In this article, you will learn:

  • How the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development defines global competence,
  • How global competence can be measured and what can be done with the results of these assessments,
  • What schools and educators can do to improve the development of global competence of their students,
  • The role of AFS and other global education advocates in promoting the development of global competence.

photo source: blog.ted.com

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has announced that its annual tests of 15-year-olds worldwide will soon include the assessment of global competence. (Up to now the assessment focused on math, science and reading.) How will these new PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) global competence tests impact curriculums in schools around the world?

AFS’s Milena Miladinovic interviewed Andreas Schleicher, the Director for the Directorate for Education and Skills at OECD and coordinator of PISA, to explore how global competence can be defined and measured across cultures, and what schools, educators and advocates of global education should focus on.

Connect: Plans are in place for PISA tests to start measuring global competence in 2018. Why is this important?

It is becoming increasingly clear that traditional academic knowledge is not sufficient to prepare young people for life, citizenship and employment in multicultural societies and in a globalised world. Education systems need to rethink goals, content and methods with a focus on the kinds of human beings that we are raising and the kinds of societies — open, cohesive, respectful, supportive — we collectively value.

Education is our strongest shield against radicalization, intolerance, hate crimes and social apathy. Improving education systems is thus not just about increasing academic performance, but also requires creating learning environments that invite young people to understand the world beyond their immediate environment, interact with others with respect for their rights and dignity, and take action toward building thriving, multicultural communities. This is what global competence is about.

With this project, we aim to make a first step towards assessing what our students learn about the complexity of a globalizing and multicultural world, and to what extent they are prepared to address global developments and collaborate productively across cultural differences in their everyday life. This initiative is timely also because it will provide worldwide, comparative data on what schools and teachers are doing to prepare young generations for global citizenship in their national and local contexts.

Of course, global competence is not only developed at school. However, good education can shape and give direction to the lifelong process leading to global competence. We believe that promoting global education is essential for three key goals:

  • Develop intercultural awareness and respectful interactions in increasingly diverse societies to limit cultural prejudices and prevent violent conflicts;
  • Support employability by helping young people more easily adapt, apply and transfer their skills and knowledge to new cultural contexts;
  • Form new generations who care about global issues and get engaged to solve social, political, economic and environmental challenges.

“Global competence is defined in PISA as ‘the capacity to examine global and intercultural issues, to take multiple perspectives, to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from different cultures and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development’.”

photo by João Oberlaender

Connect: How does OECD define global competence and how will these skills and abilities be measured?

Global competence is a contentious and politically sensitive subject, not easy to define. In 2013, we engaged in a long process with countries participating in PISA and several international experts on global and intercultural education. During this process we developed our conceptual framework and measurement approach, trying to reach a consensus as broad as possible on what is relevant to measure and what is feasible within the parameters of the PISA test.

Global competence is defined in PISA as ‘the capacity to examine global and intercultural issues, to take multiple perspectives, to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from different cultures and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development’.

Global competence is thus a multifaceted cognitive, socio-emotional and civic learning goal, involving four core dimensions:

  • Students’ capacity to examine issues and situations of local, global and cultural significance (e.g. poverty, economic interdependence, migration, inequality, environmental risks, conflicts, exchanges across cultures and cultural stereotypes);
  • The capacity to value and take different perspectives as long as they do not violate core human rights (human dignity);
  • The ability to establish positive interactions with people of different national, social, ethnic, religious backgrounds or gender; and
  • The attitudes and capacities to take motivated and constructive action toward sustainable development and wellbeing.

The four dimensions of global competence stem from an integrated view of knowledge, skills and attitudes as inseparable factors contributing to the development of students as responsible citizens. The definition favours a locally rooted view of global competence in which young people understand and appreciate their own cultural and geographic contexts and place them in relationship to larger issues shaping the world or cultures elsewhere.

On the measurement approach, the PISA 2018 innovative assessment is composed of two sections: a cognitive assessment and a background questionnaire. The cognitive assessment tests the multidimensional construct of ‘Global and Intercultural Understanding’. This cognitive construct involves the capacity to:

  • Properly select, weigh and use evidence, make syntheses and build explanations;
  • Recognize perspectives with an awareness of one’s own cultural lens and biases as well as those of other people;
  • Examine communicative contexts, conventions and markers of respect; and
  • Weigh actions and consequences to identify solutions for issues within local, regional and global contexts.

