Cultural perspectives
Diversity is a cornerstone of the modern classroom. Source: Shutterstock

A global  study into how to grow young people’s capacity to respectfully connect and co-operate 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.

Now educational charity Round Square, which supports a network of 200 schools in 50 countries, has 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 in 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 significantly related to multiple PISA global competencies, but were also were rated “effective” or “very effective” by the majority of teachers and students, who named volunteering as the most effective overall, and their opinions are backed up by numerous practical examples.

cultural perspectives

Global competence is best developed through volunteering. Source: Ray Sangga Kusuma/Unsplash

Nine in ten teachers (90 percent) and three-quarters of students (76 percent) said volunteering their services in the wider community made them more ‘globally competent’. Researchers said initiatives such 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.

As one student from Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, said: “After being on a rebuilding site and helping with landscaping and a few interior projects, I realised that doing something as simple as this can make a great impact in someone’s life. Understanding our global world is not about who knows most or who can make the biggest impact, but simply educating yourself on one or more issues and lending a hand when you can. It’s all about compassion.”

Learning about different cultural perspectives was also deemed by four-fifths of students (81 percent) and by a similar proportion of teachers (86 percent) 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.

As one student from Latymer Upper School in London put it: “Learning about other countries and cultures make you realise how privileged we are to have what we have. It also allows you to realise how important your culture is to you and how important other people’s is to them. It also emphasises how your culture may make you biased to certain opinions and how to be more open and accepting.”

Participating in events that celebrated cultural diversity was also popular with teachers, with over four-fifths of them (83 percent) saying it was effective. Whilst students agreed, this was to a lesser degree, with 68 percent 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 percent) saying it would increase their global competence and over four-fifths of teachers agreeing (83 percent). Researchers said as well as giving students an opportunity to practice debate, these types of discussions enabled them to appreciate their own biases, and that they could be especially helpful when the teacher was more of a facilitator than a protagonist.

cultural perspectives

Learning about different cultural perspectives was deemed one of the best ways to nurture global competence. Source: Adolfo Félix/Unsplash

Both 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 leading approaches. Seven in ten students (71 percent) rated it as effective, as did four-fifths of teachers (82 percent). 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.

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.

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 practice to draw on in their own contexts.

Rachael Westgarth, its Chief Executive, said schools in the UK 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 country are eager to equip their students with global skills,” she said.

“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.”

A full copy of the report, Developing Students’ Global Competence – An International Research Study, is available to download here.

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