A worldwide study, including analysis of Canadian high school students, into how to grow young people’s capacity to respectfully connect and cooperate with people in other cultures has identified volunteering and learning about different cultural perspectives as the most effective practices.
Recognising that students need new skills and attitudes to navigate an increasingly connected yet culturally divided world, last year the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) unveiled a test of “global competence,” which it defined as being open to diversity, concerned for others elsewhere in the world, respectful of other cultures, and able to understand others’ perspectives.
The educational charity Round Square, which supports a network of 200 schools in 50 countries, commissioned an extensive international study that involved more than 11,000 teenagers and 1,900 teachers in 34 countries to find out how global competence can best be taught within schools.
Dr. Christina Hinton and team of researchers from Research Schools International and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who conducted the study on behalf of Round Square, found that students’ global competence is best developed through volunteering, learning about different cultural perspectives, celebrating cultural diversity, discussing world events and learning how to solve conflicts.
These five approaches not only came out of the study as statistically significantly related to multiple PISA global competencies but were also were rated “effective” or “very effective” by the majority of teachers and students, who rated volunteering as the most effective overall, and their opinions were backed up by numerous practical examples.
Nine in ten teachers (90%) and three-quarters of students (76%) said volunteering their services in the wider community made them more “globally competent.” Researchers said initiatives such as volunteering at soup kitchens, refugee centres, and care centres encouraged students “to empathise with communities and understand their needs.” Volunteering promoted students’ interests in communities with different backgrounds and was most impactful when it took the form of a long-term partnership with successive visits.
Learning about different cultural perspectives was also deemed by four-fifths of students (81%) and by a similar proportion of teachers (86%) as one of the best ways to nurture global competence. These involved such things as interactions with exchange students, connections with schools abroad, and pen pals, but also things like debates and school clubs that celebrated diversity.
Participating in events that celebrated cultural diversity was also popular with teachers, with over four-fifths of them (83%) saying it was effective. Whilst students agreed, this was to a lesser degree, with 68% rating it as effective, the lowest scoring of the top five practices identified. Researchers found that events such as observing religious and cultural holidays, hosting debates on global issues or inviting in guest speakers from different backgrounds, all contributed to greater cultural inquisitiveness among students and deeper self-awareness of their own values and views.
Students were more receptive to classroom discussions about world events, with three-quarters (75%) saying it would increase their global competence and over four-fifths of teachers agreeing (83%). Researchers said as well as giving students an opportunity to practice debate, these types of discussions also enabled students to appreciate their own biases, and that they could be especially helpful when the teacher was more of a facilitator than a protagonist.
A student at St Clement’s School in Toronto said: “We’ve delved a lot into human rights and global challenges. In class, we have read various newspaper articles, have studied charters, and have visited websites like the UN’s to learn about challenges faced both domestically and internationally. All of these activities been really helpful, and has greatly increased my understanding of global issues and my place in the world.”
Teachers and students also rated solving conflict in the classroom in the top five, though they were marginally less sure about its effectiveness than some of the other approaches. Seven in ten students (71%) rated it as effective, as did four-fifths of teachers (82%). Activities such as class discussions on how to tackle global issues and engaging with non-profit organisations dedicated to solving international and domestic problems were cited by researchers as useful endeavours. And the study also noted the importance of incorporating leadership development in conflict resolution because it helped students develop a sense of accountability and teamwork.
One teacher respondent from Lakefield College School in Ontario noted: “In this day and age, I think that it is most important to encourage our students to be aware of events that are unfolding around the world and to give them some way to make these events mean something to them personally so that they can make meaning from them. I saw this happen this year with the water crisis in South Africa; after spending a few weeks in SA and Namibia as part of the Round Square Conference, our students’ understanding of the water crisis and connection to it was far greater than if they had just read about it.”
Or as one German student put it: “For citizens in rural Bavarian places, however, it is not easy to accept foreigners with a completely different cultural background as their new [neighbours]. We tried hard to help refugees find living space and bring the different cultures together so that local citizens could overcome their prejudices. Both aspects are equally important if we want innocent refugees to have a future in our country and—considering how [privileged] we are—meet our human responsibilities.”
Round Square, which is committed to building character, global competence and life skills, hopes that schools anywhere will be able to use the findings of this study as a toolkit of good practices to draw on in their own contexts.
Rachael Westgarth, its Chief Executive, said schools in Canada didn’t lack the ambition to think globally but without being in a position to measure effectiveness on a global scale were often left unsure as to which activities had the greatest impact: “The overwhelming majority of schools in the Canada are eager to equip their students with global skills. This report will show them what works best in the eyes of thousands of teachers and students around the globe—and crucially how open students are to learning about other cultures and perspectives. What I think is remarkable is how open young people are to seeing the world through the eyes of others, despite the challenges globalisation poses and the opportunity it offers for division.”
Dr. Christina Hinton, who led the research, added that: “Students will need global competence to engage in international collaborations in fields such as science, health, and technology, navigate an internationally interdependent economic and political landscape, and tackle global issues like climate change. This study is exciting because it is the first of its scope to identify which education practices effectively support PISA global competencies. Our research indicates that these practices can be adapted for use in a diversity of schools across various countries, which makes their potential for impact quite inspiring. By spearheading this work, Round Square can have ripples of impact in schools around the globe.”
A full copy of the report Developing Students’ Global Competence – An International Research Study is available to download at https://www.roundsquare.org/being-round-square/what/ideals/internationalism/research/
About the Research
The participants in this study included 11,162 students and 1,903 teachers in 34 countries across 6 continents. The majority of student participants were between the ages of 14 and 18, with some students aged 13 and 19. There was a fairly even mix of males and females with fewer than 500 students selecting either non-binary gender identities or electing not to self-identify. The research was carried out between November 2017 and November 2019.
About Round Square
Round Square is an international network of 200 like-minded schools in 50 countries that connect and collaborate to offer world-class programmes and experiences that develop global competence, character and confidence in students. https://www.roundsquare.org/
About Research Schools International
Research Schools International (RSI) partners RSI researchers with schools around the globe to inspire research-based innovations that support students’ learning and well-being.: www.researchschoolsinternational.org