Unlocking Engagement Through Global Competence and Collaboration

Special Focus : Educating Global Citizens for the 21st Century
Access and Inclusion July 24, 2017

Here in North America, we’re facing a crisis of student engagement. While provinces like my own brag about the “highest graduation rates ever” (at 86.5%), a peek under the covers reveals a different story. Gallup recently released the latest data from their 2016 Gallup Student Poll, which revealed that just 34% of Grade 12 students are engaged with school. These results cover more than 3,000 public and private schools across the US and Canada, and things don’t start off too badly: in Grade 5, 74% are engaged. So what can we do to prevent students from falling off the “engagement cliff”?

At TakingITGlobal, the charity I co-founded to empower young people to understand and act on the world’s greatest challenges, our approach is to infuse learning with relevance, authenticity, and depth.
Why relevance? In the High School Study of Student Engagement, 98% of students say they have been bored at school, with 66% of students saying they were bored on a daily basis. Of these 98% of students, 81% said they were bored because the material wasn’t interesting, and 42% claimed it wasn’t relevant. So, let’s flip things around and give them control. Ask your students: What’s one thing you’d change or improve about your school, community, country, or the world? How could you connect that idea and issue to what you need to demonstrate as learning outcomes in this class? You’ll be surprised and impressed with what they design. TakingITGlobal’s free Guide to Action provides a step-by-step guide to help students develop their ideas, build their team, and explore the concept of sustainability. For a more structured approach, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals provide a framework of 17 areas for action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. You can organize student projects and interest in these areas, and explore The World’s Largest Lesson for classroom ideas across all of the 17 goals.
Authenticity comes naturally once you have relevance in place. If you’ve adopted project-based learning (PBL) with your students, you’re no stranger to an authentic audience. If students know their work is going to have an impact on or mean something to someone, they’ll put more attention and intention into it. One great example is the Global Gallery, founded by a primary teacher here in Canada. It’s now grown to collect over 40,000 pieces of visual art from more than 100 countries, helping young people learn about each other’s cultures and perspectives visually. The Global Encounters program led by the Centre for Global Education in Edmonton brings together tens of thousands of students each year in conversations around issues that matter. Students collaborate in real-time and over an online platform, negotiating their ideas and developing position papers to present their recommendations to decision-makers and world leaders. The #Decarbonize project has brought together hundreds of students at the UN Climate Summits (COP events) over the past decade, providing the ultimate authentic audience with decision-makers in real life.
Student voice plays a key role too: The Sloan Study of Youth and Social Development found that students’ ability to feel secure, content, and in control of their learning (“Control Mood” variable) was most affected by the levels of choice and authenticity of the learning activity.

A student asking a question to the Premier of Alberta during one of the Centre for Global Education’s Virtual Town Halls where student position papers were presented to leaders

A student asking a question to the Premier of Alberta during one of the Centre for Global Education’s Virtual Town Halls where student position papers were presented to leaders
Once you’ve got the ingredients of authenticity and relevance in place, Depth isn’t too far away. Students’ curiosity and engagement will take them far beyond a homework assignment as they work towards real-life outcomes. If you’re helping to facilitate a global project with peers around the world, one important goal to keep in mind is to avoid solving problems “for” those in other places, but instead emphasize solving “with” and investing in co-design. The Engineering Brightness project led by educators across Canada, USA, Uganda and the Dominican Republic is a great example of this kind of collaboration. This is one of many tips shared by our former team member Jennifer Klein, who recently published The Global Education Guidebook. Jennifer’s recent infographic on “Avoiding Equity Pitfalls” is a key read for ensuring thoughtful depth in student projects. It’s important to note that Global Competency isn’t just a passing fad: the OECD is working to bring it into the PISA assessment in 2018! Our Future Friendly Schools initiative is also working to provide indicators to help schools measure their progress.
With the UN Global Goals well underway and more opportunities than ever to build a global classroom, I’m sure that new heights of student engagement are in our future.