meant to empower students to understand the world, and to transform it. One of the seminal philosophers of the enlightenment, Jean Jacques Rousseau, advocated in his treaty on education Emile that children should be the center of the educational process, and the development of autonomy and self-reliance are the chief goals of education. Rousseau saw the roots of politics in the educational process, and he considered his book on the social contract an appendix to his treaty on education (Soetard 1994a).

The Enlightenment was itself a cosmopolitan project, one of its key figures, Immanuel Kant, argued that accepting universal rights for all people would lead to peace:

The social relations between the various peoples of the world have now advanced everywhere so far that a violation of Right in one place of the earth, is felt all over it… A Cosmo-political Rights of the whole Human Race, … is a necessary completion of the unwritten Code which carries national and international Right to a consummation in the Public Right of Mankind. Thus the whole system leads to the conclusion of a Perpetual Peace among the Nations. (Kant 1795, p. 24)

Enlightenment thinkers placed great hope in human reason and in science, as the faculty and the discipline that would help people understand the world. Consequently, public education was conceived as a way to cultivate human reason and access to science.

The oldest public education system, established in Prussia, had just those very goals, as reported by John Quincy Adams, a diplomat and the sixth president of the United States. Adams published a series of observations of the schools in Prussia in his book “Letters on Silesia” in which he described for his contemporaries in Boston how these institutions had been set up and funded. In particular, in a letter written in Berlin, dated March 7, 1801, Adams describes admiringly the success of Frederick the II, who ruled Prussia from 1740 until 1786, in instituting a system of publicly funded schools to educate all children, for the purpose of teaching them to read and introduce them to science. In his letters, Adams explained how the spread of literacy increased the circulation of newspapers, which would serve as avenues of lifelong learning. In order to spread literacy, the institutions of education had to be developed, and he also described how providing schoolmasters with a public wage, enabled the creation of schools for elementary instruction of all classes of people, and how the creation of the public school drove the search for specialized preparation for schoolmasters, so they could become more effective teaching all classes of students to read. In response to this need for specialized and effective training, Adams reports, an Augustine monk, Felbiger, devised an effective method of instruction which was disseminated at these normal schools to prepare teachers. Adams talks admiringly about Frederick the II, “the greatest general of his age, eminent as a writer in the highest departments of literature, descending, in a manner to teach the alphabet to the children of his kingdom, bestowing his care, his persevering assiduity, his influence and his power, in diffusing plain and useful knowledge among his subjects, in opening to their minds the first and most important pages of the book of science” (Adams 1804, p. 371–372).

Deeply influenced by Rousseau’s work, Johan Pestalozzi, began a series of educational experiments to educate poor children, which combined education with work. Pestalozzi argued that children were not little adults and that education should be tailored to the stage of development of the learner (Soetard 1994b).

Public education was cosmopolitan not only in its aspiration to advance the goals of the enlightenment—of preparing citizens who could rule themselves and improve the world depending on reason and science—but also in that it benefits from cross-border collaborations, as people exchanged ideas and supported each other’s efforts to build the twin institutions of public schools and democracy. The letters which John Quincy Adams wrote from Silesia, to inspire his readers in the newly independent United States of America, describing the Prussian education system exemplify such cosmopolitan nature of educational expansion.

About the same time as that when John Quincy Adams was writing admiringly in Silesia of Frederick II’s efforts to establish a public education system to educate all children, Marc Antoine Jullien, a French journalist, politician, and diplomat, was writing in Paris about some of the key ideas about educational purposes and methods which existed in this time as public education systems were being established in Europe. Jullien studied the perspectives on the aims of education of two leading educators at the time: Johann Pestalozzi and Joseph Lancaster (Jullien 1812). Pestalozzi created an institute in Burgdorf Switzerland committed to offering students a rich curriculum for the purpose of fostering the development of a wide range of capacities (Soetard 1994b). Jullien corresponded frequently with Pestalozzi and sent three of his children to study at one of his institutes. Joseph Lancaster, in turn, had created an approach to educate all children at low cost, the monitorial method of instruction, in a more limited range of capacities. The free elementary school Lancaster established in Southwark, England in 1798 served as the laboratory to develop the method he would describe in his book Improvements in Education, published in 1803. Jullien became a promoter of the monitorial system of education Lancaster had devised. So enthused was Jullien with the promise of such systematic study of various educational approaches to help inform questions of educational purpose that he proposed a systematic survey of how schools were organized in diverse jurisdictions. He also organized the documentation and exchange of diverse education approaches and developed proposals for the organization of public education (Jullien 1817a, 1835, 1842). He shared his education publications with political leaders of his time, including Thomas Jefferson (Jullien 1817b).

