The notions of global citizens and their education are often posed in a strongly debated context of disputed definitions, unclear rights and responsibilities, and vague implications for practitioners. Without trying to impose an all-encompassing solution to this debate, we would like to locate these concepts in the context of AFS, its volunteers, staff and program participants.
Global citizenship is a concept that uses and then builds on the classical notion of citizenship, which entails certain rights, responsibilities and allegiance to a sovereign state. The responsibilities of global citizens however, are not tied to one specific state, but rather expand to the global community, leading to what is usually termed as “a sense of connectedness and belonging extended to all of humanity”. A global citizen thus has an increased awareness of the needs of others and acts in a way that contributes to and improves the lives of others with a sense of commitment to social justice at the local, national, and international levels.
From this notion stems the idea of global citizenship education. Global citizenship education is a paradigm which frames the development of knowledge, skills, values and attitudes learners need for securing a world which is more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable.
This concept also recognizes that global citizens cannot appear and thrive on their own, but that there is a need for their education to help them understand various social and cultural issues beyond their local realities. This education does not stop only at the level of acquiring knowledge, but also moves to the realm of building necessary skills, values and attitudes. When properly educated, global citizens are a part of something more than one culture or nationality, contributing to the world in a meaningful and constructive way.
AFS mission which tasks our volunteers and staff to provide intercultural learning opportunities to help people develop the knowledge, skills and understanding needed to create a more just and peaceful world emphasizes our ongoing dedication to putting global citizenship education in practice through different opportunities AFS provides. Global citizenship education is also part of our Educational Goals aiming to develop the participants’ cultural and global awareness by providing immersive learning experiences in new environments combined with regular reflection and coaching. On the one hand, participants of AFS programs build their global competences through structured and guided experiential learning while exploring a foreign culture. On the other hand, AFS volunteers and staff work of their own education and competency development, including through convening with other civil society and youth representatives to discuss globally relevant topics, as is the case during the AFS Centennial Celebrations.
Global citizenship education includes overlapping areas of human rights education, peace education, education for sustainable development and education for international understanding. It allows different approaches in different geographic areas and it fosters:
- an understanding of multiple levels and layers of identity
- a knowledge of global issues and values such as justice, equality, dignity and respect
- cognitive skills such as critical thinking and the ability to shift perspectives
- non-cognitive skills including empathy and effective communication across cultures
- collaborative and responsible approach to solving global challenges, while striving for the collective good.
Intercultural competence which enables effective functioning across cultures is composed of specific knowledge, skills and attitudes and is also essential for global citizenship.
The development of intercultural competence overlaps with the universal values of the global citizens, committed to helping build a more peaceful, just, and equitable world. However, an interculturally competent person who doesn’t act for the benefit of others is not essentially a global citizen.
This is where the work of educators and AFS becomes vital: preparing learners not only for personal development or successful careers but also for awareness, care and effective participation in the global community.
The critical role of educators and educational organizations like AFS plays in developing global citizens is also underscored by Milton Bennett, a leading expert in intercultural matters: “Intercultural sensitivity is not natural. It is not part of our primate past, nor has it characterized most of human history. Cross-cultural contact usually has been accompanied by bloodshed, oppression or genocide. The continuation of this pattern in today’s world of unimagined interdependence is not just immoral or unprofitable – it is self-destructive… Education and training in intercultural communication is an approach to changing ‘natural’ behavior.”
- Ashwill, M.A, Du’o’ng, T.H.O. (2009). Developing Globally Competent Citizens: The Contrasting Cases of the United States and Vietnam. In SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence (pp. 141 – 157). Thousand Oaks, California, USA: SAGE Publications.
- Bennett, M. (1993). Towards Ethnorelativism: A Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity. In Education for the Intercultural Experience. Yarmouth, Maine, USA: Intercultural Press.
- Delors, J. (1996). Learning: The Treasure Within. Paris, France: UNESCO.
- UNESCO. (2014). Global Citizenship Education: Preparing learners for the challenges of the twenty-first century. Paris, France: UNESCO.
This text originally appeared in volume 5, issue 3 of the AFS Intercultural Link news magazine. If you want to find out more about this, you can read and download the news magazine here.