A world map made from LEGO bricks
Complex global connectivity requires citizens to build knowledge of their embedding in a global society. | Photo: Dirk Breuel/Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Education for Global Citizenship: Insights from three International Programs

The fall 2021 PRIF@School session was all about Global Citizenship Education (GCED). Guest speakers from three international organizations presented their work in global education and subsequently engaged in a discussion with our community educators. In 2015, the United Nations have established GCED as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG Target 4.7). But what does GCED mean? Do we need a global framework for civics and citizenship education? What are the core goals and what are successful approaches? What can individual teachers do to implement global perspectives in their schools? The PRIF@School discussion enabled educators, community members, and researchers to exchange ideas.

Globalization over the past century has transformed human lives in unprecedented ways. Increasing mobility and migration, expanding global markets, as well as technological innovations have produced a closely connected and interdependent global society. Recent transnational crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic, extreme weather events, and economic crises are clear reminders of how political, societal and environmental events can have impacts far beyond national borders. Similarly, we find that our individual daily consumer behaviors are related to environmental or labor market conditions in seemingly faraway places. Complex global connectivity requires citizens to build knowledge and awareness of their embedding in a global society, motivating them to acquire skills and values that enable them to collaborate globally and find solutions for global issues.

According to UNESCO’s definition, GCED aims to empower learners of all ages to assume active roles, both locally and globally, in building more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, and secure societies. GCED thus targets three domains of learning: cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioral. GCED learners acquire cognitive knowledge and understanding of local, national, and global issues, develop critical thinking and analysis. The socio-emotional domain enables experiencing a sense of belonging to global humanity, sharing values and responsibilities based on human rights while the behavioral domain supports learners to act responsibly in the global sphere and to engage in their local and global communities. But how can GCED be implemented in schools, curricula, and classrooms? The following three examples – a UN-related school network, an international project run by a US university, and a German regional player in the field of international school partnerships – show how the multi-faceted GCED concept is implemented in practice.

Three exemplary practices of GCED

Our guest speakers from three international organizations represented their approaches to global education. The UNESCO Associated Schools (ASPnet) identify most explicitly with Global Citizenship Education. The network defines itself even as a core driver of the UN Education 2030 Agenda on SDG 4. Klaus Schilling, the national coordinator of the German ASPnet chapter, introduced the mission and functioning of the network and explained how schools can associate with ASPnet. He also elaborated on how ASPnet schools anchor the key UNESCO values – peace, openness to the world, and sustainable development – in their profiles. School partnerships and joint activities in the international ASPnet are strong foundations of the network. Through them, it aims at fostering international understanding, peace, intercultural dialogue as well as sustainable development. ASPnet school partnerships engage in joint projects and share their knowledge. From 2016 to 2018, ASPnet schools around the globe for example engaged in the Climate Action Project and organized workshops and conferences on how schools can implement environmental learning and integrate issues of sustainability and climate change into everyday school life. In Germany, we learned from Klaus Schilling, 300 schools associate with the ASPnet and on its international level, the network connects 12.000 schools from 182 countries.

Steve Esquith, Welore Tamboura, and Vincent Delgado presented the Network for Global Civic Engagement (NGCE) at Michigan State University (MSU). The NGCE connects students and faculty members at MSU with local and global community members to promote global civic engagement. By supporting multiple international civic engagement projects, the network provides practical perspectives on how to integrate space, learning, and solutions around the world. The project “Peacebuilding through peace education and the arts in Mali” facilitates an open and democratic dialogue among local communities in Mali, including schools and other community partners. Six institutions ranging from Universities in Mali and the US, the Malian Commission for Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation to local schools collaborate on developing picture books, simulations, video animations, or poetry that engage with peace education in Mali. Through this positive peace approach focusing on the arts and creative digital formats, the participants learn about the roots of armed and structural violence and at the same time develop skills for peaceful discourse. Vincent Delgado emphasized that building close and sustainable relationships is a guiding principle for the network’s achievement.

The Frankfurt-based non-profit PROBONO School Partnerships for One World e.V. initiates partnerships between schools in Germany and East Africa to promote intercultural understanding through experiential exchange between schools in the Global South and Global North. Louise Ohlig and Erick Msuya from PROBONO gave insights into current projects. Currently, PROBONO cooperates with around 30 schools in Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. The activities comprise various development projects to improve learning and living conditions ranging from book donations, sharing learning materials, infrastructure investments, teacher training on child protection, and entrepreneurial development. In collaborative projects, students and teachers from Germany and East Africa learn from each other, develop an interest in a foreign culture and – very importantly – form new friendships. At the beginning of each new school partnership, students exchange short bios. Later on, they collaborate in activities ranging from a joint school magazine to bi-national stage performances. All activities center on shared experience and the exchange of stories and thereby produce strong incentives for student and teacher participation.

Is there a common core of GCED approaches?