As public education expanded across the world, learning from the experience of others in the enterprise of establishing public schools became one of the strategies of those leading such expansion. In the United States, for example, Horace Mann, the first secretary of education of Massachusetts, wrote a report based on a study tour of Germany and France in 1843 to examine their education systems which was pivotal in his campaign to establish public education in the State (Mann 1844). Similarly, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, the first person to propose a public education system for the emerging independent republics in South America, did so after a study tour of the education systems in Europe and a visit to Boston to meet Horace Mann and discuss his ideas for the Common School (Sarmiento 1849).

It was such exchanges of ideas about how to educate all children that assisted the remarkable expansion of access to education which took place over the last century. Because of the cross-national and cosmopolitan nature of such exchanges, cosmopolitan ideas about the purposes of education were transferred as part of the process.

This cosmopolitan nature of exchanges about the aims of education was particularly visible in the transnational process of global collaboration to educate all children in the world which resulted from the inclusion of education in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted in December of 1948 by the newly created United Nations, article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the propeller of the educational expansion which took place in the twentieth century, describes that right in this way:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. (UN 1948)

In declaring that all have the right to elementary education, the article states that education should be directed to the full development of human personality (as Johann Pestalozzi had proposed two centuries earlier in Switzerland) and in particular to the ethical goals of “strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms… promot[ing] understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups…” (United Nations 1948).

The inclusion of the right to education in the Universal Declaration, and the establishment of UNESCO, the specialized United Nations agency to promote education, science, and culture, are manifestations of the cosmopolitan nature of the process of extending public education to all. Through these acts, the creation of the conditions that extend education to all became a shared responsibility of humanity, an expression of a global collective commitment to all children in the world. What could be more cosmopolitan than this statement that the education of all of the world’s children is now a shared enterprise of all citizens of the world?

Initially, global collaboration to educate all proceeded in the form of intergovernmental cooperation, but increasingly also through actions of various groups of civil society engaging ordinary citizens in these efforts. The adoption of the declaration, and of the universal right to education, had the effect of animating and supporting governments in significantly advancing access to education for all. In 1945, before the establishment of UNESCO, the world’s population stood at 2.5 billion, of which less than half had any access to school. Seven decades later, with a world population at 7.5 billion, 85% had some access to school (Roser and Ortiz-Ospina 2019).

The creation of the United Nations and of UNESCO were key to advance global education around the world. Three efforts stand out in UNESCO’s history producing documents that would respond to important global imperatives and advocate for global education in the context of offering ideas about how to educate for the future. By the end of the 1960s, educational access had increased significantly over the previous two decades. Such expansion was bringing about new questions about the goals of education.

In 1970, in response to a mandate of UNESCO’s General Conference, which convened all education ministers from member states, the organization’s director general asked Edgar Faure, a former Minister of Education of France, to head an international commission to prepare a report on the future of education. The report, of decidedly humanist inspiration, put forth the idea that the fundamental goal of education should be to prepare students to be lifelong learners, as the commission anticipated a future of accelerating change and of growing expectations of economic and political participation from people (Faure et al. 1972). The ambitious goal of preparing students for lifelong learning opened up conversations around the world about which capacities would equip people for such a task.

This report was followed with the International Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental freedoms which UNESCO proposed to member states in 1974.

Twenty years later, UNESCO’s director general asked former European Commission chairman Jacques Delors to head a commission that would draft another global manifesto proposing directions for education. The result of a massive effort of global consultations spanning three years, the Delors Report, published in 1996, proposed an integrated vision of education anchored on the concept of “learning throughout life” and on four goals for education, learning to know, to do, to be and to live together (Delors 1996). That report too sparked global conversations about the need for a broader and more ambitious set of goals that should animate government’s efforts in educating all children.

3.2 Growing Interest in Global Education

The publication of the Delors report reflected and animated a renewed interest in revisiting the goals of education in countries around the world. At a time of growing global interdependence, this revision led to an embracing of cosmopolitan aspirations for global education. This is most explicitly reflected in Delors’ goal of “learning to live together.”

