With ever-increasing transnational flows of people, cultures, ideas, technology and capital, preparing our young to live in a global society has never been more important. Associate Professor Mark Baildon explores global citizenship education across three global cities to understand the challenges and opportunities teachers see in terms of preparing young people for this global context.
Global Citizenship Education
Singapore being a global city presents the challenge of educating our young to live in a global society and a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. In this present landscape, global citizenship education offers a way to understand the role of citizens in a global society in the 21st century.
While some may view citizenship in national terms, focusing on local issues and patriotism, living in a global society is about recognizing that global issues like social injustice, climate change and war can equally affect us and require us to take action to resolve them.
“Hopefully teachers can have an appreciation that citizenship is multi-layered – always grounded in the local context, but also national and global,” says Mark. With globalization, even our identities have become multiple and complex, derived from ethnicities, religions, political affiliations, as well as transnational influences like social media.
“Citizenship education should therefore help young people understand and address pressing social issues that are not only local, but also affecting nations and communities everywhere.”
To understand how global citizenship education is viewed and taught in different contexts, Mark analyses curriculum and interviews school leaders and teachers in both international and local schools to observe how curriculum is implemented in three global cities: Singapore, Hong Kong and New York.
“Global citizenship education is always local, because these issues impact us at the local level.”
– Associate Professor Mark Baildon, Humanities & Social Studies Education Academic Group, NIE
Citizenship Education in Different Contexts
There are differences in the way young people are educated for citizenship in Asian and Western contexts, shares Mark. “While Western societies tend to have a stronger political and individual focus, in Asian societies it is about producing moral citizens, and tends to be more communitarian in nature.”
One common finding about citizenship education across the three cities is that they tend to be fairly nationalist and seek to prepare students to become productive workers and consumers. This reflects an emphasis on economic development and growth. In order to be prepared to deal with a wide range of issues however, it is important that students are able to think critically and make informed decisions about a range of complex social issues.
“It is important for teachers to think about the nature of critical thinking they want students to engage in, not just to be better workers, but also to challenge assumptions, think critically about policies and government decisions, and form their own conclusions,” explains Mark.
Take the issue of global climate change for example. For students to see how they can help address the problem requires an understanding of not just the economics, politics and history of climate change, but also the different narratives of what “progress” is.
“We have to help young people understand these multi-faceted considerations so they can take informed actions,” says Mark.
“It is important for teachers to think about the nature of critical thinking they want students to engage in, not just to be better workers, but also to challenge assumptions, think critically about policies and government decisions, and form their own conclusions..”
– Mark on how teachers can help students develop critical skills for civic literacy
Addressing Global Social Issues
The new issues-centred and inquiry-based Social Studies curriculum in schools strives to do this by dealing with what it means to live in a global society, not just economically, but also in terms of immigration, climate change and threats of terrorism. Investigation into key issues is also encouraged, and students are given the opportunity to conduct inquiry into issues that are important to them and the larger global community.
Some schools allow students to identify what issue they want to learn more about and take action around. Doing so acknowledges that action also involves getting students to care about these issues. “If we care about things, we’re willing to help and improve things around us,” says Mark.
With this flexibility, students may choose from a wide range of topics to research and take action. Some may choose to investigate the impact of the K-pop phenomenon on Singapore culture; others may find themselves inclined towards heavier topics like poverty or discrimination.
Although many of these global problems can seem daunting or impossible to manage due to their complexity, global citizenship education should guide students to start looking at what they can do locally to understand and address these problems.
Action at the Local level
“Global citizenship education is always local, because these issues impact us at the local level,” shares Mark.
There is always action that can be taken at the local level, whether in schools or local communities. With technology and social media allowing us to easily connect with people across contexts, these actions can also have transnational impact. This allows like-minded people to come together to bring about change, not just locally but also globally.
Mark cites the example of the transboundary haze problem in Southeast Asia. As local consumers, we can be more informed and refrain from buying products from companies that have contributed to the problem, work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to address the issue, or draw on local research to better understand the problem.
At the end of the day, teachers need to start thinking about the opportunities there are for students to be involved. “They have to engage their students, get them to care, and help them realize they are empowered to take action to make a difference,” says Mark.
With a range of global issues confronting us, the need to continually prepare our young to understand these issues and take informed actions is imperative. Teachers play a big role in nurturing not just critical thinkers, but also caring and moral people who can be responsible global citizens.