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An early years approach to global issues

Maninder Johal

Maninder Johal, the Assistant PYP Coordinator at Stamford American International School in Singapore

This article questions various aspects of inquiry in the early years.

The inquiry approach requires educators to think about their role and their students in a different way. It creates conflict among some educators, as it is a change not only in their practice, but also in their belief (Short & Burke, 1996). It was very enlightening when I understood that my role had shifted from delivering information, to consulting and working with the students on their lifelong learning journey.

During our unit of inquiry People make choices about how they move from place to place, under the transdisciplinary theme Where we are in place and time, the students began to explore the transport systems they used over the holidays. We asked the students various questions to prompt their thinking and they communicated their experiences as well as asked each other questions. It became clear to us that this unit of inquiry was relevant and meaningful to the students, as it tapped into their personal experiences and prior knowledge.

We researched different systems and created them in our classroom. The students used various skills and creativity during this stage of the inquiry.

We researched different systems and created
them in our classroom. The students used various
skills and creativity during this stage of the

From these conversations and explorations, we created different transport systems in the classroom using recycled materials. The students were active participants in their learning as they investigated different systems and decided how to make parts of a system. In the classroom, the students were seen engaging in dialogue with their peers or with the teachers. This was a demonstration of their commitment to learning and respect for one another.

During the unit, a student told me he had seen a plane crash on TV. I realized that the students are exposed to all sorts of media outside of school, which exposes them to unfortunate events such as the Trans-Asia flight 235 in Taipei. I wondered, “What do they think about this event? How does it make them feel?”

Undoubtedly, it is a sensitive topic and not all educators would agree that we should talk to our young learners about certain events in the world. However, what if our students raised it? Is it right to not explore the new direction of the inquiry with students in the early years?

Image1At many points in our teaching career we find ourselves in the midst of a sensitive conversation and we are uncertain about how to tackle it. What do we say? What if we offend someone? Or we may come across challenging behaviours and realize that there is a cultural context, which we may not be aware of, or we do not agree with.

The TransAsia flight 235 was a real issue for one of the students and I question if comforting my student was the appropriate response. It may be a sensitive topic for educators; however, thinking about the IB mission statement, we need to equip ourselves with strategies to work with our young learners.

At a young age students begin to form their opinions and beliefs; this is evident from the choices they make. Therefore, I wonder if we want our students to be on the path of international-mindedness, should we give our young learners a chance to explore different perspectives? Thinking back to the classroom inquiry and the authentic direction it was going, I recognized that it could have been explored further.

I feel these observations of students and professional reflections raised valuable questions for me. I invite other PYP educators to do the same the next time you face tension in your teaching.

When thinking about the educator’s role in approaching different perspectives, I recalled Merryfield’s (2002) article on The difference a global educator can make. Merryfield states, ”Everyday, teachers make instructional decisions that affect how students perceive their own culture, their nation, the lives of people around the world, and the issues and conflicts facing the planet.”

So I ask, how can we, as Early Childhood Educators, make the right instructional decisions in an early years classroom?


Davy, I 2011, ‘Learners without borders: a curriculum for global citizenship’, IB Position Paper, pp. 3-10.

Merryfield, M 2002, ‘The Difference a Global Educator Can Make’, Educational Leadership, no. 60, 18-21.

Short, K & Burke, C 1996, ‘Examining our beliefs and practices through Inquiry’, Language Arts, no. 73, pp. 97-104.

The article was originally published in The Red Dot, Issue 4, June 2015 – a Singapore/Malaysia PYP Network Newsletter.

Maninder Johal is passionate about the early years and enjoys teaching young learners. Since working and learning about the IB, she has taken a personal interest in international-mindedness and exploring how this looks in the classroom and the school community. She strives towards teachers sharing their practice, extending ideas with students and teachers and encouraging teachers to reflect on their practice.