A year after the Delors report was published, and as national and global conversations began to adopt its recommendations to think more ambitiously about what human capacities schools should develop, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) launched an undertaking that would lead to greater operational clarity with regards to such capacities, the Definition and Selection of Competencies Project (known as the DeSeCo Project). The result of this expert consultation was to identify key competencies and help define overarching goals for education systems and lifelong learning (Rychen and Salganik 2001, 2003). DeSeCo identified as key competencies: interacting in socially heterogeneous groups, acting autonomously and using tools interactively. Each competency has an internal structure comprising various domains, for instance, the ability to cooperate encompasses: knowledge, cognitive skills, practical skills, attitudes, emotions, values and ethics and motivation related to cooperation (Rychen and Salganik 2003, p 44). DeSeCo is itself a cross-national collaboration that engages with the question of the common values and demands that justify the elaboration of a universal taxonomy of competencies:

For our purpose (i.e., defining and selecting key competencies for a successful life and a well-functioning society), the assumed common values and the widespread acceptance of the international conventions means that universal objectives such as respect for human rights and sustainable development do exist and can serve as a regulative ideal and normative anchoring point for the discourse on key competencies. (Rychen 2003, p. 70–71)

The Delors Report, the DeSeCo Project, and similar national efforts undertaken in various countries to revisit what capacities would be necessary to participate in a rapidly changing world influenced governments to revisit national standards and curriculum frameworks. Complementing those efforts, OECD’s Program of International Student Assessment (PISA), initiated at about the same time as the DeSeCo project, generated further interest in the definition and measurement of the knowledge and skills students around the world had gained by the age of fifteen. These efforts implicitly recognized that countries around the world should collaborate in defining which competencies should be developed in schools.

Similar efforts to re-examine the goals of education took place around the world as the result of technological and social changes. For example in 1981 the US Secretary of Education established a commission to review the quality of education in the country. The report, which recommended that schools should develop the skills that enabled the creation of a learning society, focused on content and skills. Among others, these emphasized foreign languages and cross-cultural communication skills (US National Commission on Excellence in Education 1983).

Ten years later, in 1991, the United States Department of Labor established a commission to define which competencies would be necessary given the changing nature of work. The report repeatedly refers to the growing demands for an expanded set of skills in an economy ever more globally interdependent. It also calls for national standards defining five competencies and three foundational skills. According to the report, the competencies that workers would require are the capacity to productively use resources, interpersonal skills, information, systems, and technology. These build on basic skills, thinking skills and personal qualities (US Department of Labor 1991, p. iii). The report emphasizes how globalization is changing the nature of work, for example, requiring capacities to work effectively with diverse groups and to understand systems.

Another ten years later, a coalition comprising the US Department of Education, one of the main teacher unions, and major technology companies, created an advocacy coalition, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, to persuade states to broaden the goals of the curriculum which more explicitly focused on global content and cross-cultural skills.

Similar efforts to broaden the goals of the curriculum took place in other countries, as documented in a comparative study including Chile, China, India, Mexico, Singapore, and the United States (Reimers and Chung 2016). In addition, a number of international organizations advocated for intentional efforts to cultivate global competency. For example, in 2015 the World Economic Forum published a report identifying 16 key competencies for the twenty-first century, which included cultural literacy and social and cultural awareness (World Economic Forum 2015) and in a more recent report describing eight characteristics of high-quality learning for the fourth industrial revolution global citizenship skills top the list (World Economic Forum 2020a).

In response to the adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by the UN General Assembly in September of 2015, UNESCO has advocated for the incorporation of cognitive and socio-emotional objectives into the curriculum aligned with those goals (UNESCO 2017a). One of the targets for Education SDG 4, on education, focuses specifically on global citizenship education, defined as follows:

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development. (UN 2020)

The OECD has incorporated the assessment of global competency as part of the PISA program (OECD 2018). While PISA’s measurement of skills is not related to existing curriculum, previous PISA studies have stimulated attention to standards and curriculum in various countries, and this new focus on global competence is likely to do the same. The OECD bases the assessment of global competence on this definition:

Global competence is the capacity to examine local, global and intercultural issues, to understand and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others, to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from different cultures, and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development. (OECD 2018)

A working group convened by the UN, UNESCO, and the Brookings Institution to identify measurement instruments and approaches of global citizenship, synthesized their view of global competency in the following eight domains:

  • Empathy

  • Critical thinking and problem solving

  • Ability to communicate and collaborate with others

  • Conflict resolution

  • Sense of security and identity

  • Shared universal values (human rights, peace, justice)

  • Respect for diversity and intercultural understanding

  • Recognition of global issues and of their interconnectedness (Center for Universal Education 2017, p. 17).

