Let's give our school pupils a global perspective on learning

Sympathy is often our first reaction to the incessant news cycles and social media feeds of women, men and children fleeing from war, drought or flood and making difficult journeys through treacherous conditions. In the current global political climate, it is all too easy to want to turn away from the world and focus only on ourselves.

However, we have a long tradition in Scotland of engaging as global citizens and of welcoming anyone seeking a safe place to call home, and we are proud of our long-standing links with countries and communities around the world.

David Livingstone, one of our most famous global citizens, recognised that sympathy is not enough, and when action is needed, we must take it.

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At the heart of the school curriculum, Curriculum for Excellence, is a commitment to improve student participation to develop the four capacities: successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

The planet Earth in orbit, viewed from Space.

Global citizenship education, through a variety of participatory learning and teaching methodologies such as role play or structured discussion and debate (which are established methods and not unique to global citizenship) can promote pupil participation in school life and develop the four capacities.

Curriculum for Excellence provides many opportunities to embed global issues within everyday learning and teaching, rather than regarding them as a separate topic. The entitlement for all pupils to Learning for Sustainability, which incorporates global citizenship as well as outdoor learning and education for sustainable development, offers teachers an umbrella under which to bring together other strands of the curriculum while developing the knowledge and skills to take meaningful action on global issues.

Global citizenship, with its particular focus on social justice issues, connects schools with the real world, encouraging debate around inequality, poverty, climate justice, food security and the refugee crisis, and exploring global responses to these issues such as the Paris climate agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Exploring these global issues in school can produce big questions, however, it is important to note that the aim of global citizenship education is not to provide answers, nor are teachers required to know the answers. Global citizenship gives teachers and pupils the skills to critically engage and explore these issues, developing their own opinions and values as they learn.

The current focus in Scottish education on closing the attainment gap is already putting teachers under increasing pressure to focus in on literacy and numeracy, drilling pupils to reach assessment criteria.

The planet Earth in orbit, viewed from Space.

While no-one would argue with improving the attainment of all pupils, the focus of global citizenship on social justice aligns both agendas while ensuring that children reach their full potential. It is important to recognise the contribution that global citizenship can make to equity in education. By integrating different types of learning - for example peer learning, collaborative or group working and critical thinking skills - children from disadvantaged backgrounds often thrive and develop a sense of ownership of their education.

Luckily in Scotland, teachers are well supported to develop the knowledge and skills to deliver global citizenship. Christian Aid is a member of IDEAS, a network which brings together organisations who work at a national and regional level on global citizenship education to provide teachers with support, training and resources, while also enabling action and advocating for positive change.

Within the network, which ranges from large international NGOs to small local charities, there are six Development Education Centres who provide free professional development for teachers and have a wealth of resources and contacts to help schools fully embed global citizenship within their delivery of the curriculum.

Teachers who have taken part in professional development courses have seen how transformative these approaches to teaching and learning can be for their pupils, and how motivated and engaged their pupils have become, not just in their own learning but with the world outside the school gates.

The opportunity is there for schools to teach literacy and numeracy through a global lens, allowing pupils to develop these basic skills while engaging with real world issues.

Emma Gardner, Education Coordinator for Christian Aid Scotland