The recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai raise four questions for an educator. First, how did the education of these perpetrators shape such hatred that they could take the lives of hundreds of unarmed civilians? Second, how were the individuals who enabled these perpetrators’ actions educated, and why would they turn a blind eye or enable these terrorists to plan their attacks? Third, in what ways do the teachings of history and geography foster limited and intolerant views between India and Pakistan? As the responses of ordinary citizens in both of these countries demonstrate, biased national views constrain the options for leaders to pursue negotiated avenues of cooperation and perhaps increase the risk of military conflict between these nations. Lastly, to what extent has the education of citizens worldwide prepared us to understand the sources of these attacks, their potential consequences, the likelihood of growing global instability, and the appropriate courses of action for the international community?


Schools and universities around the world are not adequately preparing ordinary citizens to understand the nature of global challenges, such as terrorism, climate change, human-environmental interactions, world trade, demographic change, and global conflict. Because of the growing interdependence of nations, resulting from trade, increased frequency of communications, and migratory flows, the ability to understand these modern global challenges is critical. The failure to develop this skill of global citizenship will contribute to growing conflict and undermine the economic competitiveness of nations in which the global competency deficits are most acute. Political violence is prevalent around the world. Much of this violence stems from people’s inability to tolerate those with different views and interests or to work out their differences in peaceful ways. Most of these conflicts have a global dimension, and the international community’s reluctance to stage appropriate and effective interventions enables the continuation of these conflicts. In a recent study of the major episodes of political violence from 1946 to 2007, the Center for Systemic Peace documented that during the last decade, 98 conflicts took the lives of 3,565,000 people around the world. Two-thirds of those conflicts persisted longer than a year. The number of people affected by conflict is a multiple several times higher than the number of people who have lost their lives in them. The need for global competency will only increase as global challenges expand. A recent report of future scenarios prepared by the National Intelligence Council forecasts significant global challenges over the next fifteen years, including a transformation of the international system built after World War II, an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the West to the East, massive pressure on natural resources resulting from ongoing economic growth, and increased potential for global conflict, particularly in the greater Middle East. The Tri-Dimensional Nature of Global Competency Global competency comprises the knowledge and skills that help people understand the flat world in which they live, the skills to integrate across disciplinary domains to comprehend global affairs and events, and the intellect to create possibilities to address them. Global competency also includes fostering an attitude that makes it possible to interact peacefully, respectfully, and productively with fellow human beings from diverse geographies. This involves three interdependent dimensions. First, there needs to be a positive disposition towards cultural differences and a framework of global values with which to engage these differences. This requires a sense of identity and self-esteem but also empathy towards others with different identities. A globally competent person will view cultural differences as opportunities for constructive, respectful, and peaceful transactions among people. This ethical dimension of global competency also includes a commitment to basic equality and the rights of all persons, as well as the disposition to uphold those rights. The second dimension of global competency is the ability to speak, understand, and think in languages foreign to the dominant language of one’s native country. Foreign language skills are analogous to stereoscopic vision for the global mind. The third dimension of global competency involves deep knowledge and understanding of world history, geography, the global dimensions of topics such as health, climate, economics, and the process of globalization itself (the disciplinary and interdisciplinary dimension), and a capacity to think critically and creatively about the complexity of current global challenges. The New Aspiration of Global Competency for All In the past, families, schools, and universities sometimes helped a select group of students acquire the foreign language skills, an interest in global affairs, and deep knowledge of global topics. Now, globalization has made these skills necessary for the majority of the world’s population, rather than for just a few students. Therefore, global competency should now be a purpose of mass education, not just elite education. In the United States, for example, political elites agree on the importance of publicly funding university programs that enhance the development of foreign languages skills and foreign area studies. Since the end of World War II, these programs have served the perceived needs of national security and, more recently, provided a competitive advantage in business. A recent evaluation of those programs entitled International Education and Foreign Languages: Keys to Securing America’s Future, undertaken by the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the US Congress, concludes that they must be re-designed to serve a broader segment of the college population. The demand for international competencies has extended to other occupations beyond the “area studies specialist,” broadening to encompass the basic competencies necessary for citizenship and work in the 21st century. This has created two new challenges for education: first, incorporating opportunities to develop these competencies