A recent publication of the World Economic Forum defines Global Citizenship skills as:

Include content that focuses on building awareness about the wider world, sustainability and playing an active role in the global community. (World Economic Forum 2020a, p. 4)

Animated by this new emphasis on making education relevant to a changing world, the last two decades have consequently seen remarkable transformation of public education systems around the world. Governments have focused more resources and attention on education, attempted more ambitious goals for education, and undertaken numerous innovations to achieve the audacious goal of preparing students for the twenty-first century. This enhanced education activity offers a rich reservoir of comparative experience about how governments approach the question of aligning public education systems with more ambitious goals. Learning from such comparative experience is the goal of the Global Education Innovation Initiative I lead at Harvard University. A collaborative with research institutions in several countries, we have carried out a series of studies to learn from such efforts to reform public education systems. We have studied national reform efforts to broaden the goals of the curriculum in Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Finland, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Peru, Russia, Singapore, and the United States (Reimers and Chung 2016, 2018; Reimers 2020a, b).

These efforts to broaden national curriculum standards reflect increasing awareness of significant local and global challenges, as well as a commitment to bold aspirations to improve well-being and inclusion around the world.

3.3 Recent Imperatives for Global Education

Since 2006, the World Economic Forum produces an annual report on the major global risks. Drawing on the insights of a panel of experts and a survey of well-informed global leaders, the report identifies risks in terms of likelihood and impact. The risks identified are economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological. Economic risks include asset bubbles, deflation, failure of financial institutions, failure of critical infrastructure, fiscal crises, high structural unemployment or underemployment, illicit trade, severe energy price shock, and unmanageable inflation. Environmental risks include extreme weather, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, major natural disasters, and man-made environmental disasters. Geopolitical risks include failure of national governance, failure of regional or global governance, interstate conflict, large scale terrorist attacks, state collapse or crisis, and weapons of mass destruction. Societal risks include failure of urban planning, food crises, large-scale involuntary migration, profound social instability, rapid spread of infectious diseases, and water crises. Technological risks include adverse consequences of technological advances, critical information infrastructure breakdown, large-scale cyber-attacks, and massive data fraud and theft (World Economic Forum 2020b).

A recent report identifies as the most likely risks: extreme weather events, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, natural disasters, biodiversity loss, and man-made environmental disasters. In terms of potential impact, the top five risks are climate action failure, weapons of mass destruction, biodiversity loss, extreme weather events, and water crises (World Economic Forum 2020b).

It is noteworthy that many of the risks examined in the report, particularly those related to climate change, conflict and misuse of technology, have persisted as top risks for multiple years, underscoring that these are difficult issues to tackle, in part because they require global cooperation. This highlights three related motivations for global education. First, if we are to effectively manage those risks, people will need to be aware of them, care about them, and have the skills to address them. Helping people develop those understandings and skills is one goal of global education. Secondly, because these risks require difficult choices for governments, it is necessary that many people develop a deep understanding of these risks, so they can provide the political support necessary for governments to address them. Thirdly, as these risks require global cooperation it is necessary to help people in various countries gain these capacities, so governments can collaborate constructively with the support of their respective populations. All of this will be very difficult as illustrated by the 2019 World Economic Forum Global Risks Report which sounds an alarm bell on the complexity of the challenge of sustaining collective will to address these risks:

Is the world sleepwalking into a crisis? Global risks are intensifying but the collective will to tackle them appears to be lacking. Instead, divisions are hardening. The world’s move into a new phase of state-centered politics, noted in last year’s Global Risks Report, continued throughout 2018…The energy now being expended on consolidating or recovering national control risks weakening collective responses to emerging global challenges. We are drifting deeper into global problems from which we will struggle to extricate ourselves. (World Economic Forum 2019)