Our three international community partners represent different practice levels, from local community projects to UNESCO as a supra-national organization. They illustrate how schools can engage in global and international education in very different ways. Of course, this group does not represent a holistic picture of Global Citizenship Education nor do they claim an exclusive definition. Some of the presented programs do not even explicitly define GCED in their core mission and partly differ in their learning focuses. However, the three programs show that GCED encompasses a bundle of GCED learning domains from social-emotional competencies, from ‚world knowledge‘ to a set of values important for global peace and understanding. They also stress that there are very different pathways to achieve these goals in learning environments. One of our main goals with this PRIF@School session was to provide our network members with an extract of international approaches and thereby to initiate thinking about necessary accomplishments and critical features of GCED.

The presentations and conversations underlined that all approaches of GCED require multi-national perspectives and collaboration. All three examples had in common the centering of international cooperation at the core of their work. This indicates that GCED cannot be developed and implemented from the perspective of any single national school system. A new global framework for civics and citizenship education, therefore, requires a rigorous global discourse on all levels from policymaking to the classroom. In the future, education policymakers, schools, teachers, and students will therefore need to create strong networks with their counterparts around the world. The OECD and UNESCO already promote this discourse on the international policy level. Communication technologies such as virtual conferencing may also make global collaboration on the school level much easier.

Another aspect that our three examples of practice have in common is relying to a great degree on experiential learning activities. Learning through international exchange, dialogue, and project work is seen as a promising way to encourage perspective-taking, raise empathy, and manifest factual knowledge about global politics. Still, imbalances of political and economic nature between the actors involved and related difficulties of integrating such activities into daily school life should be considered and critically examined. All of our international community partners emphasized the importance of close and reciprocal international partnerships for their work. The programs are strongly investing in long-term relationship building and regular exchange. Our guest speakers agreed that well-grounded relationships, formed on an equal footing, are a vital prerequisite for effective collaboration and trustworthy partnerships. At the end, Klaus Schilling also ventured a glimpse into the future of global citizenship education and expressed optimism about evolving virtual technologies such as video conferences but also the more advanced Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) (Connective Cities). While digital technologies certainly produce risks and challenges for young people’s social lives, they can still accelerate the potentials of global education. By making intercultural exchange and collaboration more accessible for often underserved communities and by intensifying joint projects and collaboration, they can bring learners and educators around the world closer together.

The PRIF@School network will continue its engagement for GCED in the future by facilitating dialogue between teachers, researchers, and community partners and by supporting projects focusing on global education in schools. This session has shown how many aspects need to be considered as GCED represents a new educational approach and encounters globally differing realities. Looking at the concept from an international perspective, we will certainly have to discuss how the economic and political disparities between actors can be addressed adequately. The UNESCO schools’ approach in particular is proving to be promising, as it combines diverse approaches ranging from peace education to cultural memory. We see this network session on GCED as a first impression of how schools establish global perspectives in their daily work. Future sessions will more deeply analyze different approaches and critically discuss how they contribute to building Global Citizenship. Further engagement with various approaches of GCED will allow for a better understanding of how GCED should or should not operate.


Since 2020, the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) coordinates the network “PRIF@School – Network Peace Research and Educational Practice” on civic education in schools together with teachers from all types of schools in the German state of Hesse. The network meets regularly to discuss current issues and develop needs, goals, further training, and quality management for civic education. If you are interested in participating in (virtual) exchange meetings or (online) events of the network due to your work in educational practice or academia, please send an email to schule-prif@hsfk.de.

Yvonne Blum

Yvonne Blum

Yvonne Blum ist Referentin für Wissenstransfer an der HSFK. Sie beschäftigt sich mit Konzepten und Formaten des dialogischen Austausches mit der Gesellschaft, mit Politikberatung und Politischer Bildung. // Yvonne Blum is a knowledge transfer officer at PRIF. Her interests lie in concepts of knowledge transfer and formats of dialogue with society, policy advice and civic education.
Raphaela Schlicht-Schmälzle

Raphaela Schlicht-Schmälzle

Raphaela Schlicht-Schmälzle ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin an der HSFK und Mitglied der Forschungsgruppe "Radikalisierung". Ihre Forschungsschwerpunkte sind Politische Bildung und Vergleichende Bildungspolitik. / Raphaela Schlicht-Schmälzle is a senior researcher at PRIF and member of the research group "Radicalization". Her research focuses on civic education, global citizenship education and comparative education policy.

Sophia Schmidt

Sophia Schmidt ist studentische Hilfskraft im Wissenstransfer an der HSFK und studiert Internationale Studien/Friedens- und Konfliktforschung an der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt und der TU Darmstadt. Ihre Forschungsinteressen umfassen u.a. politische Bildung und Normenforschung in den Internationalen Beziehungen. / Sophia Schmidt is a student assistant at PRIF and studies International Studies/Peace and Conflict Research at Goethe University Frankfurt and TU Darmstadt. Her research interests include civic education and norm research in international relations.

Yvonne Blum

Yvonne Blum ist Referentin für Wissenstransfer an der HSFK. Sie beschäftigt sich mit Konzepten und Formaten des dialogischen Austausches mit der Gesellschaft, mit Politikberatung und Politischer Bildung. // Yvonne Blum is a knowledge transfer officer at PRIF. Her interests lie in concepts of knowledge transfer and formats of dialogue with society, policy advice and civic education.

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