Monday, August 26, 2013

Think Global, Act Local

As someone who has lived for half his life in two different countries and has family members living in four countries, I am very heartened to know that educational institutions are looking to foster global citizens. However I have seen policies implemented in schools that do nothing more than pay lip-service to the concept. I also believe that many are quick to integrate international examples and problems into their curriculum in order to check the global education box.

The conclusion of The Asia Society stated that, "globally competent students are able to do the following:

1. Investigate the world beyond their immediate environment, framing significant problems and conducting well-crafted and age-appropriate research.

2. recognize perspectives, others' and their own, articulating and explaining such perspectives thoughtfully and respectfully.

3. Communicate ideas effectively with diverse audiences, bridging geographic, linguistic, ideological, and cultural barriers.

4. Take action to improve conditions, viewing themselves as players in the world and participating reflectively."

I agree with this almost entirely, however I believe that we need to begin by ignoring the first point. It is my opinion that teaching systems thinking is more fundamental than teaching kids to think about global issues. I believe that in the lower age-levels of education, by focussing on systems thinking we build a stronger foundation on which our students can be successful in a larger range of professions. It is hard for a young person to be able to relate to conditions far beyond their own experiences, so by jumping to such different systems as foreign or global issues one compounds the task beyond their capabilities. By first focussing on a system that more closely aligns with their own knowledge of the world, students can then begin to grapple with the bigger picture issue and thus feel empowered and able to solve problems. As the student ages and begins to be able to grapple more variations on their own life experience, then this is the time to introduce global problems.

I very much hope that one day, students that we teach will help bring peace to the Middle East, eradicate Malaria and save the polar bears. However I believe we teach them to do that by first exploring ways we can reduce the number of school-wide absences due to the cold and flu and creating a carbon-neutral campus, as just a few examples. These examples are then able to be scaled up to national problems such as America's homeless rates, the widening economic gap, and issues surrounding voting rights. I think exposing students to different cultures and world views is essential, and I think there are many wonderful programs around the school that work with different countries and cultures. But as a teacher designing curriculum I think it would be much easier to do so successfully if instead of jumping to foreign problems I focussed on a foundation of systems thinking.

Michael Ewins

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