One of the most severe global risks, climate catastrophe, has dominated the risk assessment for several years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that we have a decade to put in place serious changes to prevent global temperatures from rising above 1.5 °C (IPCC 2018). In the United States, the National Climate Assessment warned that absent significant reductions in emissions, average global temperatures could rise by 5 °C by the end of the century (National Climate Assessment 2018). These changes in climate will have a number of negative effects. A recent UN report predicts global disruptions in the supply of food, and food shortages will likely cause involuntary cross-national migrations. To prevent further climate change, the report calls for changes in food consumption and agriculture production (IPCC 2018). A recent report documents that 17 nations are currently experiencing extreme water stress, which could impact a quarter of the world’s population (Hofste et al. 2019). These changes will in turn induce other changes that will impact sustainability. For instance, warming oceans are leading to an increase in methylmecury, a neurotoxicant, in fish. The increased levels of methylmercury in fish will impact marine life and humans who consume fish (Schartup et al. 2019).

These global trends and risks interact with each other, potentially compounding their effects. For example, in the United States, there are partisan political divides in how much confidence people have in scientists, which limits the credibility of scientists to inform public understanding on some of the critical global risks, such as climate change. Whereas 43% of Democrats report that they have a great deal of confidence in scientists to act in the best interest of the public, only 27% of Republicans share this view. Confidence in scientists increases with the level of science knowledge of the person, for those with low levels of science knowledge, only 26% report a great deal of confidence in scientists, compared to 45% among those with high levels of science knowledge who report a great deal of confidence in scientists (Funk et al. 2019, p. 3).

A particular challenge to global education is the emergence of new forms of tribalism, variations of intolerant and xenophobic nationalism, which explicitly challenge democratic norms and cosmopolitan ideas. A significant percentage of the world’s population is dissatisfied with how democracy works in their country: 51% on average in 27 countries (Wike et al. 2019). Dissatisfaction with democracy is related to economic frustration, the status of individual rights and the belief that political elites are disconnected from the concerns of ordinary citizens and are corrupt (Ibid).

Societies are divided over race, religion, class and how they view immigrants, one of the manifestations of globalization. Over the last decade, government restrictions and social hostilities based on religion have increased in 52 countries surveyed by the Pew Organization (Pew Research Center 2019). In the United States, the FBI has reported an increase in hate crimes over three consecutive years, with a 22% increase in 2017, more than half of which were anti-Semitic incidents (Byrd 2018).

Demographic changes and immigration are changing the ethnic and racial composition of many societies. This augments the urgency of educating people to understand the positive potential of diversity and to equip them to work productively and to be able to find common ground across differences. In a more diverse context, the severe harm and conflict that prejudice and bigotry begets can augment its impact. In the United States, for example, higher population growth for minority groups and declining birth rates among whites will result in a country where ethnic minority groups will constitute the majority of the population by 2045. Whites will account for 49.7% of the population, Hispanics for 24.6%, blacks 13.1%, Asians 7.9%, and multiracial groups 3.8% (Frey 2018). “Most Americans (57%) say the fact that the U.S. population is made up of people of many different races and ethnicities is a very good thing for the country, and another 20% say this is somewhat good. Smaller shares say this is somewhat (5%) or very (1%) bad, while 17% say it is neither good nor bad for the country. Similar shares of whites (55%), blacks (59%) and Hispanics (60%) say racial and ethnic diversity is very good for the country” (Horowitz 2019).

In spite of these positive views held by the majority of the population about racial and ethnic diversity, a recent survey administered to a nationally representative sample of Americans on attitudes toward race in the United States shows that the majority of the population (58%) believes that race relations are generally bad. This percentage is higher among blacks (71%) than whites (56%) as shown in Fig. 3.1 (Horowitz et al. 2019).

Fig. 3.1
figure 1

Source Horowitz et al. (2019)

Views of racial progress in the United States, among blacks and whites.

Most Americans (65%) – including majorities across racial and ethnic groups – say it has become more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views since Trump was elected president. A smaller but substantial share (45%) say this has become more acceptable. (Horowitz et al. 2019)

About three-quarters of blacks and Asians (76% of each) – and 58% of Hispanics – say they have experienced discrimination or have been treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity at least from time to time. In contrast, about two-thirds of whites (67%) say they’ve never experienced this. (Ibid)

Public opinion surveys also document discrimination against immigrants globally. While the majority see immigrants as a strength, there are also many who see them as a burden to the country. Figure 3.2 summarizes the results of a 2018 Pew Research Survey in 18 countries, which account for half of the world’s population of migrants, in which people were asked whether immigrants made the country stronger or whether they were a burden.