in the graduate curricula of various fields of studies (i.e. professional studies of education, social work, public health, business, or law) and second, expanding opportunities to develop the foundations of international competence in elementary education and in the undergraduate curriculum. The general need for global competency is increasingly recognized by students and by parents. A survey of voters by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an education advocacy coalition in the United States, found that two in five voters consider global awareness a very important skill, while only six percent of them think schools do an adequate job developing it. In the United States, support is also growing for learning second languages. According to a survey conducted by the American Council on Education in 2000, 85 percent of the public thought that knowing a second language is important, compared with 65 percent in 1965. Furthermore, 77 percent of those surveyed agreed that foreign language instruction should be mandatory in high school. In 2002, 93 percent of those surveyed said that they believed knowledge about international issues would be important to the careers of their children. Additionally, in a youth survey conducted in 2004, 76 percent of students said they would like to know more about the world. In the United Kingdom, there are similar polls. For example, a youth survey conducted for the Department for International Development in 2004 showed that 79 percent of those polled wanted to know more about what is happening in developing countries, 54 percent thought they should learn about these issues in school, and 65 percent were concerned or very concerned about poverty in developing countries. Developing Global Competency The development of global competency requires multifaceted approaches. Some academic subjects can help to develop global knowledge: world history, geography, and foreign languages, for example. But global competency can also be developed as students learn to read with texts that reflect cultural diversity, or as they learn science with projects that help illuminate the transnational nature of the scientific enterprise. Critical to developing global skills is fostering student engagement and interest in world affairs. A good factual foundation and a positive disposition to continue learning about global affairs will serve students better than many facts taught in boring ways or than a curriculum that caricaturizes world history or social studies. Educational opportunities to develop global competency should focus on three dimensions. The first dimension includes the development of attitudes, values, and skills that reflect an openness, interest, and positive disposition towards diverse cultures. This framework for global values should include, at a minimum, tolerance towards different cultures. More advanced frameworks should encompass the skills to recognize and negotiate differences in cross-cultural contexts, the cultural flexibility and adaptability necessary to develop empathy and trust, the ability to conduct effective interpersonal interactions in diverse cultural contexts, and a commitment to extending the Golden Rule’s treatment of “others” to different civilizations and cultures. These values and attitudes can be developed in a number of ways: reading books that reflect cosmopolitan views and values, interacting with culturally diverse groups of students, engaging in school-to-school international projects, accessing content about comparative topics such as comparative literature, world history, or geography, studying artistic creations from different cultures, discussing films focusing on human rights issues, participating in groups such as global youth movements (e.g. the World Scouts Movement) or international sports competitions. Cultural awareness can be developed at all educational levels and should probably start at early ages, when children’s basic values are shaped. Activities encouraging cultural awareness should engage multiple performance domains and manners of knowledge, including deliberation, formal study, simulations, project based learning, and experiential education. The opportunities to develop these competencies can effectively be integrated across existing subjects in the curriculum. They will not necessarily require separate slots in the timetable and as such may be easier to integrate in the existing curriculum frameworks of many countries. What resources are necessary to support the development of this first set of global competencies? They could include instructional materials in a variety of media, professional development for teachers and administrators, and incentives in the accountability systems (standards and tests) to devote some instructional time to these issues. Experiential learning can be a very effective way to develop these competencies, because it provides students the opportunity to interact with students from different cultural backgrounds, either in culturally diverse schools, through study-abroad programs, or through technologically-enabled student collaborations across schools with culturally diverse student populations. For example, iEarn is a network of Kindergarten through12th grade schools that supports school-to-school collaborative projects. Through this network, teachers are linked with peers in other parts of the world to collaborate on structured projects or to design their own. Some of the projects include studies of the Holocaust and genocides, a project to exchange folk tales, a project that supports collaboration of urban youth in the publication of a magazine to express differences and similarities of people throughout the world, an environmental project, and a project on nations. The second dimension of global competency is foreign language skills. These allow communication through varied forms of expression between individuals and groups who communicate in different languages. The resources necessary to develop this aspect of global competency include skilled teachers of foreign languages, adequate instructional materials, and places in the curriculum devoted to foreign language instruction. Study abroad can also help develop foreign language skills. Furthermore, foreign