5 Reasons why Global Citizenship Education is URGENTLY needed

By Maxine Cleminson

Like many people, I watched the US news unfolding on January 6th, 2021, in horrified silence. It seemed almost unreal that the US Capitol, an iconic bastion of democracy, was being stormed by insurgents. An attempted coup? In America? Surely not! Sadly, my eyes were not deceiving me. But how did it come to pass? Many people on both sides of the political divide have pointed fingers in the weeks and months since, but it is not as simple as holding a single individual responsible for this culminating event, regardless of how divisive you consider their rhetoric. The truth is that there are far too many people who lack the knowledge and skills that could have prevented this from happening, and I am going to explain to you why Global Citizenship Education is the answer.

Before we go any further, I want to make it clear that this is not going to be an exercise in blaming teachers! When the root cause of a problem is a deficit in education, often it is teachers that are held accountable. They are derided by many and increased pressure is heaped on them to meet standards of accountability that actually just make the job even harder. However, as with many other problems, the issue is not because of a lack of ability or desire amongst educators and school administrators. It is simply a consequence of government funding priorities.

In 2019, the US government spent about $54 per student in K-12 schools on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs. It is evident from the commentary in the US Department of Education’s budget summary why this allocation of funds is considered a priority. Job creation and competitiveness in a global economy are the primary concerns of government – both noble and worthy aims.

In today’s rapidly changing economy, it is more important than ever to prepare workers to fill existing and newly created jobs as well as the jobs of the future … The number of jobs requiring STEM skills continues to grow with the ever-expanding role of technology in driving the global economy.


Strikingly, in the same 2019 budget the allocation for US History and Civics education programs worked out at only a NICKEL per student. The government spent 1000x more on STEM than it did on programs to teach young people the basics of citizenship. I can only suppose that in the eyes of policymakers investing in the humanities and social sciences does not seem to offer the same reward on investment, especially when your goal is to create a technologically skilled workforce. However, the consequences of that allocation, and the many years of underfunding and failure to prioritize these sorts of education initiatives by successive governments, was very evident in the attack on the US Capitol.

In this post, I am going to make the case as to why this is short-sighted, and why Global Citizenship Education is the missing jigsaw piece needed to complement STEM education.

1. Global Citizenship Education makes young people more employable

Image by bianca-stock-photos from Pixabay

I am an idealistic educator, but also a pragmatist. While it’s easy for me to imply criticism of policymakers for their explicit focus on developing workforce skills over solely academic pursuits, it is completely understandable. In the 2017 PDK poll of parent attitudes toward public education in the US, it was revealed that 82% of parents support the prioritizing of vocational over traditional classes. Clearly, future employability is not only a concern for policymakers, but also for parents and young people who see traditional industries disappearing and an ambiguous job-market in the future. It is no wonder that STEM programs are de rigueur. However, technical know-how is not enough on its own.

The increasingly globalized nature of our world, particularly since the advent of the internet, has had a big influence on the knowledge, skills, and competences considered desirable by potential employers. As noted in a report by the Association of Graduate Recruiters and the Council for Industry and Higher Education, “global employability skills which take into account an international dimension are increasingly expected by many employers.”  An obvious interpretation of this is to add foreign language proficiency to the list of skills considered “employable”.  However, language is only one part of communication. A STEM graduate adept in speaking a foreign language does not automatically have the skills to communicate and solve problems in communities other than their own. Having lived for several years in India, I learned that speaking the same language does not always ensure mutual understanding as cultural differences can also hinder effective communication. Consequently, intercultural awareness and cultural agility are also highly sought after by potential employers.

Global Citizenship Education offers students the opportunity to develop intercultural skills, whether it is in the classroom or actually traveling abroad as part of a North-South Educational partnership or Study Abroad program.

2. Global Citizenship Education can help heal the divisions in society

Image by Bruce Emmerling from Pixabay

We live in an increasingly partisan and divided society where politics are intertwined with identities and debate is often unproductive, even harmful. The Women’s March and #MeToo movement in 2017 broke the silence on the misogyny faced by many women in society despite the great strides in equality assumed by many. In 2018, the March for Our Lives protest served to highlight the ongoing battle between 2nd Amendment defenders and the gun control movement which has become increasingly controversial over recent decades. Then there were the Global Climate Strikes inspired by climate activist Greta Thunberg in 2019. These strikes pitched young people concerned about the future of the planet against the big oil and gas industry lobbyists and industrial trade unions concerned about profits and jobs today. In 2020, widespread Black Lives Matter protests in response to the murder of George Floyd brought the bitter subject of racism to the fore once again in America. It ignited conversations about decolonizing education and addressing privilege that confused many white people who struggled to perceive themselves as racist or benefitting from a racist system. Even the Stop the Steal campaign that preceded the storming of the Capitol in January 2021 is evidence of the huge divides in society. Many, many people in America today feel disenfranchised, powerless, and distrustful of those with different opinions.