Fig. 3.2
figure 2

Source Gonzalez-Barrera and Connor (2019)

How do people see immigrants.

Liberal democracies are experiencing a number of challenges reflected in declining support for democracy and decline in democracy around the world. In 2018 democratic freedoms declined in 71 countries, whereas they improved in only 35 countries—the twelfth consecutive year of decline of democracy globally (Abramowitz 2018). A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 38 nations shows that while representative democracy is preferred by the majority of the population, there is also significant support for non-democratic ways of government. Just under half of the population across these countries favors a system in which experts make decisions instead of elected representatives, and one in four persons thinks a system in which a strong leader can make decisions without interference from parliament or the courts would be a very good way to govern (Wike and Fetterolf 2018, p. 139). Another 24% believe that a system ruled by the military would be very good (Ibid).

Against the backdrop of these global risks and challenges, a hopeful vision for the future of the world is expressed in a compact of seventeen goals, adopted at the UN General Assembly in September of 2015, which articulate the conditions for a world which is inclusive and sustainable. These goals are:

  1. 1.

    No poverty: End Poverty in all its forms everywhere.

  2. 2.

    Zero hunger: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

  3. 3.

    Good health and well-being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

  4. 4.

    Quality education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

  5. 5.

    Gender equality: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

  6. 6.

    Clean water and sanitation: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

  7. 7.

    Affordable and clean energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and clean energy for all.

  8. 8.

    Decent work and economic growth: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

  9. 9.

    Industry, innovation, and infrastructure: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

  10. 10.

    Reduce inequalities: Reduce inequality within and among countries.

  11. 11.

    Sustainable cities and communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.

  12. 12.

    Responsible consumption and production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

  13. 13.

    Climate action: Take urgent steps to combat climate change and its impacts.

  14. 14.

    Life below water: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.

  15. 15.

    Life on land: Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss.

  16. 16.

    Peace, justice and strong institutions: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.

  17. 17.

    Partnership for the goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development (UN 2020).

Each of these goals has in turn a number of specific targets, which operationalize the goals. As mentioned earlier, goal number 4, for example, focused on quality education for all, includes a target which focuses on global citizenship education, in ways reminiscent of the language of the right to education in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, reflecting cosmopolitan views of the enlightenment:

Target 4.7: By 2030 ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development. (UN 2020)

An intentional global education which responds to these cultural imperatives would create opportunities for students to learn about and develop the skills to address the kinds of risks identified by the World Economic Forum and to contribute to achieving the United Nations Development Goals. These broad and ambitious development goals can inform the development of curriculum.

In 2009–2010, with a group of my graduate students, I developed a comprehensive curriculum, spanning from kindergarten to high school, aligned with the UN SDGs (we initially worked with the Millennium Development Goals, and later on substituted them with the Sustainable Development Goals as they were adopted at the UN General Assembly in 2015), with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and with the World Economic Forum Risk Assessment Framework. From the study of those goals, we developed a framework of competencies which a high school graduate should have in order to contribute to achieving such goals. Then, we used this framework to guide the development of 350 units to be taught in a special course, a “world course,” that would provide students explicit opportunities to integrate knowledge gained in various disciplines, as they worked on projects aligned with those competencies (Reimers et al. 2016).

“… the overarching goal of our curriculum is to support the development of global citizenship, which is understood to be the result of competencies in understanding, caring about, and having the capacity to influence global affairs and to advance human rights. We built on a conceptualization of global competency that included knowledge, affect, and skills (Reimers 2009, 2010). Central to our conception of global competency is the notion of human agency—of empowerment—and we therefore sought to cultivate the mindset that individuals can make a difference, the desire to take initiative, the ability to act in leadership roles, and an understanding of responsibility.

The principles that guided our curriculum design were: defining clear outcomes for knowledge, affect, and action and focusing on interdisciplinary units that would be aligned with coherent themes in each grade, as well as with an overall scope and sequence. Finally, we audited the entire curriculum to ascertain whether there were adequate opportunities for developing the intended capabilities throughout. We balanced the curriculum mapping with various features designed to support personalization, such as providing students with opportunities to develop their own interests, discover their passions, and learn deeply about issues that were of interest to them. In particular, we relied on project-based learning, student collaboration, engagement from parents and community members, and student agency in shaping the high school curriculum as ways to personalize learning.

