Global Education

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Global Education

Global education, or global studies, is an interdisciplinary approach to learning concepts and skills necessary to function in a world that is increasingly interconnected and multicultural. The curricula based on this approach are grounded in traditional academic disciplines but are taught in the context of project-and problem-based inquiries. The learner examines issues from the vantage point of the individual, the local community, the nation, and the world community. As social conditioning, an essential component of schooling, global studies takes an international stance that respects local allegiances and cultural diversity while adhering to the principles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

There is, however, no standard definition among proponents of global education. Kenneth A. Tye and Barbara Benham Tye of the Center for Human Interdependence (CHI) in Orange County, California, an educational training program that emphasizes global awareness, constructed the following working definition:

Global education involves learning about those problems and issues that cut across national boundaries, and about the interconnectedness of systemsecological, cultural, economic, political and technological. Global education involves perspective takingseeing things through the eyes and minds of othersand it means the realization that while individuals and groups may view life differently, they also have common needs and wants.

Global education is distinct from the concept of globalization, that is, the forces of market capitalism, which tend to focus discussion on global economic systems and information technologies. From a pedagogical standpoint, economic prosperity and technological progress are part of a broader emphasis on planetary interconnectedness, interdependency, and sustainability. Key concepts in global education include human rights, environmental responsibility, cultural studies, and sustainable economies. Global education views national politics and transnational economic policies with an eye toward international accountability. It stresses the role of global ethics in shaping humane, environmentally sound attitudes toward the world as a single ecosystem, and it teaches that a globally conscious citizenry can effectively overcome such problems as climate change, ocean pollution, and resource depletion with ingenuity, leadership, and cooperation.

One of the aims of global education is a shared international global ethic that would be used to govern socioeconomic decision-making. This ethic would be based on a system of universal values found in United Nations documents onhuman rights, agreements of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, proposals of Amnesty International and other NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) for the realization of human rights, and the Earth Chapter project.

The value and utility of global education derives from the sense that international events require all societies and their citizens to become knowledgeable about the world beyond their national borders. Usually, this imperative is cast in economic terms. Business and political leaders warn that, as the world's economies and financial systems are incredibly interconnected, our material well-being depends on professionals and workers with sophisticated knowledge of the global economy. In their view, family and local community can no longer define our values. Rather, community-based values must be integrated into the large-scale social institutions that govern our lives.

Training Professional Educators

Much education planning in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries focused on preparing students for the increasingly interdependent world and the diverse societies they would graduate into. Professional educators, parents, and policy-makers understood that educators need to have a sound awareness of other nations, their social milieus, cultures, customs, political and economic processes, and educational systems. Accordingly, teacher-education programs in colleges and universities around the world responded by introducing courses of study and program components to help meet this need.

Such courses and program components fall under the generic heading of Global Education but may have different labels such as Global Comparative Education or Comparative Education. Postsecondary education reacted to the globalization phenomenon in a way that sought to use the technological, economic, social, and political developments of the late twentieth century to develop a shared vision of global responsibility and economic sustainability.

Courses in global education tend to fall into two general categories: survey courses and courses dealing with specific issues. Survey courses have three basic components. First, they introduce students to the field of global/comparative studies in education. Second, they undertake examinations of selected countries as case studies. Third, these case studies provide the data and substantive content for comparing national systems of schooling; discerning common themes and trends; appreciating differences; understanding problems and controversies; and drawing conclusions, insights, and lessons.

The second category of courses focuses on specific issues in contemporary schooling, examined in an international context. The wide scope of issues addressed includes equality of educational opportunity; educational achievement; evaluation and examinations; the treatment of minority groups; women in education; formal, nonformal, and informal education; delivery modes; teacher training, certification, and supply; citizenship education; politics, ideology, and schooling; language and literacy; schooling and the economy; education, modernization, and development; education reform; accountability; effective schooling; and school administration and governance.


Global education addresses schooling in all its aspects. Pedagogical strategies, curricular content, evaluation, classroom management, and organization and administration are conducted in fundamentally different ways around the world. Research into how children learn, what constitutes "best practices" in pedagogy, and how schools serve social and class interests is being conducted in many societies and in many different national and cultural contexts. All around the world, educators, departments of education, education research institutes, professors of education, and others are working conscientiously to produce pedagogy, curricula, and diagnostic tools to better serve students, parents, society, and the teaching profession.

