Citizenship beyond borders

By Duncan Hossack, Round Square Regional Support Manager on 14/12/2016


Globalization, immigration, climate change, religious conflict: complex issues sit at the heart of recent seismic political events. And in the face of these definitively global issues is a growth, in many countries, of nationalist and protectionist sentiment.

As the outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki- moon said in comments on the UNESCO Global Education First Initiative, Priority #3, the world faces a range of interconnected global challenges that need far-reaching global solutions. Education, he said, “must fully assume its central role in helping people to forge more just, peaceful, tolerant and inclusive societies”. In his words, it is not enough for students to be able to read, write and count, but in addition, “Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life. It must cultivate an active care for the world and for those with whom we share it. Education must also be relevant in answering the big questions of the day.”

Against this backdrop, the common passion shared by Round Square schools for promoting a values-based global perspective, and building global competence in their students, has never been more relevant or more needed.

Global citizenship was a cornerstone of Kurt Hahn’s beliefs about education and now appears more essential than ever as we strive to manage issues of planetary dimensions. His theories on education were the inspiration for the founding of Round Square, and are still very much at the heart of our practices today.

Hahn developed his beliefs about global citizenship in reaction to the atrocities of the First World War. “The war was this tremendous breach of civilization,” says education historian and Provost at Teachers College, Columbia University Tom James quoted in a recent essay for American Public Media. “So much was unleashed, violence and hatred among peoples. Living through World War One got Hahn thinking again about the purpose of school. He felt the project of education should be to develop young people who were ready to be citizens in a new kind of world.”

An objective to develop students as global citizens, and school communities that are globally competent, is an essential element of the Round Square approach. The six Round Square IDEALS of International Understanding, Democracy, Environmental Stewardship, Adventure, Leadership and Service are themes whose objectives are global in their reach.

“When we talk about global competence, we’re referring to the understanding, skills and attitudes that students must acquire and put into practice to actively contribute to, and thrive in, an increasingly global society” says Rachael Westgarth, Round Square CEO “Intercultural team-working and international communication skills, critical thinking, inventiveness and problem-solving, tenacity and courage, compassion, and an appreciation for diversity. In the context of the Round Square IDEALS, these are all essential attitudes and skills for a generation that is already internationally-mobile, globally-connected, and likely to be even more so in adult life." 

A recent study of Round Square schools by Cambridge University’s Faculty of Education found that the theme of forging a global, rather than a national, identity was a recurring one, with one student quoted as saying “We become global citizens rather than national citizens” and another “When I hear the word internationalism I think about political policy, and I think about the coming together of nations, or rather people than nations, because nations divide us in any case.”

The Cambridge University report remarks on this comment “This recognition that internationalism is inherently political, alongside a willingness to engage with it, is both refreshing and valuable to find in young people.” Another student they interviewed saw the themes of connectedness and citizenship as intrinsically linked, commenting: “Internationalism is about breaking borders, having friends everywhere and understanding how the global community is trying to solve problems.”

This conviction that we are all responsible for effecting positive change is one that the researchers from Cambridge University found repeatedly in their research “Cultivating this sense of feeling part of the action in the face of global problems, rather than being a frustrated spectator, is one that several teachers and parents we interviewed also saw as part of their school’s life”.

This is certainly the case at St. Clement’s School in Toronto, as Principal Martha Perry explains “In terms of our role as educators in shaping Global Citizens, I think we are in particularly interesting times. It has never been more important to ensure that our students feel a compulsion to be positive agents of change, and have the capacity to embrace diversity, remaining open to a variety of view-points and approaches,” she says “We can only grow when we stretch ourselves and step outside of our own comfort zone and environment. In this context it is so important that we offer our students and faculty as many opportunities as possible to connect face-to-face with people from around the world and immerse themselves in other cultures and environments. ‘Teaching’ global citizenship means compelling students into experiences that allow them, with just enough freedom and guidance, to develop skills and attitudes for learning and for life.”

This idea of direct personal experience in developing global citizens is echoed by Eric Niles, Head of School at The Athenian School in California. “We believe that fostering empathy and compassion are critical needs in shaping global citizens.” He says “As a Round Square school we arrange exchanges for our students to other Round Square schools.  It is one thing to read about a country or culture in a textbook; it is quite another to live in that country and be influenced by that culture. Right now, almost one-third of Athenian’s sophomores are going on exchanges.  This gives each of them this deep global experience and allows students at those schools to come join our community.  In essence, Round Square allows our students to go out to the world and for the world to come to us.  I recall that when Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013, there were two students from South Africa here on exchange at the time and their presence so deepened the learning experience for students in their classes.  There is no substitute for that.” 

It is ironic perhaps, that some of the most powerful lessons in global citizenship occur at a very personal and individual level. As the students at The Athenian School found, the presence of two African students at their school made the global event of Mandela’s death all the more poignant and brought it closer-to-home. And the same is true for the student that is away from home, immersed in another culture, as former Hotchkiss Schools student, Zoe Sun discovered.

A Chinese national, now studying at Georgetown, Zoe participated in an RSIS project in Ladakh in Northern India, home to a largely Tibetan Buddhist community. Zoe explains: ”Being Chinese, it was at first difficult for me to grasp that I was in a land that was supposed to be hostile to me, because media, politicians, and a nationalist education had always reminded me, prior to this trip, of the schism between India and China and the two peoples; but throughout the trip, the locals who worked along with us were nothing but welcoming and hospitable.” She says “During our last day at the site, they told me ‘Chinese and Tibetans, we are brothers and sisters’. I don't think anything has ever been so touching to me: it shows me that our respect and love for each other will always transcend the arbitrary borders that attempt to divide our common identity as human beings. Ladakh was a magical place that opened my eyes and inspired me to see the world for myself, instead of being told what the world is supposed to be like. Everywhere I went, I marveled at how much cultures borrow from each other and how few of the world wonders would exist if not for the exchange of wisdoms and technologies. I think it is an especially important lesson given the current rise in nationalist sentiments.”

This willingness to discover through first-hand experience, rather than believe received wisdom, is a refreshing, if sometimes challenging, characteristic of students in Round Square schools. It is no accident that the Round Square Discovery Framework includes, in its 12 ‘Discoveries’, which students are encouraged to make (in themselves and the world around them): Inquisitiveness, Courage, Compassion, and Tenacity.

Round Square schools expect, encourage and prepare their students to challenge, to question, to explore, take responsibility, feel compassion, be outraged by social injustice and to be moved to stand up for what they believe in.” says Round Square CEO Rachael Westgarth “As Kurt Hahn put it ‘Education must enable young people to effect what they have recognized to be right, despite hardships, despite dangers, despite inner skepticism, despite boredom, and despite mockery from the world’.”

In its most dynamic form, Global Competence is about developing and exercising the necessary skills and understanding to effect positive change on a global scale. At is most passive, it is about acceptance, tolerance and compassion. A generation whose learning journey affords the opportunity to develop both will perhaps be better equipped to work in harmony to tackle some of the global challenges that lie ahead.