One of the pedagogical principles on which this design was grounded was to rely extensively on project-based learning and on active learning methodologies, such as Design Thinking, that place students at the center of their learning. We also sought to give students abundant opportunities to demonstrate understanding in the form of products that could be shared with peers, teachers, and other audiences, including students in other grades in the school and parents.

We also created multiple opportunities for students to directly collaborate with peers in other countries with the use of technology for project-based work and remote communication. We viewed this collaboration as a way to help them discover their common humanity with diverse students.

The curriculum also provides multiple opportunities to directly engage students and teachers with parents and community members who can directly contribute knowledge and experience to support global education, and thereby help students identify authentic connections between the local and global.

Throughout the entire K-12 curriculum, but particularly in grades nine through twelve, are opportunities for students to pursue their personal interests with greater depth, and to co-construct with their teachers a significant portion of the curriculum.

We defined those competencies as encompassing intercultural competency, ethical orientation, knowledge and skills, and work and mind habits:

  1. 1.

    Intercultural competency

    This includes the ability to interact successfully with people from different cultural identities and origins. It encompasses interpersonal skills as well as intrapersonal skills and ways to govern oneself in the face of cultural differences.

    1. A.

      Interpersonal Skills

      1. i.

        Work productively in and effectively lead intercultural teams, including teams distributed in various geographies through the use of telecommunication technologies

      2. ii.

        Demonstrate empathy toward other people from different cultural origins

      3. iii.

        Demonstrate courtesy and norms of interaction appropriate to various cultural settings

      4. iv.

        Resolve culturally based disagreements through negotiation, mediation, and conflict resolution

    2. B.

      Intrapersonal Skills

      1. i.

        Curiosity about global affairs and world cultures

      2. ii.

        The ability to recognize and weigh diverse cultural perspectives

      3. iii.

        An understanding of one’s own identity, of others’ identities, of how other cultures shape their own and others’ identities, and of where one is in space and time

      4. iv.

        The ability to recognize and examine assumptions when engaging with cultural differences

      5. v.

        The recognition of cultural (civilizational, religious, or ethnic) prejudice and the ability to minimize its effects in intergroup dynamics

      6. vi.

        An understanding and appreciation of cultural variation in basic norms of interaction, the ability to be courteous, and the ability to find and learn about norms appropriate in specific settings and types of interaction

  2. 2.

    Ethical orientation

    1. A.

      Appreciation of ethical frameworks in diverse religious systems

    2. B.

      Commitment to basic equality of all people

    3. C.

      Recognition of common values and common humanity across civilizational streams

    4. D.

      Appreciation of the potential of every person regardless of socioeconomic circumstances or cultural origin

    5. E.

      Appreciation of the role of global compacts such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in guiding global governance

    6. F.

      Commitment to supporting universal human rights, to reducing global poverty, to promoting peace, and to promoting sustainable forms of human–environmental interaction

    7. G.

      Ability to interact with people from diverse cultural backgrounds while demonstrating humility, respect, reciprocity, and integrity

    8. H.

      An understanding of the role of trust in sustaining human interaction as well as global institutions and recognition of forms of breakdowns in trust and institutional corruption and its causes

  3. 3.

    Knowledge and skills

    In addition to highlighting the cosmopolitan links infused in the curriculum, as Kandel recommended a century ago, a global education curriculum should provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to understand the various vectors of globalization. These include culture, religion, history and geography, politics and government, economics, science, technology and innovation, public health, and demography.

    1. A.

      Culture, religion, and history and geography

      1. i.

        World history and geography, with attention to the role of globalization in cultural change

      2. ii.

        The study of religions as powerful institutions organizing human activity

      3. iii.

        Historical knowledge, which includes various perspectives and an understanding of the role of ordinary citizens in history

      4. iv.

        World geography, including the different areas of the world, what unites them, what differences exist, and how humans have changed the geography of the planet

      5. v.

        World religions, history, and points of contact between civilizations over time

      6. vi.

        Major philosophical traditions and points of connection

      7. vii.

        Performing and visual arts (e.g., theater, dance, music, visual arts, etc.) as a means to find common humanity

      8. viii.

        Different arts and ability to see connections

      9. ix.

        Ability to view art as expression, to use art for expression, and to understand globalization and art

    1. B.

      Politics and government

      1. i.

        Comparative government

      2. ii.

        How governments work in different societies

      3. iii.

        Major international institutions and their role in shaping global affairs

      4. iv.

