Strategies for Engaging Global Learners

Blog Series, Community, Leadership, Learning, Smart Planet

Yumi Kuwana & Dana Teppert

By now you have likely heard the clarion call of global education advocates. The current educational systems are not capable of addressing the new realities of the 21st century. We need to prepare students to live and work in an increasingly interdependent world marked by interactions with diverse cultures, rapid change, and complex global challenges for which easy answers do not exist.

So far, so good. Where the voices begin to diverge is in regards to the strategies needed for engaging students as global learners, defined as those who are willing and able to navigate a highly interdependent and culturally pluralistic world. Academics, secondary schools, universities, think tanks, non-profit organizations, and governments have adopted different solutions. For many practitioners, the fragmented nature of the field leaves a great deal of doubt as to how best to proceed in empowering students as global learners.  

At Global Citizens Initiative, we work with exceptional high school students from around the world, including Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Japan, Rwanda, Somalia, Spain, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In addition, we collaborate with a number of leading NPOS and universities in global education. From our unique vantage point in the field, we have reflected on developments in global education and developed a list of strategies for practitioners trying to engage students as global learners.

1. Go Beyond the Standard Topics Taught in Schools

Empower students with the skills and attitudes required to succeed in the 21st century. Promote tolerance, peace, and respect for diversity. Education systems need to go beyond the standard topics taught in schools.  In our program, GCI employs the 5 Cs of communication, collaboration, creativity/innovation, and critical thinking/problem solving skills, and character.

At Harvard Graduate School of Education, The GoodWork™ Project (part of Project Zero) is a large scale effort pioneered by Professor Howard Gardner, father of the revolutionary theory of multiple intelligences, to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work. The GoodWork™ Project defines good work as “work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners – and to determine how best to increase the incidence of good work in our society.” Their research on embedding the concepts of excellence, ethics, and engagement in schools offers a possible roadmap for helping students to adopt necessary attitudes and behaviors to become curious, tolerant, and moral global learners.

2. Engage Learners in Solving Real-World Problems

Students become more engaged when applying theories learned in class to solving real-world challenges. At the Global Citizens Youth Summit (GCYS), we guide 24 high school students through the process of launching their own social impact venture called a Glocal Service Project. GCI emphasizes a “Think Global, Act Local” approach to social impact work. Our students address global challenges –  like access to clean water or affordable education – that they can implement in their home communities over a nine-month period following the Summit, supported by professional business mentors.

Another organization with a 30 year history in the field is Ashoka Youth Venture, which offers an experiential process for guiding young people towards launching a social venture called the Dream It Do It Challenge. Students examine local, societal and global issues; share ideas and personal experiences; and refine social venture business plans and engage in teamwork, public speaking, and peer support. Each team selects an Adult Ally, who provides mentoring and support to the team as needed.

At the high education level, the innovative online university Minerva, where students live in multiple countries during a four-year undergraduate experience, has embedded the science of learning into its highly interactive curriculum. Students “actively participate in learning the capabilities needed to analyze, comprehend, and collaboratively solve complex challenges. Based on decades of research in cognitive and behavioral science, all classes are small, face-to-face seminars built to stimulate deep mental processing and active engagement with the course material.” One freshman student from Rwanda, an alumnus of GCYS, spoke excitedly about a seminar in which her professor encouraged students to apply complex systems theory to understanding mob behavior.

3. Nothing Can Replace Experience

Encourage students to take advantage of opportunities to collaborate with people from other cultures.  Fostering global relationships should be the responsibility of every school. Through Global Citizen Year, high school graduates take a year off before the starting their freshman year at university to live and work in developing countries; for example, Brazil, Ecuador, India and Senegal. Students live with a host family, gain local language proficiency, and work alongside members of their community on projects like environmental conservation, education, public health, agriculture, or social enterprise.

Financial limitations will, of course, limit the opportunities for students to travel to other countries. Promoting experiential learning may also involve helping local community members with whom students normally does not have contact like disadvantaged youth or the elderly, an important aspect of the Global Service Projects at GCYS.  

4. Foster the Next Generation of Global Leaders

The Brookings Institute has noted “the vast majority of the world’s talent will come from the developing world” due to shifting demographics in working age populations. In a report, they add that “between 2010 and 2020, the working age populations of India and Brazil will increase by 17 percent and 11 percent, respectively. In Western Europe and in Japan, where the populations are aging by comparison, the working age populations will start to shrink.” Of course, all students, regardless of their race, religion, and nationality must be empowered as future leaders. However, practitioners should keep in mind the global talent pool increasingly resides in developing countries, populations which have historically not received enough recognition for their talent’s leadership potential. Engaging global learners means actively including students from developing countries.   

One NPO addressing this area is The Global Education and Leadership Foundation (tGELF) in India, which nurtures young ethical leaders that will be future agents of change. tGELF has a unique value-based curriculum, teacher training and assessments. The Foundation currently connects with 1,000,000 students through 7000 master trainers across 1100 schools & NGOs in 13 countries.

The field of global education will continue to evolve rapidly. Experiments in various parts of the world will add to the body of knowledge to which practitioners have access. However, thinking strategically about engaging global learners will continue to be a necessity for success. All students must have the opportunity, attitudes, and skills to promote a better world and future for us all.

For more check out:

Yumi Kuwana is the President and Founder of Global Citizens Initiative.
Dana Teppert is the Director of Program and Operations.

Follow GCI on Twitter at @GOGCI. For more information, go to

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