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Global Citizen Education

How global citizen education is impacted through service learning

By October 19, 2020No Comments

The world is changing and with this comes changes to the education system, one such change is a focus on global citizen education. This approach to education aims to provide students with a broader perspective on different elements that affect the world and people in it as well as challenges students to play an active and leading role in creating a better world. Below we examine global citizenship education, how service-learning can impact this as well as other teaching approaches that facilitate the creation of leaders and global citizens.

What is global citizenship education?

Global citizenship education or global citizen education, which it is often referred to, was developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a response to challenges relating to human rights violations, inequality and poverty which all have an impact on peace and sustainability[1]. The goal of global citizenship education is to empower learners to engage and assume active roles, both locally and globally, to face and resolve global challenges[2]. Through this process, the hope is that students will help to create a world that is more inclusive, peaceful, tolerant, just, secure, and sustainable.

Many people liken global citizen education to civic education as both approaches focus on the same core values. They both promote greater understanding and aim to teach students how to live together and respect different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Global citizenship education takes this a step further by focusing on three conceptual dimensions which include[3]:

  • Cognitive dimension – which focuses on learners’ acquisition of knowledge, skills, understanding and critical thinking.
  • Socio-emotional dimension – which relates to a learner’s sense of belonging to a common humanity, sharing values and responsibilities, empathy, solidarity and respect differences for differences and diversity.
  • Behavioral dimension – which aims at empowering learners to act responsibly at local, national, and global levels for a more peaceful and sustainable world.

A global citizen is created when these dimensions come together in the form of a global citizen education framework.

What does it mean to be a global citizen?

The term global citizen has gained popularity in recent years, but many do not understand what a global citizen is and what it means to be one.  A global citizen is aware of, and understands, the wider world and their place in it[4]. It is a person who takes an active role in their community and works together with others to make the world more equal and sustainable. A global citizen is an agent of change and is able to[5]:

  • Develop the knowledge, skills, and values they need to engage with the world
  • Understands and respects other perspectives, cultures and diversity
  • Believes that they can make a difference
  • Build their own understanding of world events
  • Think about their values and what is important to them
  • Take learning into the real world
  • Challenge ignorance and intolerance
  • Get involved in their local, national, and global communities
  • Develop an argument and voice their opinions.
  •  See that they have the power to act and influence the world around them
  •  Inspire and informs others

There is no doubt that there are several different benefits to developing global citizens and that global citizen education is the framework and pathway to this, but how do we get it right in and out of the classroom?

Global Citizenship Education in the Classroom: What does it look like?

There has been a debate in the industry about when to introduce the global citizen education framework into schools, with many saying that it is better suited for post-primary levels because of the mature subject nature. But this is not the case, especially where the socio-emotional dimension is concerned. This dimension has to do with the formation of attitudes and values which can be done with information and knowledge in a classroom system but ultimately needs to be facilitated through accumulated experiences and socialization processes[6]. These value and belief systems are known to develop in the earlier schooling years, which is why this framework should be implemented from early childhood learning through to tertiary learning.

Many have also asked the question: “Should global citizenship education be a separate subject?”, as you would have mathematics, you would have global citizenship. To answer this question, global citizenship education is a teaching framework that promotes core values related to non-discrimination, respect for diversity, solidarity, and humanity[7]. Many schools have created global citizenship subjects that focus on global issues such as social justice while developing key skills and dispositions in the process. However, this is reliant on one teacher delivering the curriculum rather than an integrated framework that can be implemented by the whole school. For this framework to work effectively within a school environment, it needs to be incorporated into both the education policy and curriculum.

One of the most effective pedagogies for implementing global citizenship education is service-learning.

Service-learning and Global Citizenship Education

Service-learning is a pedagogy that has proven to be effective in engaging students in their course work as it creates opportunities for critical thinking, problem-solving, and develops communication and leadership skills in students. This approach focuses on creating student engagement within the community and connects positive and meaningful action with the community to help meet the needs and apply learning for transfer, agency, and reciprocity. Service-learning pedagogy is usually facilitated through experiential learning. It aims to connect what students are learning inside the classroom with what is happening outside the classroom and in their community in order to meet a need. 

John Hattie’s Visible Learning research rates Service Learning at .58 effect size when compared to a normal year’s student growth which is measured at .40. This is in the blue zone of desired effects for increased student learning and the benefits include engagement, agency, improved health and wellbeing, reciprocity with community, and the development of learner competencies such as communication, collaboration, empathy, resilience, critical thinking, problem solving, research, reflection, and self efficacy.

