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Designing Curriculum for Global Citizenship

By Gordon Eldridge, TIE Columnist

In considering what effective curriculum for global citizenship might look like, it is helpful to have a concrete example. Given the relatively privileged context in which most of our international schools evolve, I have chosen an example from a privileged context.

This particular study examined the impact on students of the global citizenship curriculum in a private girls’ school in the United States using pre-post surveys, classroom observations, and interviews. Given that there is relatively little empirical research that examines effective curriculum for global citizenship, their findings provide some useful insights.

How was the curriculum constructed?

The school in question has published what they call their Principles of Global Responsibility, according to which global citizens:

  • recognize the dignity of every individual
  • strive for self-knowledge through the study of others
  • act on behalf of social justice and human rights (p. 206)

Among other means of putting the principles into practice, the school has designed a specific curriculum for Grade 11. All Grade 11 students are required to take a course pairing (literature and history) focusing on non-Western regions of the world, including China, India, Africa, and the Middle East. Each student chooses a region and studies the region’s history, culture, and politics. For example, in the Indian regional option, students read White Tiger by Aravind Adiga and discuss the effects of the caste system on the characters. At the same time, in history they explore the religious tensions in India through a study of the destruction of a Hindu temple, comparing accounts from Turko-Persian, Jaina, Sanskrit, and colonial British perspectives.

In addition to the course pairing, during an elective block in the opposite semester, one option available is a course titled “Human Culture, Human Rights.” In this course, students study a number of cultural phenomena, including female circumcision, female infanticide, and honor killings and are asked to consider how women’s rights could be better promoted in the world.

What were the outcomes?

  • Data collected after a single semester of work did not reveal any statistically significant differences between students who had completed the non-Western coursework pairings and those who had not.
  • Participation in the human rights course alone did not have a significant effect on student attitudes.
  • Data collected at the end of the year showed that students who had participated in both the non-Western course pairings and the human rights course showed significant gains in their global citizenship attitudes (including global social responsibility, global competence, global interaction, and world mindedness).

What explains the difference?

A number of possible explanations may contribute to the finding that only the students who participated in both courses demonstrated a significant change in attitudes related to global citizenship.

  • Firstly, the students who took both courses were engaged in relevant learning over an entire year rather than just a semester, so increased participation in this kind of learning may have played a role.
  • Secondly, the researchers analysed the curriculum using the filter of the four principles of global citizenship education outlined by Banks et al. in their Democracy and Diversity curriculum (see other article in this issue for the principles). The third principle—“The teaching of human rights should underpin citizenship education courses and programs in multicultural nation-states” —was instantiated mainly in the human rights course and this principle may form a necessary foundation for global citizenship.
  • Overall, it seems the two courses complemented each other in terms of both meeting the four principles from Banks et al. and in the opportunities for critical thinking. The human rights course in particular offered students the opportunity to explore current issues from various perspectives and grapple with the tensions inherent in the issues. Banks et al. claim that the opportunity to deliberate over an issue (rather than debate it) is critical in creating informed global citizens and the human rights course was structured to provide just this kind of opportunity. Deliberation over relevant issues may thus also be a critical component.

In sum, these results suggest that a global citizenship curriculum may require the allocation of adequate time, and ideally, among other things, should include a focus on the concept of universal rights and opportunities to deliberate over issues related to those rights, where students truly grapple with the tensions inherent in the application of human rights in a variety of contexts.

The researchers also note from their qualitative data that:

  • Meeting global citizenship goals can dovetail with other goals in the curriculum, such as, for example, engaging in close reading of texts or using evidence to support claims.
  • A focus on global interdependence may be “a key ingredient in increasing students’ commitment to and facility for seeking out interactions with those they perceive as different from themselves” (p. 207).


Sklarwitz, S., Fields, S., Sider, S. & Didier, B. (2015) Changing Attitudes, Motivating Action: Global citizenship identity among privileged adolescents. In: Harshman, J., Augustine, T., & Merryfield, M. Research in Global Education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

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