Human beings flourish when they have agency to direct the course of their own lives. The most effective way to gain this power is to participate in a constitutional democracy, but this is dependent on having the knowledge and skills to do so, and many people do not. With the exception of the 2020 Trump vs. Biden election which broke records, the US has consistently ranked very low in terms of voter turnout when compared to other countries. With an average voter turnout of only about half of the population, US citizens are not as actively engaged in their democracy as citizens of other countries. So it is no wonder that they feel disenfranchised and left out of the process of decision making. But why is this?

Unfortunately, it is because many US citizens don’t understand the issues or the processes of government. They don’t vote because they don’t feel equipped to do so and can’t see the benefits of putting in the efforts to become equipped. Traditionally, civics classes in schools focus on the history and detail of the US government and the way its constitutional democracy functions. However, this is often delivered in a way that requires rote memorization of facts and has little obvious connection to young people’s lives, their concerns, and the issues they care about.

By contrast a civics class that embraces Global Citizenship Education principles is empowering. It teaches young people to understand their beliefs and identity, and to understand, respect, and value the beliefs and identities of those around them, even if different from their own. It equips them with an understanding of the systemic problems that need to be dismantled to enable equal access to knowledge and power in our society. It empowers them with the agency, skills, and civic virtues to advocate for themselves and others through active participation in democracy.

Global Citizenship Education provides young people with the tools to heal the divisions in society.

3. Global Citizenship Education is the antidote to Fake News

Christoph Scholz, 2019 – Wikimedia

In the absence of the necessary knowledge and skills to participate in civic life effectively, we have inadvertently allowed a monster to fill the vacuum for many people. Many US citizens are wary of ‘experts’ and are suspicious that they have agendas that lack objectivity. Ironically, they rely instead on sources of information that confirm their bias. We are living in a post-truth society where politicians rely on appeals to people’s emotions through ‘fake news’ on social media rather than convincing them with reasoned arguments and facts sourced from experts. The now infamous poster of UK Brexiteer Nigel Farage standing in front of a poster showing a caravan of migrants moving across Europe with the slogan “Breaking Point” is a prime example. Rather than engage with the data that shows a significant net positive effect from migration to the UK, the campaign poster appealed to people’s fear of foreigners coming en masse to steal jobs and benefits. Similarly, the rise of QAnon conspiracies in the US has relied on emotive calls to protect trafficked children to fuel their popularity.

A program of study that embeds Global Citizenship Education principles will equip young people with the skills they need to be discerning and critical of the media they consume. By learning to challenge their ontological and epistemological assumptions about the world, in other words the way they see the world and how they developed that worldview, they develop skills that enable them to assess the veracity of their sources of information and to analyze the bias they present.

Global Citizenship Education can encourage students to be truth seekers, even if the occasional cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable experience.

4. Global Citizenship Education will equip young people to tackle the challenges of the future

Image by Richard Reid from Pixabay 

Despite the subject still being considered controversial by some fringe lobbyists, the scientific data overwhelmingly agrees that our planet is undergoing unprecedented climate change. A group of over 1300 scientists from the US and around the world collaborated on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and concluded that we should expect to see a global temperature increase of between 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. The models produced by scientists that this forecast is based on indicate that in just a generation or two we should expect to see some pretty catastrophic impacts from this change. These include sea-level rise, increasingly dramatic weather events, changing patterns of precipitation and drought, and changing jet stream wind patterns that will alter the flow of ocean currents. Consequently, humanity in many parts of the world will find their homes no longer suitable for human habitation.

And this is not the only challenge humanity will face over the coming decades: with a population soon to exceed 8 billion people, the consumption of potable water and food resources will increase beyond the Earth’s current capacity to provide. Ongoing pollution of the oceans and atmosphere by fossil fuels and plastics is not only impacting the climate, but the food chain itself. We could be on the brink of another mass extinction event. And then there are the social issues – poverty, inequality, terrorism, radicalization, extremism, human trafficking, modern-day slavery, and discrimination. The list goes on.

It’s a pretty gloomy outlook for many young people soon to be tasked with coping with (or fixing?) these problems. But this is where Global Citizenship Education offers a glimmer of hope, and it does so by engaging people with difficult questions.

  • How is material prosperity in wealthy nations created by poverty elsewhere?
  • How do we benefit from exploitation of people and resources?
  • How are we complicit in these activities?
  • How are we consuming the planet’s resources?
  • Why do people pretend that our patterns of consumption are sustainable?
  • How long do we have left?
  • Why don’t people talk about this?

Only by engaging in these difficult discussions can we hope to ask the next obvious question: What can we do to address the problem?

This is the first step because only when we ask this essential question can the ingenuity of young people skilled in STEM be utilized to create innovative solutions.

Global Citizenship Education asks the challenging questions needed to stimulate young people to seek the solutions to the world’s problems.

5. Global Citizenship Education can help achieve social justice

Social Justice – Bruce Emmerling (Wikimedia)

The covid-19 pandemic has been eye opening for many of us in how it has revealed the inequity inherent in society. The virus does not discriminate on the basis of wealth or skin color, yet certain socio-economic and minority groups been dying in far higher numbers in the US. Why is this?

