UCL researcher Matthew Hayes looks at why and how to bring Global Citizenship Education into the English language classroom.




‘Education does not change the world. Education changes people. People change the world.’


Paulo Freire

Let’s begin with a question. Why does education matter to you, to your students and to the world?

Your own story with education will be deeply personal. That teacher that really ‘made a difference’, or the lightbulb moment which changed the way you look at the world. For your students, I suspect you know many of their dreams and ambitions. As to why education matters to the world, again the answer will be personal. I suspect in answering this question many of us will be thinking of the challenges we see from our respective corner of the globe – rising inequality, environmental and economic challenges, or the rise of automation in the workforce.

Common to these answers is a higher level of purpose for education, one which cannot be addressed by traditional curriculum subjects, examinations or international testing standards. It is this purpose which Paulo Freire so powerfully captures in that famous quote, and for which Global Citizenship Education (GCE) can be an effective framework.

Global Citizenship Education

The core concepts underpinning GCE have been traced back to some of our earliest history and are not only to be found in Western culture and philosophy. The Ancient Chinese philosopher Mozi wrote that ‘the world is a commonwealth shared by all’; while the Hindu scriptures call for ‘concord with our own people, and concord with people who are strangers to us’.

Global citizenship’s current prominence in international education policy can be traced to more recent history. This began with the founding of the United Nations in the 1940s and the subsequent Declaration on Human Rights, which called for ‘education […] to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations’. It was really the 2012 Global Education First Initiative launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that underscored a fundamental shift: from purely quantitative indicators of global educational progress to more qualitative ones. The development of ‘global citizens’ was set down as a key target in this initiative. It led to the publication, two years later, of UNESCO’s first framework for GCE: ‘Preparing Learners for the Challenges of the 21st Century.’

Yet despite UNESCO’s promotion of GCE, one of its virtues is that it is not owned or prescribed by any supranational organisation. There is no mandated curriculum and no accreditation body. This democratic quality to GCE enables a wide variety of policy and practice, as GCE can be adapted to local contexts and cultures, and to your classroom. I have identified three key elements in current GCE thinking and practice, but you can and should criticise and interpret these in your own context.

Three elements of Global Citizenship Education

Bloom’s Taxonomy outlines three domains in educational learning outcomes:

  • ‘cognitive’ (aka knowledge)
  • ‘psychomotor’ (aka skills)
  • ‘affective’ (aka attitudes)

GCE can be effectively grouped along the same lines, with Global Orientation representing knowledge, Global Skills representing skills, and Global Action representing attitudes. Navigating GCE through learning outcomes is the most practical way of exploring the educational ideal.

Global Orientation

Global Orientation is about educating citizens for a positive, confident view of the world and their role in it. In discovering this element of GCE, students should:

  • encounter their responsibility for positive global outcomes
  • be exposed to multiple global cultures
  • encounter ideas of global interdependence
  • learn about global institutions such as the UN
  • encounter concepts of both national and global identities

Two aspects are worth highlighting here. Firstly, that this is not about cultivating a naïve, privileged perspective of the world. Teaching this element of GCE must incorporate a critical examination of the world and its injustices, whilst empowering students for the small but significant actions they can take to improve it. Secondly, this is Global Orientation – not Western. It is important that students be exposed to the true diversity and complexity of the world and exposed in diverse ways. I encourage you to take a look at novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s brilliant and thought-provoking TED talk: The Dangers of a Single Story.

How do we integrate this in the classroom? The textbook can be a useful aide here, ensuring English language skills are developed through GCE content. An example of this could be a listening exercise where students hear about various global cuisines and are then asked to discuss why food differs from country to country.

