What is Global Competence?

Ask anyone what young people need to be successful in an increasingly interdependent world, and the answers are likely to be all over the proverbial map. Educators and policymakers alike have recently focused considerable attention on math and science, but that is not the concern here. This article uses the term “global competence” to describe a body of knowledge about world regions, cultures, and global issues (regardless of discipline), and the skills and dispositions to engage responsibly and effectively in a global environment.  There may be differences of emphasis; however, many educators agree that a globally competent student has:

(1) Knowledge of and curiosity about the world’s history, geography, cultures, environmental and economic systems, and current international issues

(2) Language and cross-cultural skills to communicate effectively with people from other countries, understand multiple perspectives, and use primary sources from around the globe

(3) A commitment to ethical citizenship. To help students become globally competent, teachers must have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions described above, as well as:

  • Knowledge of the international dimensions of their subject matter and a range of global issues
  • Pedagogical skills to teach their students to analyze primary sources from around the world, appreciate multiple points of view, and recognize stereotyping
  • A commitment to assisting students to become responsible citizens both of the world and of their own communities.

Training teachers for the global age also requires that teacher educators, who are preparing future teachers in our colleges and universities, need to develop the capacities noted above as well as the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to help teacher candidates acquire them. 

The Council of Chief State School Officers and the Asia Society published a report Educating for Global Competence. Their definition of global competence includes the following characteristics: Investigate the World, Recognize Perspectives, Communicate Ideas, and Take Action, depicted in the graphic below (click on the graphic to see an expanded view).  The authors of the report have also recorded a webinar to discuss this conceptualization of global competence.

Source:  Educating for Global Competence:  Preparing our Youth to Engage in the World.

The U.S. Department of Education adopted a modified version of this definition that was included in their recent international strategy publication “Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement.”

In the book Intercultural Student Teaching, Kenneth Cushner and Sharon Brennan argue that global competence is required to be an effective educator. "Teachers who are culturally competent," they argue, "understand cultural traditions that extend beyond the borders of the United States, can communicate across cultures, and have the expertise to prepare learners for living and working in the global community."  

Despite the assertion that global competence is necessary for a teacher in the 21st century, many educators question what global competence looks like in the classroom.  A team from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill addressed that question by mapping out the skills, dispositions, and knowledge of a globally competent educator on a contiunuum, supporting it with videos and lesson plans to allow educators and teacher educators to self assess their own level of competence to apply to the classroom.

While this definition has now been accepted by CCSSO and the U.S. Department of Education, a range of other definitions and approaches to defining global competency exist, but this conceptualization offers a strong perspective on a complex issue. 


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