Schooling will inevitably reflect the cultural biases on which it is established, but as a general rule, global education aims to:

Find a cross-cultural foundation for knowledge and human values;

Refine understandings of globally applicable ethical attitudes;

Consider how international organizations might affect national political and economic decisions;

Foster a global civic culture with a capacity for altruism and empathy, one that encourages social action and community service.

The Development of Global Perspective
in U.S. Education

The progressive education movement of the twentieth century included several components, one of which was the emphasis placed on the democratic educational approach, accepting the interests and needs of an increasingly diverse student body in an increasingly interdependent world. In the 1920s this was reflected in the rebirth of comparative studies. In the 1940s, progressive education was reclassified as intergroup education. In the 1950s it focused on area studies, race relations, and ethnic studies. In the 1960s, it added peace and conflict studies, human rights education, international studies, intercultural studies, and open classrooms.

In the 1970s, the women's liberation and African-American liberation movements blossomed in both positive and negative terms. In the field of education this was reflected in the introduction of multicultural and environmental education. The 1980s saw the introduction of global education and world studies. From the 1980s to the early 2000s global education as well as multicultural education remained constant in the historical context.

Thus, global perspective in education is not a new idea. Yet, while efforts in this direction can be traced in earlier history, World War II is something of a watershed in its development. After the war, a widespread movement began around the world to foster education for "world understanding" with the purpose of preventing a third world war. Children's books in war-torn Europe, Japan, and the USSR featured peace and antiwar themes and empathetic stories about children of other lands.

In the United States the Cold War chilled and slowed the movement for a time, especially in the 1950s, when McCarthyites saw "communism" behind every effort to increase international cooperation. But even in this climate, some educational leaders foresaw that the United States could not remain isolated forever from the rest of the world and that "international education" was in the national self-interest. The Soviet launching of Sputnik in 1957 was a spur not only to improved science education but also to increased pressure in the United States for international education. A year later Congress passed the 1958 National Defense Education Act (NDEA). Under Title VI it mandated the teaching of foreign studies, languages, and cultural understanding. However, practice did not match the preaching; allocations were minimal. Years of effort followed, as groups of educators and others in the United States pressed for congressional support for substantive international and global education programs. For a time, under the Carter administration and the leadership of Ernest Boyer as commissioner of education, major breakthroughs seemed imminent. Boyer condemned education that failed to acquaint students with the interdependence of all humans and the fragility of life in an unstable world. In this period, fourteen states adopted global education guidelines or programs. And although the notion of global education came under fire during the Reagan administration, support was growing among some U.S. business and educational leaders.

But even among those who did accept the need for global education, there was no widespread agreement on its definition, purposes, or objectives. Phrases such as education for world understanding ; intercultural, international, global, or foreign affairs education; global perspectives in education, or transnational or planetary perspectives; or education for spaceship earth these were used interchangeably, even by professionals, blurring important distinctions. This ambiguity may be symptomatic of the new and tenuous nature of thought in the field and of the different emphases of different persons and institutions at a given time.

The various terms also reflect a certain historical development. References to "global," "interdependent," "transnational," and "planetary" education emanated in part from a new perspective of the planetas seen from outer spacein which national political boundaries were seen as artificial human creations, the real subject being the life and functioning integrity of the planet as a whole.

Perhaps most important, the different terms are symptomatic of changingand sometimes conflictingworldviews or paradigms. For example, phrases such as foreign-affairs or international education suggest a state-centric vision in which the major actors are seen as governments. In contrast, terms such as global, planetary, transnational, or interdependent education suggest a frame of reference in which a variety of actorseconomic, environmental, cultural, and popular as well as governmentalare considered for their impact on the world as a whole. National interest here is seen as inseparable from world interest.

Three Views of Global Education in American
Educational Discourse

In a period of competing worldviews, the more interesting and significant question concerns not what terms are being used but, rather, the underlying vision and purpose of education and how it will affect our children and the people and the world of tomorrow. Three distinct views of the purpose of global education emerged in the United States during the late twentieth century.

Win the superpower contest.

This view emerged from a bipolar vision of the world that assumed that the most important fact of life as the United States approached the twenty-first century was the ideological conflict between the superpowers and their competition for world hegemony. One of its more prominent spokespersons was the U.S. secretary of education, William J. Bennett. In his December 5, 1986, speech to the Ethics and Public Policy Center Conference, Bennett spoke of the United States's global responsibilities as a global power and, as a result, the need to learn as much about the world as possible. In Bennett's view, the defensive position of the United States and its allies to the USSR was the central fact of the political world. More recently, after criticizing other approaches to global education, Bennett suggests that global education properly understood should include geography, foreign languages, some foreign literature, and a good deal of European history. But most important, Bennett suggests that American students should learn about American literature, history, and especially democracy; about totalitarian and theocratic regimes; about the social, political, and economic differences between despotic and dictatorial nations and democratic nations; and, finally, about the key historical events of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century that created the current relations between the United States and the Muslim world.