As in other PISA domains, the assessment will be based on scenario-based tasks. The tasks simulate activities that teachers can facilitate in the classroom or life situations that 15-year-olds can experience, they draw on different areas of global education (e.g. education for sustainable development, human rights education, intercultural education), have different levels of complexity, and require the activation of one or more cognitive processes. In a typical test unit, students read about a case study, and respond to questions that evaluate their capacity to understand the complexity of the case, the multiple perspectives of the diverse actors involved and suggest solutions.

The background questionnaires completed by students, teachers and school principals gather information about the conditions that may enable or hinder the development of students’ global competence. Students will be asked to report how familiar they are with global issues; how developed their linguistic and communication skills are; and how much they differ in attitudes such as adaptability and respect for people from different cultures. The questionnaires for teachers and school leaders will provide a comparative picture of how education systems are integrating global, international and intercultural perspectives throughout the curriculum, in teacher education and in collaborative classroom activities.

“Schools and educators can provide more opportunities for young people to critically examine global developments, so that they better understand their own condition and their possibilities for action in their community and the world.”

photo by AFS USA

Connect: What can schools and educators do to better develop the global competence of their students?

Schools and educators can provide more opportunities for young people to critically examine global developments, so that they better understand their own condition and their possibilities for action in their community and the world. Schools can also let students engage in many different activities that facilitate international and intercultural relations, foster an appreciation for the diversity of peoples, languages and cultures. The action-oriented definition of global competence in PISA has practical implications for what schools should teach.

By developing the PISA assessment we are in fact arguing that, notwithstanding cultural, geographic, or developmental differences, it is possible to identify a set of relevant issues or themes of local, global and cultural significance for all 15-year-old students around the world (e.g. environmental sustainability, migration, poverty, economic globalisation, cross-cultural dialogue). We hope that this work will stimulate more reflection on the content of global education, and on how these global themes can be addressed through stronger connections between what is taught in class and the real world, and through more interdisciplinary work.

But learning global competence is not just about including different material in the curriculum. Innovative pedagogic approaches should also be pursued to introduce adolescents to these complex topics and help them build a critical and multiperspective view of the world. A broad range of learning activities can have an impact on students’ attitudes towards diversity and can involve teachers in all subject areas, although to differing degrees. For example, cooperative learning is a specific kind of pedagogy in which students work together on activities that have specific cooperative principles built into the task’s structure. Such a practice can lead to improved social skills and conflict-resolution strategies, and can be implemented regardless of the subject matter.

Of course, all these innovative teaching and learning methods are more effective and easier to implement if they are supported by the official curriculum and education authorities. Teacher education and professional training are also crucial to the successful implementation of global competence education.

“Education systems need to rethink goals, content and methods with a focus on the kinds of human beings that we are raising and the kinds of societies — open, cohesive, respectful, supportive — we collectively value.”

Connect: How do you plan to use the results of PISA global competence measurement?

We have planned a substantial series of validity checks, and these checks will help us identify the best way to report the results. We are going to field trial the assessment instruments in different countries in 2017 before we scale up the assessment to the national level. If the test development is successful (the test and questionnaire items are valid and internationally comparable), we will publish a report and make the data available to researchers. We expect that the dissemination of the PISA results will stimulate a rich and open debate on what education systems and schools should do to promote global competence.

Connect: What role can AFS and other global education advocates play in promoting the need to develop global competence?

Thanks to the impetus generated by the [U.N.] Sustainable Development Goals and the increasing availability of data, the policy debate on global education is entering a critical phase. AFS and other global education advocates have a critical role to play to keep the policy momentum high, so that more education systems take concrete action to strengthen the global and intercultural dimension of curricula, pedagogy and assessment. We know that a lot is already happening in many schools, but much more needs to be done to share internationally successful models of education that build bridges across cultural differences. You can also help us to collect as much feedback as possible on the work we are doing. The development of this assessment cannot happen behind closed doors and we are very eager to learn from AFS community members and students. 

Read more about globalizing classrooms in the latest issue of Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens, a digital magazine by AFS Intercultural Programs.
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