Andreas Schleicher is Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris. Mr. Schleicher is an expert in the field of education and is also a special guest in our blog series about the development of #skills21 in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Global connectedness is no longer just an issue for those who travel to faraway places, it has arrived at everyone’s doorsteps. At work, at home and in the community, people need to understand how others think and work, whether as scientists or as artists, and how others live, in different cultures and traditions. The foundations for this don’t all come naturally. We are all born with “bonding social capital”, a sense of belonging to our family or other people with shared experiences, common purposes or pursuits. But it requires deliberate and continuous efforts to create the kind of “bridging social capital” through which we can share experiences, ideas, and innovation with others, and increase our radius of trust to strangers and institutions.
These considerations led PISA, the global standard for measuring the quality of educational outcomes, to include ‘global competence’ in its latest evaluation of 66 school systems. To do well on this assessment, students had to demonstrate that they can combine knowledge about the world with critical reasoning, and that they were able to adapt their behaviour and communication to interact with individuals from different traditions and cultures.
It is perhaps -with no surprise- that countries doing generally well in education also tended to show higher levels of global competence: students in Singapore and Canada, who do well on the PISA subject matter tests, also came out on top in global competence. What is more interesting is that a country like Colombia, where students often struggle with reading, math and science tasks, does far better on global competence than predicted by its reading, math and science scores. This country once torn by civil strife made significant efforts to strengthen civic skills and social cohesion over the last decade, and that seems mirrored in the learning outcomes at school. Other countries in Latin America with a similar pattern include Panama and Costa Rica.
Countries also vary in the extent to which their students are resilient and open to the future. Vietnam, a country where students excel on the PISA math test, had the smallest share of students feeling confident to deal with unusual situations, that they can change their behaviour to meet the needs of new situations, or that they can adapt to different situations even when under pressure. In turn, Mexican students, who perform poorly in mathematics, were not afraid to navigate ambiguity and manage uncertainty. All this shows that some capabilities and attitudes that are key for success in our times don’t come automatically as a by-product of academic success. Equally important, these outcomes relate closely to what happens in schools and classrooms.
While most school systems have done well in closing gender gaps in key school subjects, global competence may have slipped through policy attention. The PISA assessment found girls to have much greater openness to understand different perspectives, greater respect for and interest in learning about other cultures, and more positive attitudes towards immigrants. On the other hand, boys were often more likely to show greater resilience and cognitive adaptability than girls. Again, these differences don’t fall from the sky, but are mirrored by differences in what boys and girls do: Boys were more likely to learn about the interconnectedness of countries’ economies, look for news on the Internet or watch the news together during class. They were also more likely to be invited by their teachers to give their opinion about international news, to participate in classroom discussions about world events and to analyse global issues together with their classmates. In contrast, girls were more likely than boys to learn how to solve conflicts with their peers in the classroom, learn about different cultures and learn how people from different cultures can have different perspectives on some issues.
The findings also show large differences between countries in the extent to which global issues such as public health, climate change, poverty, migration or conflicts, as well as issues around intercultural understanding are covered in the curriculum. The coverage of global issues in lessons was, in turn, positively associated with related student dispositions and their engagement in these issues. For example, where the causes of poverty were discussed more, students were more aware about issues around migration and the movement of people.
Furthermore, it’s not just about what teachers say, but also how they interact: The results showed consistent strong associations between students’ perceptions of discrimination in their school and students’ own perspective taking regarding respect for people from other cultures and attitudes towards immigrants and awareness. For example, students who perceived discrimination by their teachers towards particular groups, such as immigrants and people from other cultural backgrounds, exhibited similar negative attitudes.
Global competence also relates to what happens at home and in the community. On average across OECD countries, 53% of students reported having contact with people from other countries in their school, 54% in their family, 38% in their neighbourhood and 63% in their circle of friends. In general, having contact with people from other countries at school (and in the family, neighbourhood and circle of friends) was positively associated with students’ intercultural skills and attitudes towards living with others, including immigrants. Not least, speaking multiple languages was positively associated with awareness of global issues, interest in learning about other cultures, positive attitudes towards immigrants, and the ability to understand the perspectives of others.
The findings from the world’s first assessment of global competence highlight that public policy can make a real difference to prepare the next generation for an interconnected world: The schools and education systems that were most successful in fostering global knowledge, skills and attitudes among their students were those that offer a curriculum that values openness to the world, provide a positive and inclusive learning environment, offer opportunities to relate to people from other cultures and have teachers who are prepared for teaching global competence.
Getting this right is important. The global competence of our youths today may shape our future as profoundly as their reading, math and science skills. Not least, it will be the societies that value bridging social capital and pluralism most that can draw on the best talent from anywhere and nurture creativity and innovation.
Are schools in your country addressing global competence? How could they benefit from it? Let us know your comments in the section below or on Twitter mentioning @BIDeducacion #EnfoqueEducacion.