To facilitate global citizen education, service-learning activities need to be “glocalized” and offer the potential for local issues to be considered in a global context and adapted for diverse communities[8]. This ultimately empowers students to consider their position in the world, their relationship to political and social institutions and to think outside of their own cultural boundaries and biases. To achieve this, service-learning makes use of the following teaching approaches[9]:

  • Critical pedagogy – this form of experiential learning seeks to challenge inequality by confronting divisions created by race and class as well as by promoting equality and democracy through education. The basis of this approach is to get students to question existing structures, reflect on power and increase their critical consciousness.
  • Transformative learning – service-learning is used to develop the conditions needed for transformative learning by creating ambiguity, dissonance, disorientation, and disequilibrium. The conditions can be created locally to create a similar transformative immersion into an international experience.
  • Reflective practice – is used to assist students in connecting local and global experiences, reflecting on their position in the world, their relationship to political and social institutions and to consider the agency of community partners.

From the above, it is clear that service-learning answers to the cognitive dimension of global citizenship education, as it challenges students to think differently in order to analyze sources of information and build their knowledge and critical thinking skills with a global view. Through critical pedagogy, experiential learning and reflective practice, service-learning addresses the socio-emotional and behavioral dimensions of global citizenship education. Through experiences, community-focused activities, and active involvement, students are able to develop, test and build their own views, values and attitudes. This learning process also relies on other factors to be successful. These factors include the role of personalized learning, reciprocal community partnerships and the systems thinking approach.

The role personalized learning plays in creating a global citizen

Personalized learning is at the center of service-learning and global citizenship education. This teaching approach aims to challenge the “one-size” fits all view on teaching and learning. It has a more flexible approach to personalizing the way students learn as well as creates engagement and interaction with what they are learning. There are several elements associated with personalized learning which include[10]:

  • Active involvement and aiming towards understanding – active involvement focuses on inspiring creativity, self-reliance, problem solving and decision making skills in learners. This element looks at engaging students in what they are learning rather than just having them memorize information. This is often facilitated through project-based work where students are encouraged to explore real-world problems and work through possible solutions. Service-learning pedagogy is a fantastic way to promote active learning and involvement. Learning in this way moves the testing structure away from memorization 
  • Meaningful activities and helping students transfer – students are better able to understand what they are learning when the subject is paired with experiential learning activities. These activities need to be relevant to students and applied to real-life situations. This ultimately makes learning more meaningful for students which helps in student transfer.
  • Social participation – social participation is known to facilitate self-efficacy, respect for diversity, self-confidence, collaborative skills, avoidance of risk behaviors and resilience. Due to this, many forward-thinking schools are engaging their students and giving them a voice in systemic improvement. One of the ways this is being done is through service-learning activities, where students are encouraged to research community related needs or issues that need to be addressed and create solutions for these. In this kind of activity, the teacher is the facilitator, and students are empowered to take the lead.
  • Relating new information and restructuring prior knowledge – understanding new information is primarily based on a student’s understanding of prior information, as prior information is the foundation on which new information is built. But if a student does not understand the prior information, it may impact their understanding of new information. To overcome this, students need to learn how to solve internal inconsistencies and restructure existing conceptions. This can be done through several activities that include Visible Thinking strategies such as “think-pair-share” and even the game Minecraft.
  • Being strategic – critical thinking is at the heart of being strategic, and this is facilitated by teaching students effective and flexible strategies that help them understand, reason, memorize and solve problems. To assist with this, many schools have started teaching their students conceptual thinking techniques. Conceptual learning provides students with a chance to analyze and logically order data, formulate problems, identify, test and implement possible solutions, automate solutions via algorithmic thinking as well as generalize and apply this process to other problems.
  • Self-regulation and being reflective – self-regulation provides students with the knowledge and skills that allow them to reflect upon and respond to their surroundings. This is often based on what they see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, and to compare that perception with what they already know. But for self-regulation and reflection to be possible, students need to be in a learning environment where they are encouraged to take an active role in developing their skills and knowledge. This process also needs to be interactive, where the learner sets their goals, decides how to achieve them, and monitors the process, change the course of action etc.
  • Taking time to practice – learning is complex and requires time and often practice over and above the time allotted in a traditional school setting. It is essential to find personalized pathways for students to practice what they are learning through various opportunities. The use of technology, such as cloud-based conferencing solutions, allows students to collaborate and facilitate discussions which enables students to design their own learning path. Online learning also provides students with the opportunity to go at their own pace and practice, which is something that is not typically possible with traditional in-classroom learning approaches. Our Serve Learn Challenge for individual or collaborative service-learning online has helped many schools around the world continue with service learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. It can be downloaded as a free resource off our website:
  • Creating motivated learners – learner motivation is at the heart of successful learning. When a student is engaged, they are better able to understand and take in what they are learning. There are different ways in which teachers can help motivate and empower their learners. This includes adopting a variety of student-active teaching activities, setting realistic performance goals, placing appropriate positive emphasis on teaching and grading, being free with praise and constructive feedback and giving students as much control over their own learning as possible. Students are also better able to understand information or ideas and be more motivated if the information represents their lives.
  • Developmental and individual differences – students learn in different ways which is why their individual differences must be taken into consideration. Learning needs to be designed to meet the development and individual learning needs of all students. Many schools are doing this by providing multiple means of representation, action, expression and engagement.