For some of us, working and schooling comfortably from home over the last year has been socially isolating, and we have had to rely on the wonders of modern technology to stay connected to colleagues, friends, and family. However, we have not had to forgo paychecks to stay isolated. Many others have not been so fortunate and have had to expose themselves to the virus daily in order to secure their income (those lucky enough to not be furloughed or made redundant, that is). Furthermore, systemic discrimination and the privatized healthcare system of the US disadvantaged Black/African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans even before the pandemic struck, and the virus has simply highlighted this even more. The statistics are sobering and reveal vast inequality in the US – compared to white people, Black/African Americans are 1.9x, Hispanic 2.3x, and Native Americans 2.4x more likely to die from covid-19.

The picture on global scale is even more dramatic. As the vaccine rolls out across the US, many of us are getting our shots and feeling hope that a return to normality may be on the horizon. As of April 7, 2021, over 51 doses per 100 adults had been administered in the US, whereas in Afghanistan, only 0.14. While the US is looking forward to a lifting of restrictions and a return to business as usual, other parts of the world will be fighting this disease unprotected by vaccines and with limited resources for much longer.

As I explained in one of my earlier posts, one of the foundational aims of Global Citizenship Education is to achieve social justice. Through Global Citizenship Education programs, young people will not only develop the knowledge and skills needed to engage in honest discussions about the causes of inequality, they will also be taught the civic virtues that enable them to advocate for social justice on behalf of themselves and others.

Global Citizenship Education gives young people the power to transform society for the better.

There couldn’t be a more compelling time, I think, to be globally educated

Professor William Gaudelli, Dean of Lehigh University

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6 thoughts on “5 Reasons why Global Citizenship Education is URGENTLY needed

  1. Never ever would I be interested in global anything. Regarding education, I’ve always done far better on my own, with my own resources, by my own interests leading. For instance, having taken a couple horseback riding classes in college, then renting a horse to learn on my own, I taught horseback riding classes in summer camp. A friend asked me if I could train his 3-year old horse. I said yes, having never trained one before. Two weeks later, we could walk, trot, cantor, and gallop the horse, walk it backwards, open gates while sitting atop, and even turn in circles. Had I been a “global” thinker, I would have continued to believe I needed a trainer to do this, which would require years more training and not two weeks. Individuals, thinking for themselves, learn light-years faster than any group thinkers. But those running group thinking, global or otherwise, have it in their best interests for people to not be individuals. Twelve-year olds, with parents who believe, run their own businesses, some multi-million dollar businesses. Why? Because they think for themselves. No thanks for global anything.


    1. Your outlook is actually something that many young people could benefit from, particularly in the light of the challenges that humanity faces. The future will require people to have curiosity, grit, perseverance, and self-reliance to solve these problems, and you clearly have these skills and mindsets in abundance. However, I think you may have misunderstood what ‘global’ means in the context of GCED. GCED principles actually encourage individual thought rather than seeking to have everyone meekly follow the hegemonic (dominant) viewpoint or take advice blindly from experts or people in positions of power. In GCED we encourage young people to examine the way that they know the world. We ask them, “what do you think about … ?”. But we also ask them to examine WHY they think the way they do. What has shaped and influenced their worldview? And, crucially, we ask them to examine this critically and with an open mind.

      In GCED we also don’t reject outlooks and worldviews held by others; rather, we try to understand and learn from them. Someone like yourself who values individualism did not come to that outlook or way of thinking in a vacuum. It was modeled to you by your community (family, friends, neighbors, faith leader, teachers, etc.). And I would argue that by saying that you would never, ever be interested in anything global, you are simply conforming to group thinking rather than engaging in reflexive individual thought.

      Thank you for commenting!


      1. I understand what you’re saying. You might be an honest person, but I have learned to look closely at the grammar usage. Some people go “ah haaa”, thinking they’ve found the answer to getting the youth to think for themselves, for their own best interests, and as an example, encouraging others to listen to their own inner conscience. However, in practice, this often does not happen. Either the “institutions” create a sense of belonging, which to some degree, removes the individuality, or they create a rebellion, which again is counter productive. Good parents lead by example, are the example, and encourage and require their children be responsible. Within themselves and with the family, but not clones. You see, a person does what’s right because it is right, and not for any reward, material or for attention. If a see a young person doing what’s right, I smile. Good for him/her. I’d rather they continue to follow what they know is right inside than because of me.


      2. What you’re describing is young people listening to their “conscience” and doing “what’s right”, and I understand where you are coming from. The problem is that moral codes are dependent on the community that you live in. There are some things are a universally considered ‘bad’ … Murder for example… but in other things there can be differences in what is considered socially acceptable behaviour. The polarizing opinions on same sex marriage is a good example. Therefore, we cannot equate morality with justice. What is fair for you, may not be for someone else.

        The United Nations tried to transcend this by creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

        In this document, there is an attempt to define universally accepted rights that all humans should be entitled to, and these sometimes require us to critically examine our beliefs, values, and assumptions about the world. In GCED we focus on teaching the principles of human rights and social justice rather than telling young people what is considered right or wrong in our community.


      3. I now totally get where you’re coming from. Those who think for themselves, I encourage to continue. Never, under any conditions, give that up. Never, under any circumstances, ever allow language to supercede understanding.


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