Building a Wales of Active Global Citizens

The picture shows children looking towards a whiteboard in a classroom. They seem to be listening intently. The picture serves to illustrate an article about global citizenship.

Susie Ventris-Field outlines the importance of global citizenship to a thriving Welsh democracy, and argues that we need a roadmap for global citizenship education that goes far beyond the school gates

One measure of progress for the Well-being of Future Generations Act is the number of active global citizens in Wales. But what is active global citizenship? How do people become global citizens? What would a Wales filled with active global citizens look like?

At the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA), we’ve been delivering Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship (which we call global citizenship here) for decades in schools, but the understanding of what this means, outside of formal education, is limited. Even in schools, where global citizenship is embedded in the Curriculum for Wales, delivery is patchy because of gaps in teacher capacity, Initial Teacher Training, professional learning and, in some cases, a lack of teacher confidence in delivering content on some of global citizenship themes.

At its very core, a citizen – a global citizen – cares what happens to their fellow citizens, wherever they are in the world, taking responsibility for the impact of their own actions on the world, and taking an active part in making the world a better (or at least not a worse) place.

If we’re to achieve the well-being goals, a sustainable Wales and a thriving democracy, we need to address the citizenship gap.  

Why active global citizenship matters

IWA’s Building Bridges: Wales’ democracy – now, and for our future highlights a deficit in democratic education. We would argue that global citizenship is a core part of democratic education and vice-versa.  

We are intrinsically and inextricably linked with the rest of the world – people, cultures, languages and ideas are constantly crossing borders. The big issues that affect us for good or bad – climate change, air pollution, biodiversity loss, cost-of-living, migration, conflict, new technology, population trends – are all global in nature, although manifestations of these issues are unequal in terms of benefits and harms. The least wealthy and powerful feel the worst impacts of these global challenges (such as the impacts of climate change) and get the least benefit from the positives (such as the rapid development of the Covid-19 vaccination).

The world has an impact on us, and we impact the rest of the world. These impacts can be positive or negative. At its very core, a citizen – a global citizen – cares what happens to their fellow citizens, wherever they are in the world, taking responsibility for the impact of their own actions on the world, and taking an active part in making the world a better (or at least not a worse) place. If we have a Wales filled with active global citizens, working together in communities, public bodies, businesses and public services, the goal of being a globally responsible nation becomes feasible.

What is a global citizen?

There are lots of definitions of global citizenship (including in indicator 4.7 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals) which we believe boil down to some basic ingredients:

  • Interest and curiosity: Do you care what is happening in your community, your country and the wider world? Are you interested in how local, national and global dimensions are connected? A global citizen is curious about the world and hungry for and open-minded to different perspectives.
  • Knowledge and understanding: A basic understanding of how some key systems in the world work and how countries interact with one another. Key themes include sustainable development, peace and conflict, human rights, globalisation, social justice and equality, power and governance.
  • Skills: A global citizen can navigate a complex and uncertain world. This involves creativity, critical thinking, media literacy, self-awareness, cooperation, conflict resolution, negotiation, reflection, and empathy. They need the skills to be able to voice their informed opinions and listen to the opinions of others.
  • Values and attitudes:  Global citizens care what happens to people, they are committed to social justice and equality and respect human rights. Fundamentally, they believe people can bring about change.
  • Taking responsibility and taking action: Vitally, all citizenship, including global citizenship, is about taking responsibility for our own actions. It’s not just about understanding the world or having an opinion. A global citizen’s actions align to their knowledge, skills and values. How they vote, work, shop, travel, campaign and take part in their community is rooted in their sense of citizenship.

Wales and global citizenship – where are we now?

There are excellent pockets of global citizenship delivery in Wales, particularly in schools (with a number of case studies examined here). However, the IWA’s Building Bridges report highlights a lack of teacher training pathways and specialist delivery with regards to democratic education; this extends to the wider global citizenship agenda. Outside of schools, delivery seems even patchier, with a very limited understanding of what global citizenship is evident in many quarters, such as adult education and workplace learning.

