Over the last half-century, improvements in technology and changes to the global economy have meant that people are more interconnected than ever before. Despite these transformations, poverty, deprivation, and inequality still pose a threat to the well-being of people and nations throughout the world.
This is why the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has launched an initiative around Global Citizenship Education (GCED), which aims to encourage learners to understand global issues and to work actively towards making more tolerant, inclusive, equal, just, and sustainable societies. GCED is often linked with Education for Sustainable Development, a similar initiative that aims to help learners acquire the knowledge and skills to “meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” as the Brundtland Commission of the U.N. described in the 1980s.
GCED and ESD are intended to help learners comprehend and address complex challenges that may arise in social, political, economic, or environmental spheres both locally and globally. The main goals of GCED are to develop core competencies for learners so that they can think critically about global and local issues; have a sense of belonging to a common humanity and develop their empathy; and act effectively and responsibly to create a more peaceful and sustainable world. Similarly, ESD is intended to give learners a method to improve their local economies and living standards while considering issues like climate change, conflict resolution, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity, poverty reduction, and sustainable consumption.
However, two of the biggest challenges for proponents of GCED and ESD are access and impact. How can this type of education be spread to remote parts of the world, how can it best be made accessible to learners who live in poverty or who lack traditional educational resources like schools, trained teachers, labs, or learning materials, and how can it be delivered to support real world outcomes?
Russell Hazard is an educational researcher, learning designer, and Director of the Aidi Teaching, Learning and Innovation Center in China who specializes in twenty-first century education. He notes that, “Although many assume that initiatives such as Education for Sustainable Development are primarily for low income countries, the truth is that all counties are constantly developing both socially and economically and they need to innovate in ways that support this development while mitigating environmental degradation and reducing serious inequality and often violent conflict in engenders both within and between nations”.
He believes that digital technology will be increasingly used to scale up these educational initiatives. “Technology can be used to bypass some hurdles like resource limitations and a lack of teachers,” he said. “For example, mobile phone applications are being developed to deliver basic education directly to students, even in rural areas with few resources or without any schools at all. Of course, this is not optimal and needs to be combined with significant investments in schools, teacher development, and curriculum/materials support, but as these technologies mature with machine learning, or what is often termed Artificial Intelligence, they may be able to offer significant support to marginalized populations”.
A different, web-based example would be the DQWorld initiative which provides personalized learning in digital citizenship through an online platform that can be accessed from anywhere in the world. It provides effective training in this important subject area for students in highly developed countries such as Singapore and the United States as well as in emerging economies such as Thailand.
As well as purely technological solutions, there are a range of programs being developed to support students and teachers in improving their impact and connect with each other. High Resolves, a nonprofit based in Australia, works to empower young people and instill in them GCED values and action. The organization uses technology, particularly student-created videos, to give a voice to students and allow them to address global issues in a way that nurtures their creativity. The videos are also available online for other learners to access information about social issues.
However, technology that supports learning has a limited impact unless it actually results in real world change. For this reason, many educators are combining technology with programs such as Project Based Learning to help students engage, learn and apply real world skills, and make a difference in their communities. Russell Hazard notes, “working together on real world projects can help students not only grasp the subject knowledge that is the traditional goal of education, but learn to apply that knowledge as young professionals that are empowered to see problems, come up with workable solutions, and learn how to implement them. This can take many forms, whether it is a project centered around building a new business that fits the needs of an area or working with others to improve the commons that we all live in. Education systems that include authentic learning and action in the form of Project Based Learning can help to create measurable impact that goes beyond the acquisition of theory or just improving grades. This is not at all at odds with the goals of traditional education. Employers increasingly want to hire young people who have knowledge, but also the skills, experience, and attitudes to deliver results”.
These kinds of projects vary from high technology to low technology. For example, students at Sihlengeni Primary School in Zimbabwe, were awarded a UNESCO prize for their project to transform a degraded area near their school into a healthy, biodiverse zone that supports their local community. Importantly, they did this in a way that supported education objectives and allowed students to apply what they know to something they care about.
As the global population continues to rise, along with the interconnectedness of people across the globe, there will be an associated need for people to work together to address both local and global problems so life continues to improve in cities, towns, and rural areas around the world. GCED and ESD, when properly implemented, can give people the knowledge and skills they require to address those issues while building careers they are passionate about. Targeted technology can play an increasingly pivotal role in this, whether in your own community and across the world.
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