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Engaging educators in global learning

Global learning is an approach to teaching and learning which recognizes the importance of understanding multiple and diverse perspectives, and the links between local and global relationships and concerns. It is based on an understanding of the importance of critical thinking, the need to challenge stereotypes and to give learners the skills and confidence to support change towards a more just and sustainable world.

A key part of the International Baccalaureate’s (IB) mission is to support the development of internationally-minded children and young people who can take on the complex challenges that the world is facing. Through ongoing collaboration with the Development Education Research Centre at University College London (UCL), IB educators can access professional development opportunities to learn how to approach global issues within their teaching practice.

We spoke with Dr Frances Hunt and Dr Nicole Blum from the Development Education Research Centre and with Harpreet Mehta, a PYP and MYP educator who has participated in UCL’s Global Education for Teachers course.

Why is global education so important at the moment?

Dr Hunt: Research and practice in the field recognizes the very important role that educators play in supporting learners to understand, address and critically engage with global issues, and also to prepare them for a future that may be challenging and uncertain. This need is particularly pressing in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 4.7 and its focus on global transformation through the promotion of both global citizenship education and education for sustainable development. We know from our own research, however, that there is an on-going and critical need for support and continuing professional development for educators related to global learning, global citizenship education and related areas.How can professional development initiatives help with this?

Dr Blum: Knowing how to approach complex global issues within teaching practice can be daunting, especially for busy educators with huge demands on their time. We created the Global Education for Teachers online short course to help with this challenge. It’s available for free via FutureLearn and aims to engage teachers with key issues and debates in global learning and related areas, to support collaboration between teachers around the world and to provide practical support on how to integrate global issues into teaching at all levels. It is intended to develop teachers’ confidence, knowledge and skills to include global issues in their teaching practice and, in so doing, better prepare their students to take on both the local and global challenges they will face now and in the future.

How can teachers approach global topics in the classroom?

Dr Hunt: Rather than treating global learning (or related areas) as an entirely new area of practice or of content to be added to the existing curriculum – always a challenge in already overfilled curricula! – the key is to consider teaching and learning approaches which support learners to engage critically with global issues. While this might mean providing students with new knowledge, it can also be addressed by adding a global ‘lens’ to the teaching of existing subjects. Using active and participatory approaches also helps students to develop relevant knowledge and skills, and provides the space to consider their own values and the possibilities for action related to these.

Harpreet, why did you participate in UCL’s Global Education for Teachers Course?

Harpreet: I was at a point in my career, where as an IB Coordinator in Sweden, I needed tools to help equip my teachers for their classrooms that represented more than a dozen nationalities of students and also help them engage with ongoing enhancements to the PYP. I also needed tools and a personal understanding on how to inspire teachers to open up topics to encourage open-ended inquiry and support student agency. In this course, I connected to how exposure to multiple perspectives and points of view supports children in developing and demonstrating key dispositions for becoming global citizens and how to design diverse curricular and learning experiences for this.

How has taking the course impacted your practice?

Harpreet: As inquiry is at the heart of IB programmes, my deeper understanding into critical engagement with global issues, challenging stereotypes and power helped me see how to develop critical thinking, building internationally-minded students in an inquiry setting.

This course supports teachers in planning and teaching in their classrooms with action in mind, and provides a diverse exposure to points of view on a topic/concept being explored – a critical approach to pedagogy. I really enjoyed exploring different pedagogical tools and models, for example, the HeadsUp model which supports multi-layered and multi-voiced social analysis to prepare and plan for ethical engagement in local and global issues.

Another area that was enhanced in my context as a pedagogical leader, was how to support teachers in evolving their thinking around action-oriented-learning, instead of content-oriented-learning, where action comes naturally as a culmination to the inquiry they undertake in their classrooms. The lesson planning model in this course provides a scaffold on how to begin planning by thinking what type of action a teacher foresees as a result of the learning engagement, when they plan their teaching-learning journey.

What are your overall reflections of the course and next steps?

Harpreet: This course supported my role as a teacher and gave me tools to plan in such a way that I was not the upholder of knowledge but the facilitator of global learning and critical thinking development. It helped me see that I support the child in becoming aware of the sense of belonging to the local as well as global communities and a responsibility towards others. The importance of moving away from a content driven approach to exploring global issues, to a concept driven one, exploring concepts such as power relations, equality and equity, stereotyping, justice and much more. It also begins with being an open-minded individual able to engage with  multiple perspectives and activate critical thinking at all times.

The Global Education for Teachers course is available for free, online for teachers across the world.

Harpreet has been an IB educator for the last two decades with roles including PYP coordinator, head of school, academic coordinator, and PYP-MYP-DP teacher spanning all three IB regions. Her interests lie in lifelong inquiry and concept-based learning, and she collaborates with teachers and students to co-construct learning and to take positive action.

Frances Hunt is a Senior Research Officer in the Development Research Centre at IOE. She teaches on the MA in Global Learning and carries out research on global learning and global citizenship education. Read more about Frances here.



Nicole Blum is a Senior Lecturer in the Development Education Research Centre at IOE and has been conducting research and teaching related to global learning and education for sustainable development for over 20 years. You can find out more about her current activities here.