Maybe you’ve heard of “global competence.” It’s a hot phrase these days but one that few of us truly understand, let alone know what it means for our kids. While we can certainly make educated guesses, most of those talking about it understand global competence to mean something along these lines, as defined by World Savvy: “the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to navigate and succeed in today’s interconnected world. Globally competent individuals are life-long learners, have an appreciation for cultural differences, an ability to understand and consider multiple perspectives, critical and comparative thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, comfort with ambiguity and change, and understand globally significant issues.” Some others would also emphasize that these skills ideally allow a person to interact peacefully with people from diverse backgrounds and geographies.
Several organizations in the U.S. have produced studies and policy proposals that demonstrate the need for global citizenship skills, and many organizations have taken up the challenge of implementing global education curriculums. But, the U.S. Department of Education has yet to make it part of our national education standards. Some would argue that our tried and true triple R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic) have been surpassed as an essential skill required for entrance into college and career.
Working Together in the New Global Economy
Despite the rash of hate crimes here in the U.S. and around the world, there’s no stopping progress, and there’s no stopping hope. Technology has made it so that even while some people are frightened by communicating across differences, the majority of millennials embrace change and could not imagine a life untouched by technology. Those who don’t will be left behind. It’s because of this that so many experts have identified the urgency of ensuring kids get a global education. Not only will they need it for their careers, but they will also need it to thrive in our increasingly diverse communities.
It’s not just careers that will require global competence. To be competitive in the world, our country needs our kids (our future leaders) to be globally competent. It’s the wave of the future, and we can ride it or get pummeled by it. According to the Brookings Institution, “Educating young people to become global citizens will allow them to learn about the interdependence of the world’s systems, believe that solutions to global challenges are attainable, feel morally compelled to confront global injustices, and take responsible action to promote a just, peaceful, and sustainable world.” This is not a perfect world we’re handing them. They’re going to need these skills to solve significant problems across global lines.
Adopting a Global Competency Mindset
So, how can we accomplish this when global competence has not yet been adopted as national policy and public education as we know it is facing privatization? When you look critically at the definition of global competence, it becomes clear that its underpinnings rest in flexibility and empathy. When you look at it that way, there is plenty we can do to give our kids a boost.
First and foremost, these are qualities that we need to prioritize in our family lives. The good news is that making flexibility and empathy central in family relationships almost always makes them better. Not too shabby! So, model empathy and flexibility: shift gears when you can see that it’s important, imagine what it would feel like to be in the other person’s shoes, and talk to them from that point of view. Teach your kids to do the same.
There are lots of ways to use technology to support global competence. Look for activities that are immersive and collaborative. Those exercise the empathy center of the brain and make it stronger. Think about virtual exchange opportunities so that your child can learn first-hand from someone worlds away, and have the opportunity to practice their leadership and communication skills by sharing something of theirs.
Here are some ideas to get you going at home:
An afternoon lemonade stand’s earning could help your child make a meaningful connection with someone across the world and a contribution for basic human rights with Kiva. The program teaches kids to give back to the global community and appreciate what they have.
The Tandem app connects language learners with native speakers across the globe. It’s fun, interactive, and immersive, with a variety language learning experiences built in.
Al Gore’s Our Choice is an immersive multimedia digital book allowing the reader to pick up and explore anything in the book. The book takes a critical, in-depth look at the greatest problems of our time while inspiring hope and creativity by highlighting the real progress that is being made around the globe.
NYT VR is a virtual reality experience inside global headlines. It’s a good idea for parents to preview the stories because they can be intense; but that being said, this app provides opportunities for understanding complex global issues while building empathy and critical thinking skills.
Fate of the World: Tipping Point: Complex multi-issue game succeeds in teaching world politics and global development while building perspective and decision-making skills.
Because we can’t guarantee a global competence at school, we need to be creative about it and give our kids opportunities to achieve it at home. There is a whole lot of information and experience already built. Remember, if you can dream it you can do it!
Jenny Kepler, MA, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and writer who has been helping families navigate parenthood for over 10 years. Her office is in downtown Portland, OR where she does in person therapy with adults, couples, and families. She also offers parent coaching over the phone for people who can’t see her in Portland. http://jennykepler.com/