        Contemporary global challenges in human–environmental interaction

      5. v.

        Sources of these challenges, options to address them, and the role of global institutions in addressing these challenges

      6. vi.

        History of contemporary global conflicts and the role of global institutions in addressing these challenges

    1. C.

      Economics, business, and entrepreneurship

      1. i.

        Theories of economic development and how they explain the various stages in economic development of nations, poverty, and inequality

      2. ii.

        Institutions that regulate global trade and work to promote international development

      3. iii.

        Contemporary literature on the effectiveness and limitations of those institutions

      4. iv.

        The impact of global trade

      5. v.

        The consequences of global poverty and the agency of the poor

      6. vi.

        The demography and factors influencing demographic trends and their implications for global change

    1. D.

      Science, technology and innovation, and globalization

    1. E.

      Public Health, population, and demography

  4. 4.

    Work and mind habits

    1. A.

      Demonstrate innovation and creativity in contributing to formulating solutions to global challenges and to seizing global opportunities; seek and identify the best global practices; and transfer them across geographic, disciplinary, and professional contexts

    2. B.

      Identify different cultural perspectives through which to think about problems

    3. C.

      Understand the process of cultural change and that there is individual variation within cultural groups

    4. D.

      Carry out research projects independently

    5. E.

      Present results of independent research in writing, orally, and using media.” (Reimers et al. 2016, pp. lvii–lx).

In 2016, working with 36 of my graduate students, we developed a streamlined global education curriculum, from kindergarten to high school, following the same process of backward design from the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Reimers et al. 2017). A year later, with another group of 34 graduate students, we developed a variety of different curriculum prototypes, also aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Reimers et al. 2018).

UNESCO also developed a series of learning objectives aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which can be used to develop programs, curriculum or instructional materials in any country. Cross-cutting competencies for sustainability identified in the report include systems thinking, anticipatory competency, normative competency, strategic competency, collaboration competency, critical thinking competency, self-awareness and integrated problem-solving competency (UNESCO 2017a, p. 10). Specific learning objectives aligned with each SDG include cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioral objectives. For example, with respect to the first SDG: No Poverty, the UNESCO report identifies the following objectives:

Cognitive learning objectives

  1. 1.

    The learner understands the concepts of extreme and relative poverty and is able to critically reflect on their underlying cultural and normative assumptions and practices.

  2. 2.

    The learner knows about the local, national and global distribution of extreme poverty and extreme wealth.

  3. 3.

    The learner knows about causes and impacts of poverty such as unequal distribution of resources and power, colonization, conflicts, disasters caused by natural hazards and other climate change-induced impacts, environmental degradation and technological disasters, and the lack of social protection systems and measures.

  4. 4.

    The learner understands how extremes of poverty and extremes of wealth affect basic human rights and needs.

  5. 5.

    The learner knows about poverty reduction strategies and measures and is able to distinguish between deficit-based and strength-based approaches to addressing poverty.

Socio-emotional learning objectives

  1. 1.

    The learner is able to collaborate with others to empower individuals and communities to affect change in the distribution of power and resources in the community and beyond.

  2. 2.

    The learner is able to raise awareness about extremes of poverty and wealth and encourage dialogue about solutions.

  3. 3.

    The learner is able to show sensitivity to the issues of poverty as well as empathy and solidarity with poor people and those in vulnerable situations.

  4. 4.

    The learner is able to identify their personal experiences and biases with respect to poverty.

  5. 5.

    The learner is able to reflect critically on their own role maintaining global structures of inequality.

Behavioral learning objectives

  1. 1.

    The learner is able to plan, implement, evaluate and replicate activities that contribute to poverty reduction.

  2. 2.

    The learner is able to publicly demand and support the development and integration of politics that promote social and economic justice, risk reduction strategies and poverty eradication actions.

  3. 3.

    The learner is able to evaluate, participate in and influence decision-making related to management strategies of local, national and international enterprises concerning poverty generation and eradication.

  4. 4.

    The learner is able to include poverty reduction, social justice and anti-corruption considerations in their consumption activities.

  5. 5.

    The learner is able to propose solutions to address systemic-problems related to poverty. (UNESCO 2017a, p. 12)


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Reimers, F.M. (2020). A Cultural Perspective and Global Education. In: Educating Students to Improve the World. SpringerBriefs in Education. Springer, Singapore.

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