Curriculum Development for Global Education

A keen understanding of global issues is necessary for students to develop into complete citizens in a democracy. However, the challenges of promoting global awareness have only grown more complex in recent years. Today’s educators are called upon to make difficult decisions about how to present global issues, which to prioritize and how to help students mature in their worldview.

A Subject With Life-Long Importance: Why Global Citizenship Matters

To understand the events that shape their own community and nations, students need to learn how to conceptualize the ways that events abroad impact their lives. This includes dramatic, short-term events such as natural disasters as well as long-running philosophical and political trends.

In recent years, many institutions of higher learning have grappled successfully with the challenge through the institution of global and international course experiences at the beginning of students’ college careers. However, the process can begin even earlier – in high school or even middle school.

It can be tough for even the most seasoned and savvy educators to determine the best ways to scale major global issues in a way where students clearly see the connection to their lives. However, best practices are beginning to emerge in this important, revitalized field.

Global Human Rights and the Lives of Students

Global awareness is defined as the ability to understand global issues, understand the cultures of other nations, and learn from and work with people from diverse cultures. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has identified global awareness as a core skill that all students need to possess. Other core skills include communication skills, problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills, economic literacy and entrepreneurial literacy. The Partnership also conducted a survey asking participants to rank the importance of these skills and indicate whether or not they believe school were doing a suitable job of developing the skills among students. 65% of the voters ranked global awareness as an important skill, but only 10% believed schools were doing an adequate job of teaching that skill.

For decades, the Model United Nations has helped students engage with the important questions of international development, human rights, democracy and diplomacy. In many cases, students are challenged to face these issues from perspectives that may not match their personal beliefs.

Model United Nations can serve as a cornerstone of any global issues curriculum. Students prepare for Model U.N. meetings by learning about key subjects from the perspective of their assigned nation and the nations whose positions are likely to influence their own. Then, during the meetings, they take on the role of diplomats seeking accord on various subjects while keeping national interests in mind.

This is a unique way to help students conceptualize the differences in rights and responsibilities that they may take for granted in their home context. Political, social, and cultural traditions can influence how rights are understood – and, indeed, who does or does not receive them.

The United Nations Association has developed a multi-faceted human rights curriculum:

●      Economics of Globalization: How international finance, trade, and development work.

●      Human Rights: The foundations of human rights and the pressing issues of today.

●      Sustainable Development: The importance of international development programs.

Model U.N. can also serve as the jumping off point for experiential learning events within the community. For example, structured Community Problem-Solving can be used to help students connect global trends to local ones, take action, and exercise their agency.

Addressing Global Issues in the Classroom

Teaching young children about social issues like racism, poverty, hunger, and gender identity can result in many questions. These issues tend to be just as complicated to teach as they are to comprehend. Using a plethora of media and activities can help break down complex topics and provide interactive lessons for students with varied learning styles.


Creating lessons centered around powerful photographs will provide students with actual visuals of global issues. Seeing harsh environments or injustice with their own eyes will aid them in understanding outside perspectives and developing empathy for people whose experiences differ from their own.

Have students describe what they see in the photo, identify the mood of the photo, identify the photo’s point of view, and describe any denotative and connotative meanings. Photographs are able to capture the spirit of an event or idea and create a more visual and engaging way of discussing difficult topics. Utilize the spirit of the photo to help students connect to the issues, even if the subject of the photo is across the globe.

Authentic Assessments

Authentic lessons provide students the opportunity to write for a real audience, share knowledge with others, and engage in real world activities. The authenticity of the activity will help engage students and create a more meaningful lesson. A great example of an authentic assessment is  writing letters to a local politician and actually sending the letters to that politician.

In order to send the letters, students must research and learn about the issues facing their community and be able to advocate for one side or the other. Knowing that their letters will be in the hands of the actual governor or senator will encourage students to research, develop a complete argument, and form their own opinions.

Finding the Link

Current events and issues become easier to teach and discuss when students are given a real world example to reference. Making lessons relevant to what is going on in the world will give students the chance to ask questions regarding anything they have heard and help them discern fact from opinion, figure out their own point of view, and interpret all of the information to decide on their own truth.

When discussing current events, especially controversial topics, remember to never impose certain beliefs on students. Stay away from bias and remain neutral to foster the children’s’ learning and critical thinking skills.


Movies are a simple way to usher new voices, perspectives, and narratives into the classroom. This is especially helpful when teaching students about different cultures. Videos take the students to different corners of the earth and give them visuals of the different colors, foods, and living situations that are the norm throughout different countries.

After watching the movie, ask students if what they saw was the same as they had imagined. This type of lesson will actively engage students in breaking down preconceived beliefs of cultures that are different from their own and help create more globally-centered children.


Assigning creative projects that require students to depict controversial topics or issues is a powerful strategy to get them thinking about how people from different countries, cultures, or backgrounds feel. Art in general focuses on emotion and utilizing it to illustrate global issues will assist students in thinking about the emotions of others and how it feels to be affected by hunger, illness, poverty, natural disaster, or discrimination.

After creating their works of art, students will have had to think from different perspectives, develop empathy for those they are depicting, and digest the global issue they have been assigned. Generating empathy from students is a key factor in creating global awareness.

Putting Theory into Practice: Emergent Curricular Trends

Although Model U.N. and related U.N. educational programs offer an important starting point, any educator would be wise to survey the latest trends in curricular development in order to design an approach that fully puts such programs in context. Many countries have already undertaken major reforms aimed at updating global curricula in key ways.

Some major trends include:

A Focus on Living, Learning, and Thriving

Lifelong learning is considered essential for students as they mature as citizens, professionals, and full participants in society. It is no longer considered enough for students to acquire basic skills for higher education or employment – instead, it is hoped that they will discover the connection between learning and every phase of life.

Information and Technological Literacy

People of all ages are confronted with more information today than ever before. They must be familiar with the devices that enable access to that information as well as savvy information consumers with a well-developed sense of discretion between sources. It’s crucial, for example, to be able to quickly spot bias and evaluate claims.

Differentiated Curriculum

Educators at all levels have concluded that some degree of differentiation – recognizing the learning styles, strengths, and interests of pupils – can enhance engagement and retention. There is already a strong predisposition to this in global citizenship studies: Hands-on activities have been paired with traditional lectures, videos, and interactive assignments.

The Skills of a “Knowledge Society”

Critical thinking, collaboration through influence, adaptability, initiative, clear communication, and a strong imagination have all been cited as skills crucial to a knowledge-focused society. The uniquely compelling “real world” dilemmas of a global studies curriculum allows students to demonstrate and hone these qualities in a wide variety of ways.

There is every indication that the coming years will see an even greater focus on international and global studies in public education. Today’s rising students may well find themselves interacting in a social, political, and economic world where barriers of time and distance, long taken for granted, erode in unexpected ways. To function fully and flourish in that world, it’s essential they become true global citizens. Learn more about our online Master of Education program.


call to action

Leave a Reply

3 + = eleven