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11 Responses to An early years approach to global issues

  1. Richard Poulin 11 May 2016 at 3:32 am #

    When I allow early years students to lead the research and learning with complex topics such as global issues, they never cease to amaze me! They love to inquire and learn about issues affecting the world and provide insight on their solutions. Investigating these big ideas allows us to make connections to our community and classroom as well (i.e. countries fighting over natural resources, is similar to classmates having a conflict over not sharing).

  2. John Nairn 20 August 2016 at 9:38 am #

    Latching on to the voice and actions of our youngest learners through listening to and watching them without preconceived expectations through the lens of an adult can be so rewarding for the student and the adult.


  3. Stuart Smith 12 October 2020 at 11:19 am #

    I think it is always relevant when a child brings up any topic, even if it is sensitive. As long as we listen to the child without bringing in our own opinions/perspective or information, it is a valuable discussion. It shows respect for the child’s thoughts and values them as a learner. It’s good to document the discussion and reflect on how the children learn. We can ask use such thinking routines like ‘see, think, wonder’ or ask them ‘what makes you say?’ This helps the child to think a little deeper without any pressure.

  4. Caroline Macharia 7 January 2022 at 12:55 pm #

    This information is an eye opener. May times I have shut the children’s ideas and wanted to stick to my context. But now I know how to respond to an emerging issue during unit of inquiry.

  5. Brandy Buijten 4 March 2022 at 12:42 am #

    I dealt with a question of similar weight yesterday when one of my students said, “Have you heard what is happening in this place called the Ukraine? It’s making me feel really sad.” Instead of going in to the details of what is happening, I used that as a moment to ask “How does that make you feel? Do you think there are any solutions? What are you thinking about it?” I didn’t have to provide any more information than the student already had, but was instead able to give him a platform to share his concerns. Then a fellow student chimed in and said, “I know, let’s brainstorm ways we can help!” and that sparked a new conversation into problem solving.

    It’s so hard as educators to find that balance between encouraging and nurturing their curiosity but presenting it in an age appropriate and relevant way. I don’t think we should avoid the questions like this, but instead find a way to listen and provide opportunity for discussion.

  6. miriam crespo 11 April 2022 at 5:49 pm #

    This makes me reflect that when students begin to inquire about a topic, it gives us the opportunity to learn further, and we as educators can help and guide them. We are always fascinated with the incredible questions that they ask themselves about problems around our world and how they, with their little minds, try to find a solution.

  7. miriam crespo 11 April 2022 at 6:28 pm #

    I can encourage young children to have a open-minded, caring approach by embracing their differences through games, role
    plays, to peer conversations like talking about the differences you have with each other, like for example, what do you like to eat? what do you like to eat in your country and expose them to differences, talk with them about feelings, acknowledge children acts of
    kindness and make family activities.

  8. Yixin Dong 18 April 2022 at 2:45 pm #

    International-mindedness expand on teaching students about global issues in a manner that does not cross the boundaries of their school’s socio-cultural context. Nonetheless, international school educators understand their responsibility to teach students skills that will allow them to function successfully in the new globalized reality. This includes an awareness of current affairs, the ability to navigate media and social media in the era of fake news, and an understanding that the actions of a few do not represent the entire culture. Furthermore, experimental learning and extracurricular activities give schools a major opportunity to internationalize and promote active citizenship.

  9. Yixin Dong 18 April 2022 at 2:50 pm #

    Young people have very active thinking and their own unique ideas. We should not impose our own consciousness on others and let young people do it. We need to listen more.

  10. Anh 9 May 2022 at 5:59 pm #

    For me, providing students opportunities to learn about arising topic even at early childhood learning is important. Our children discuss “who we are” topic at PreK and proud how beautiful, unique and kind we are. We focus on our inner beauty such as sharing, communicating and taking turns. One steps at the time bring big change to their social emotional well-being. Depend on the different ages, we can bring in this topic from different perspective and students are able to get the concept in their way.

  11. Tinatin 12 January 2023 at 4:11 pm #

    I agree that we need to listen more and the young learner will be open mind and more active.

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