Last week, I attended my third grader’s Back to School Night. His teacher shared a set of district-wide educational objectives for students called “the 21st century competencies.”
The skill that stood out to me most on this list was “raising a globally aware citizen.” While I was thrilled that the school was emphasizing the development of this approach, I also knew that global awareness cannot be solely taught in the classroom. As parents, we can do a lot on our end to raise kids who are worldly.
What is global awareness?
At the root of it, being globally aware means building a value system that is flexible and open to other people’s cultures. It recognizes and respects that there can be more than one way to do something.
My son’s school district identified these ways to build global awareness in students:
Creating an understanding of one’s civic duties and rights — from global to local.
Developing the ability to respect and work with students from all backgrounds, cultures, and religions.
Learning a foreign language.
Building an understanding of different nations and cultures.
Why is it important?
At an altruistic level, teaching our kids to be globally aware can help make them better understand those who are different. The ability to work collaboratively amid diversity can help build a more peaceful and civil society.
As the world continues to become more interconnected, students are expected to work well with others. In fact, a 2011 study of 500 senior business leaders in the U.K. showed that 79 percent of employers felt that “knowledge and awareness of the wider world” was critical. The importance given to global awareness in the study outranked the value put on high school grades (68 percent found it important) and high school subjects (63 percent).
The report also said that businesses that do a majority of their trade globally find it much harder to find employees with the right set of skills. So, to compete effectively in a global business environment, then our children should have such skills and awareness to succeed.
Building Global Awareness
Here are some tangible ways to make your child more aware and appreciative of the world around her:
The awareness that there are so many different countries in the world, each with its own language and flag, can be quite fascinating to younger kids. Start by buying toys and accessories that expose children to other areas of the world. My six-year-old spends a lot of time staring at her map placemat, which shows all the countries and continents. Finding a country on the map has become a favorite game during dinner time.
Exposure to international sporting events, such as the Olympics or the World Cup, is a great way for kids to appreciate the different ways games are played globally. For instance, my son and his dad have talked about the European style of playing soccer versus the South American style.
Potlucks and Festivals
Food is often one of the first cultural experiences that children encounter. Kids tend to be less sensitive when exploring foods that look or smell different. Exposing kids to new types of cuisine, through school or club-scout potlucks, can be an opportunity to teach them about cultural sensitivity. Religious festivals or holidays, such as Thanksgiving, are also perfect opportunities for cultural exchange.
Books and Music
You can always get books about other regions from the library to read to your children. If they are past that stage, then series, such as the “Magic Tree House” or “The Royal Diaries,” weave journeys to different places and time periods effectively into their narratives. If your child loves music, songs are a great way to expose her to the sounds of new parts of the world. You can start by exploring local libraries, which often have “world music” CD sections.
If possible, traveling with kids and exposing them to different cultures is the best way to make them global citizens. Now that our kids are slightly older, we take trips to places where we can step out of the resort to get a flavor of the local food and culture.
If traveling isn’t a possibility, a field trip to a nearby heritage museum or ethnic restaurant can provide your children with an affordable experience of encountering a new culture.
Learning a Language
Exposing kids to a different language will demonstrate cultural nuances. Consider sending your child to a language class, or hiring a babysitter or caregiver who speaks a different language.
That global awareness makes the list of educational standards shows how schools' focus has expanded to a more international picture. Working on these skills as early as elementary school will have a profound effect later. The ability to navigate and embrace cultural differences can lead to academic, social, and professional success.
West Windsor-Plainsboro Competencies. (n.d.). Retrieved from 21st Century Competencies.
The Global Skills Gap: Preparing young people for the new global economy. (2011, December). Retrieved from Think Global and British Council.