top of page
  • Writer's pictureStacey Chiew

Connecting Classrooms to Global Learning

A ship in a harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for – John A. Shedd
Guy supervising his student.

The need for students to be able to empathize with others, value different perspectives and cultures, understand how everyone in this world is interconnected has never been greater. Teachers worldwide are now keeping up with the latest trend in education - to connect their content and teaching to global issues. Schools that offer IGCSE educational program are encouraging students to take Cambridge Global Perspectives to connect their personal views to global perspectives. Other program such as IB offers “Individuals and Society” to help students focus on the real world issues. In American educational program, it is categorized as social studies.

This year, Guy Hamlin is in his 26th year as a social studies teacher. He taught in South Korea for the 2011-2012 school year and have been on several short term teaching fellowships including trips to Germany and Indonesia. In May of 2019, he will complete a Masters Degree in Global Education through the University of Illinois. He was an UN TeachSDGs ambassador in the year of 2018.

His educational goals, with his students’ interests and futures in mind, are to teach content and skills that are relevant, useful, and timely to young people.

“If we, as educators, are not teaching kids the S.T.R.U.T (Stuff That’s Relevant, Useful and Timely,) then what exactly are we doing to prepare them for the world beyond school?” Says Guy.

1. Do you think it is important for students to learn global perspectives? Why? What are the benefits of learning the subject?

There’s a couple different ways to answer this. First of all, yes, of course students should be immersed in a curriculum that fosters an appreciation for diverse points of view from around the globe. We live in an interdependent world where the success of ALL OF US depends on our collective abilities to work, create, play, and solve global-scale problems. Also, when global competencies are broken down into individual skills and mindsets that will allow us to thrive, it’s really quite simple. Students should be able to: investigate the world, recognize perspectives, communicate with diverse audiences, and take action with what they’ve learned. (The preceding 4 competencies can be attributed to Asia Society and their Global Competence Matrix.) If every teacher in the world approached their lessons/projects with the matrix in mind, we could raise generations of forward thinking doers and innovators, rather than compliant memorizers and test takers.

2. Global perspectives is a subject offered by Cambridge, UK. Some schools, especially in Asia, teachers find teaching Global perspectives challenging, and the course is not offered to students. How to become a global teacher?

An answer to this is difficult given that many school systems in the world (many in Asia) are driven by nationalized curricula that put too much emphasis on drilling students in reading, writing, and math. Many governments and ministries of education have not given enough thought to what skills will be needed for young adults to succeed in a world that is very incompatible with the 20th century model of education. Becoming a global teacher is a matter of just jumping in and daring to do things differently. Don’t ask for permission. Our students’ futures depend on it. (I fully understand that my suggestion to “just do it,” is easier said than done, especially for young teachers who are just getting started and are fearful of losing their jobs if they don’t follow the designated path and prep kids for the next national exam. I’m hopeful that education policy makers and teacher college professors are beginning to see that changes are needed and, in turn, new teachers will be free to offer experiences to students that are meaningful, engaging, and thought provoking.)

3. What is a global classroom?

Again, there are two schools of thought here. One would suggest that a global classroom is one that reaches out to other classrooms (especially overseas) and engages in activities and joint projects. The purpose of such interactions is to help students to see things from diverse points of view and to compare cultures. These types of exchanges are fun and challenging for students and teachers.

However, there is another global classroom definition that includes the global competencies mentioned earlier: investigate the world, recognize perspectives, communicate with diverse audiences, and take action with what they’ve learned. These skills/competencies are transferable and universal and will serve students well as they transition into being productive workers, contributory citizens, and global stewards. (My classroom is a blend of both of the visions above.)

4. What are the activities a teacher can do to engage her students in class so that

they’ll have a better understanding of the world?

There are so many ways to get kids thinking about the world beyond their communities.

However, the best way to appreciate what’s going on globally is to first understand what’s going on locally. For example, if the goal is for students to study U.N. SDG #6 - Clean Water and Sanitation, they should first take a look at what their own water situation is where they live. Get out into the community and take photos and ask questions and talk to experts. Only then are students ready to go “glocal” (global and local)- understanding global issues through local experiences.

Of course, teachers should make efforts to create partnerships with other like-minded educators at schools either in their home country or abroad. There are many ways to do this including a host of online matching services such as ePals, or Empatico, or iEarn. Tuning in to Twitter chats that focus on global issues (#globaledchat, #worldgeochat, or anything related to #teachsdgs) will offer a captive audience of folks interested in increasing the depth and breadth of global classrooms everywhere.

Finally, as I suggested above, if teachers simply follow the global competency matrix and continuously engage their students in meaningful projects, the students will have been exposed to skills and habits that will serve them well as globally minded citizens.

5. Do you think the UN has the power to influence and change the educational approach


Influence? Yes. Change? Probably not. Educational change comes from within countries, communities, and the institutions through which we attempt to mold our children. The UN as an influencer, especially in its mission of the SDGs for 2030, has vast potential for advocacy and awareness. Real change, however, will need to come from grassroots initiatives and local stakeholders who may (or may not) partner with the UN.

6. Can education become more human rights-based instead of science or arts-based?

I don’t think it needs to be one or the other. Let’s just make a conscious effort to weave human rights issues into what we do. Asking kids to take action on human rights problems is also imperative if we want them to truly understand the seriousness of those issues. In other words, ask kids to take some ownership in what they are learning and walk the walk as opposed to just talking the talk.

7. What are the challenges in shifting the traditional school to using innovative education models?

Tradition. Fear. Complacency.

The attitude of “the way I learned was good enough for me, so it’ll work for you.”

Also, the word “accountability” throws up roadblocks to progress in education. Unfortunately, accountability has become synonymous with high stakes testing. This type of assessment has become the golden method through which we are expected show our progress and can then, therefore, be held “accountable” to some standard that has been set by a higher authority (education ministries or departments of education or even our local district boards.) Personally, I think it’s high time for some reverse accountability. How about the higher authorities be held responsible for listening to and acting upon the recommendations of parents and teachers and students?

8. How educators can nurture global learners in the 21st century?

Listen to students. Ask them what they are interested in. Take the time to really think about why you teach what you teach. Will students benefit from what you are teaching them? Ask students to attempt to learn new things that are outside their comfort zones. Continue to instill in learners the idea that they can make a difference, even if it’s only in small ways, both locally and globally.

Published in Dreamic educational magazine, 2019.

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page