language instruction can be supported with after-school and summer programs, perhaps involving heritage speakers in the communities surrounding each school. Technology is an increasingly important resource to support foreign language instruction. The third dimension covers academic knowledge in comparative fields (comparative history, anthropology, political science, economics, trade, literature, world history, etc.) and the ability to integrate cross-disciplinary materials when solving questions about globalization. This is important for issues such as the nature of global trade treaties, how to balance commitments to human rights with commitments to global trade, and how to weigh commitments to global institutions against the desire to achieve national foreign policy objectives in a reasonable timeframe. These competencies can also be developed at all levels of education, although they should probably be introduced in the middle school curriculum, with a deepening emphasis in high school and at the college level. Examples of this education include deep knowledge of world history, geography, cultural history, comparative literature, knowledge of international trade, and development economics. There are also global topics which require knowledge from different disciplines. An educated person in the 21st century needs to be fluent with such global topics and therefore needs the education to comprehend them. The resources to develop these kinds of competencies are adequate textbooks, supplementary instructional resources—reference books, videotaped materials, and current dossiers and reports on current affairs, all of which should be current versions—supporting materials for teachers, professional development for teachers, and places in the curriculum that draw attention to these topics. These competencies can be developed by integrating new content and activities within existing curriculum frameworks, as well as in new courses. Negotiating the introduction of new curriculum objectives or the creation of new courses will, in most cases, be significantly more difficult. These competencies can also be developed in afterschool projects, peer-based projects, and summer programs. For example, Netaid is an organization that provides high school students with a chance to lead projects educating their peers on global poverty, while giving them access to professional resources to develop such projects. In part, these competencies can also be developed in study abroad and exchange programs or in joint research projects where students collaborate, using technology, across countries. The Global Classroom Project of the US United Nations Association helps students in inner city schools learn about the multiple dimensions of different cross-national negotiations and to develop perspective as they work on assignments where they discuss these negotiations from the point of view of different nations and groups. Students need engaging experiences that teach them about the world. What is engaging and motivating no doubt differs at various levels of education: the second grader can be engaged by some well-written stories about children growing up in different parts of the world, good films to support that instruction, and visits and conversations with college or graduate students from different countries. Middle school students may be more engaged by research projects that allow them to explore questions involving comparative dimensions, or by electronic exchanges with classmates in distant parts of the world in a sister school as they work on common projects. High school students might be more engaged by subject matter in world history and geography that develops the knowledge necessary to interpreting current affairs, conversations via video-conference with high school peers in distant lands, study tours and interaction with exchange students, study abroad opportunities, or seminars on topical global issues or area studies offered at the college level. Rich library collections of texts and audiovisual material, as well as adequate selections of internet resources, are fundamental to develop student independence and responsibility in their own learning in this field. The mix of these three types of competencies and the level at which they should be developed will vary in different professions, and also at the graduate, undergraduate, and elementary school levels. In partnership with other institutions such as universities, museums, public libraries, publishing companies, and the media, schools can develop knowledge of other countries and the processes of interdependency that link nations together at present. Schools can shape the ways in which students learn about global affairs throughout life, the dispositions that value cultural differences, and the ability to draw on understanding of differences as a source to inform a framework of global values. These values could include compassion, concern for others, respect and reciprocity, commitment to universal human rights and international covenants, the expansion of human freedoms and capabilities, recognition of the basic equality of all people, and a commitment to protecting the environment and of addressing global challenges collaboratively. Knowledge, engagement, and values are the cognitive domains that global education should target. An Opportunity for Leadership Preparing students with the skills and the ethical dispositions to create a future that enhances the global well-being of humans is the most critical challenge for educational institutions in our time. To do this, we need to focus on three objectives and on three avenues for action: the objectives are to develop global values, foreign language skills, and foreign area and globalization expertise. The avenues are to make the development of global competence a policy priority for mass education systems, to develop a scientific knowledge base that helps discern the success of projects, and to continue developing rigorous curriculum, instructional materials, and opportunities for teachers’ education. The path is clear and within reach, and the potential rewards much greater than some of the costly and complicated approaches we still use in trying to achieve global peace and stability.