Syniadau uchelgeisiol, awdurdodol a mentrus.
Ymunwch â ni i gyfrannu at wneud Cymru gwell.

In all settings, delivery of global citizenship interventions can be reductionist: a global citizenship day on a specific topic, an optional module in sustainable development, a lesson on climate change. These can all be powerful interventions, but may miss several of the key ingredients required by an active global citizen including understanding the ‘big picture’ of an issue (with climate change, for example, we must learn about energy use but also the impact of the industrial revolution and colonialism, climate migration and food shortages) or supporting young people to tackle the complexities of a problem.

When people are supported to raise their own voices, take individual or collective action on the things that matter to them, and understand how they can personally make a difference, it alleviates anxiety.

This approach can carry risks, including that people simply learn a series of facts about the science of climate change, or the impact their mobile phone has on the environment, or the plight of refugees; it can cause significant anxiety, inertia and powerlessness. In one example, some pupils who learned about the negative impact of mobile phones but not the changemaking skills needed to do something about that impact felt guilty and powerless.

In contrast, there is increasing evidence that when people are supported to raise their own voices, take individual or collective action on the things that matter to them, and understand how they can personally make a difference, it alleviates anxiety. Therefore, including changemaking skill sets in citizenship interventions is vital.

One participant in our Mock COP and Youth Climate Ambassadors programme said: ‘I know climate change can sometimes feel really scary…however, being involved in real action with young people is inspirational and can relieve that climate anxiety.’

When people are interested in an issue, and passionate about it, but lack media literacy skills or curiosity, there is a risk they only pay attention to information that supports their viewpoint. There are multiple examples of active citizens campaigning on the basis of mis- or disinformation.

The Minister for Education’s commitment to ‘Students-as-citizens and citizens-as-students’ is laudable, but it must include the full recipe for citizenship – not just a couple of ingredients.

On a positive note, there is a truly progressive agenda in Wales on global citizenship. In the Curriculum for Wales, one of the four purposes is to support the development of ‘ethical and informed citizens of Wales and the world’. The ingredients of global citizenship are embedded throughout the Areas of Learning and Experience and the progression steps. Global citizenship is one of our national measures of success. 

There is investment into citizenship pilots for adults and climate education at all ages. Scalable programmes are also already being delivered to support citizenship, from The Democracy Box’s materials and Talking Shops, to ChangeMakers and Peace Schools. A teacher who has taken pupils through Peace Schools scheme said: ‘Children now understand how their voices can be heard, they have been involved in decision-making and have been involved in critical thinking and skill challenge groups’ while a Peace School teacher commented: ‘The Peace Ambassadors helped to create a respectful and collaborative atmosphere in the school. The Ambassadors’ personal enthusiasm for the school Pupil Voice and the need to participate has been infectious for the whole school. There is active engagement with the local Youth Council as well as many wanting to take part in other school initiatives such as Digital Leaders and the Eco School Committee.’  “”

Wales therefore has the potential to lead the way and to create a nation of active, global citizens.

How can Wales become a nation of global citizenship?

There are some simple steps for Wales to move towards becoming a nation of active global citizens which build on the recommendations in the IWA’s Building Bridges report.

  • Co-create a lifelong learning global citizenship framework for Wales aligned to the Well-being of Future Generations Act. The framework would act as a guide for all education settings and workplaces in developing their interventions.
  • Map the existing resources and interventions in this space: identify what is already working and where the gaps are. This should include the provision available both within and beyond schools. A number of organisations are working with schools to develop and/or deliver resources; fewer are working in the post-16 sector but across the board there should be more coordination and an assessment of the barriers that educators face in using these resources.
  • Pilot interventions where there are gaps, especially in post-16 education and workplace learning. For example, Public Health Wales have piloted global citizenship modules for NHS staff in Wales
  • Upscale successful interventions.

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Susie Ventris-Field is Chief Executive of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs

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