A limitation of this approach is that it is not particularly global. It provides little understanding of other nations or cultures or of the deeper life processes of the planet. In its most benign form it is an incomplete educationinadequate preparation for life in an increasingly interdependent world. Taken to extremes, it could lead to fascism.

Win the global economic contest.

A second view of the need for global education in the United States emanates from international economic competition. In this view the most important fact about the world in the late twentieth century was not superpower competition but the emergence of one world economyglobal capitalismand shifting centers of economic power within it. In the United States this shift had the potential power of a Sputnik II in reshaping the purposes and direction of education, except that the major competitor striking fear in the hearts of national leaders in the early 2000s was not the USSR but Asia and the European Union.

In addition to Japan and Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the European Union were rapidly gaining economic ground. Together they represent a shift of economic power away from the West toward Asia. This carried not only economic importance but also potential significance with respect to political, cultural, military, and other forms of power in the future.

In the 1950s the United States enjoyed a trade surplus; by the 1980s, it was experiencing chronic trade and payment deficits. The 1990s were healthy economic years for the United States; the country managed to eliminate the trade and payment deficits. But as the United States entered the twenty-first century, economic uncertainty coupled with the events of September 11, 2001, managed to reverse the American economic forward momentum to a crawl. Thus, in contrast to the "peace" focus of international education efforts after World War II, and the military security goals that characterized the post-Sputnik emergency passage of the National Defense Education Act in 1958, some U.S. leaders saw the fundamental purpose of international education as helping to maintain U.S. economic strength.

With this in mind, when Congress decided in 1980 to make the Title VI NDEA international education programs part of the "mainstream" Higher Education Act, the strong national security rationale for these programs was augmented to include not only military but also economic security. A special business and international education provision was added to establish "export education programs," among other things. Congress stated that

  1. The future economic welfare of the United States will depend substantially on increasing international skills in the business community and creating an awareness among the American public of the internationalization of our economy.
  2. Concerted efforts are necessary to engage business schools, language and area study programs, public and private sector organizations, and United States business in a mutually productive relationship which benefits the Nation's future economic interests.

The relationship between education and economic security was underscored by the National Commission on Excellence in Education in its 1983 report A Nation at Risk, which stated that because "our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science and technological innovation [was] being challenged by competition throughout the world," a revolution in U.S. education was called for.

The Southern Governors' Conference also addressed the problem of "international illiteracy" in the United States and its negative effect on U.S. ability to compete in the international marketplace. The conference's Advisory Council, made up of leaders from business, education, and government, issued in November 1986 a no-nonsense report that came right to the economic point:

Americans have not responded to a basic fact: the best jobs, largest markets, and greatest profits belong to those who understand the country with which they are doing business.

We operate in a global economy. There are no more guaranteed markets for our goods. We must competeand to compete we must be able to communicate.

We cannot trade goods or ideas unless we understand our customers and they understand us.

The Council's recommendations for redressing the problem included increased emphasis in the schools on geography, international studies, and foreign languages, "sister-school" programs abroad, and teacher and student exchanges. They also recommended special educational programs and assistance to businesses, including programs on languages, foreign business practices, and cultural training.

Persons, peoples, and planet.

A third view of global education sees as its purpose not winning a struggle for military or economic power but rather an understanding of humanity's responsibility to individuals, to peoples, and to the planet itself.

This view seeks a deep understanding and appreciation of humanity's shared evolutionary pastthe story of the earth, of its creative life forces, of human becoming, and of the common human subsistence in that one earthas well as of their more local and distinct social, cultural, economic, and political roots. It seeks to help children worldwide to understand the increasingly interdependent nature of the human world and to learn how to take a creative and responsible part in its life. It also wants them to understand the consequences of their choicesnot only to themselves but also to those around them and those yet to come. Thus, the values needed to guide responsible decision-making must include not only the maximization of profit but also peace, freedom, human rights, social justice, and ecological balance. To create and maintain the conditions necessary to realize these values they must learn how to think critically, resolve conflicts, and solve problems creatively.

See also Education: North America ; Globalization .


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John A. Xanthopoulos

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Global Education

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