Global Skills

Global Skills overlap significantly with what has been called ‘Life Skills’, or ‘21st Century Skills’. In learning outcomes, they are:

  • Communication
  • Cooperation
  • Collaboration
  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking

They are highly complementary to best-practice English language curricula, such as the CEFR and PISA. To give just one example, here is one learning outcome taken from the CEFR covering creativity: ‘[Students] can write clear, smoothly flowing, and fully engrossing stories and descriptions of experience.’ As such, you are probably already teaching these in your English language classroom. Consider these examples from Macmillan Education coursebook Global Stage:

  • Problem-Solving: Students are asked to examine a large illustration of a school sports day event gone awry. They must work in groups to identify what went wrong.
  • Collaboration: Students are asked to listen to two children working together to complete a task, clearly listening and reflecting on each other’s points and suggestions. The students must then perform a collaborative task together.
  • Creativity: Students are asked to think about problems in their local area and, using a structured template, identify how they are caused, what effects they have and what solutions they might propose to address them.

This final example on Creativity is a good example of the way in which GCE themes can be scaffolded for younger learners. Here we see the students asked to identify problems in their local area. A teacher could then take forward this local perspective to look at global problems that the student could address in their small but significant way: environmental issues, for example. This is the distinction of skills in a GCE context – namely, that we try to link their development with the broader themes of Global Citizenship.

Global Action

This is the most important, defining element of GCE. This is why we refer to Global Citizenship and not Global Awareness. The word ‘citizen’ is fundamental, denoting both rights and responsibilities. Global Action takes forward these responsibilities. At a learning-outcome level, the student should:

  • encounter their complicity in negative global outcomes
  • be encouraged to discover their personal bias
  • be exposed to contrary perspectives and views, with an opportunity to debate and accept differences
  • be actively encouraged to exercise their responsibility as global citizens through specific modelling tasks

This is not about the parroting of Western democratic ideals, or a universal consensus of what is ‘good’. Rather, it is about cultivating a critical consciousness in every citizen and encouraging our students to question the world, its injustices, and our part in them. This is why I use that loaded word ‘complicity’. When examining problems at a global level, it is easy for us to ascribe blame to supranational organisations, multinational conglomerates or international leaders. But we all pollute. We all see injustice around us. And we can all act.

Common classroom activities and aides can provide an effective model for such action. An example might be a series of classes on global geography. Whilst eliciting vocab using the most commonly used world map (the ‘Mercator’ map), you might also encourage your students to identify problems with this everyday, unchallenged view of the world. For example, look closely at the UK and India on the map and India appears twice the size of the UK. In reality India is approximately thirteen times bigger. This is one striking example of many of the inaccuracies and imbalances of this everyday map we all rely on. A newer map, the Gall–Peters projection, tries to correct these inaccuracies and Western biases. Yet even with this map, the Western world remains at the centre and at the top. Why? This is one example of how we can present new language points within a context that questions the way they see the world, exposing bias and injustice.

Final thought

Two final thoughts: one practical, the other inspirational (I hope!). Practically, I encourage you to look at initiatives such as the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms, which connects schools from all over the world to ‘exchange both culture and knowledge’ – enabling you and your students to explore new cultures and different perspectives. You might also decide to reach out to other teachers across the globe using the same coursebooks or through the onestopenglish community to work on a shared project.

I promised some inspiration. In 1966 Robert F. Kennedy spoke to students at the University of Cape Town:

‘Whenever a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, which crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, can build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.’*


* Paraphrased for clarity. The full extract can be read here.

I encourage you to be a centre of energy and daring, knowing that the impact of one teacher can be and has always been extraordinary.

About the author

Matthew Hayes

Matthew Hayes, BA (Oxon), MA (SOAS), is a doctoral researcher at the Institute of Education in London. His research concerns Global Citizenship Education in English language textbooks. Matthew is also the Director of Growth at Publons, the world’s largest peer review platform and a part of Clarivate Analytics. Matthew was previously Commercial Director at wizdom.ai, an AI-driven research startup acquired by Taylor & Francis. Prior to that he worked for Springer Nature for 10 years, latterly as Regional Director in their Education division.

Watch Matt’s webinar on Global Citizenship here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7ybWHxJwMU

Find out more about Macmillan’s Global Stage course here: www.macmillanenglish.com/courses/globalstage


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