Each of these personalized learning principles can be built on and facilitated through service-learning pedagogy and activities. This pedagogy enhances student engagement and understanding by connecting what students are learning in the classroom to what is happening in the world around them. This is primarily done through acts of service with the community, which is reliant on the needs of community partners.

The Role of Community Partners

Community partners play a significant role in the success of service-learning. This pedagogy is largely based on thoughtfully organized service that meets the needs of a community, in which the educational organization works in collaboration with a community partner. This partnership facilitates civic responsibility in students and encourages them to be active and involved citizens. Through these acts of service, students are also exposed to many different perspectives, experiences, and people, which opens up their world, views, beliefs and values. This answers to the socio-emotional and behavioral dimensions of global citizenship education.

Community partners play a co-educator role in a student’s education. These partnerships allow a community partner to act as an expert or mentor and educate students on business, social, cultural,  and political issues that impact the world around them[11]. Community partners have an opportunity to provide students with insights, knowledge and understanding of the community and enlighten students’ views. This helps learners to better understand their community and the impact that their service will have. Community partnerships have many benefits for both students and the community, these include:

Student benefits[12]:

  • Students are taken out of the classroom environment and into the community giving them a “real-life” experience that supports and contributes to academic learning and outcomes.
  • Students are given an opportunity to become active global citizens and be part of developing solutions that answer the problems that are impacting the community.
  • Students are challenged to broaden their perspectives, enhance critical thinking, improve interpersonal, communication and leadership skills.

Community partner benefits[13]:

  • Provides an opportunity for the community to participate in an educational partnership.
  • The community can enlighten and contribute to the education and preparation of the next generation of community leaders, non-profit employees, and public servants.
  • Provides opportunities to educate students about current issues that impact surrounding communities.
  • Increases volunteer resources and outcomes.
  • Provides opportunities for collaborative funding projects.

Community partnerships play a pivotal role in educating students about current issues that impact surrounding communities. This kind of collaboration not only expands a student’s perspective but gives them a greater understanding of the needs of the community. Armed with this, learners are empowered to make a difference and become agents of change. When students start seeing themselves as part of the solution, can understand different perspectives and realize that they can have an impact on the greater system, they become responsible global citizens.

service learning projects

The Impact of Systems Thinking

Facilitating global citizenship education and the creation of global citizens requires educators to utilize the systems thinking approach. In this approach, teachers are responsible for creating a sustainable learning environment that is focused on empowering students to see themselves as part of a greater system.

Systems thinking encourages teachers and students to explore inter-relationships (context and connections), perspectives (each student has their own unique perception of the situation), and boundaries (agreeing on scope scale and what might constitute an improvement)[14]. This approach is primarily used to address overly complex problems that have several different interconnecting parts in the system. These complex problems are adaptive and continuously evolving, which requires a dynamic way of thinking and an orientation towards organizational and social learning[15].

By using a system thinking approach, teachers help students understand that there is always going to be a different need, problem, or issue, as the system is continuously changing and adapting. This encourages students to continually aim to learn more, think critically about sustainable development, their positions, perspectives, the part they play and impact they have on the world around them.


Global citizen education plays a significant role in the creation of students who are globally engaged. This educational framework helps to steer students in the direction of what is right by educating them on human rights violations, inequality, poverty and sustainability. But this framework is more than just standing in front of a classroom, reading from a textbook and sharing information. It involves taking students out of the traditional learning environments, personalizing their learning experience, making it relevant to them and showing them that they are part of a complex interconnected system. Through service-learning, students are given experiences and a chance to interact with the world around them, their community and people who are different from them. This expands students views, beliefs, and value systems. The chain reaction to this is the creation of a future leader who is more tolerant, kinder, able to see things from all perspectives, is empathetic to others, can think critically, problem solve and sees themselves as being an agent of change – a responsible global citizen.


[1] UNESCO. Global citizenship education. Available at:’s%20response%20to%20these%20challenges.&text=It%20aims%20to%20instil%20in,human%20rights%20and%20sustainable%20development.

[2] UNESCO. The ABC’s of Global Citizenship Education. Available at:

[3] UNESCO. The ABC’s of Global Citizenship Education. Available at:

[4] Oxfam Organization. What is global citizenship. Available at:,more%20equal%2C%20fair%20and%20sustainable.&text=Build%20their%20own%20understanding%20of%20world%20events.

[5] Oxfam Organization. What is global citizenship. Available at:,more%20equal%2C%20fair%20and%20sustainable.&text=Build%20their%20own%20understanding%20of%20world%20events.


[6] UNESCO. The ABC’s of Global Citizenship Education. Available at:

[7] UNESCO. The ABC’s of Global Citizenship Education. Available at:

[8] James Cook University. Service Learning for global citizenship: theories, pedagogies, and student and

community experiences. Available at:

[9] James Cook University. Service Learning for global citizenship: theories, pedagogies, and student andcommunity experiences. Available at:

[10] Microsoft. Personalized learning for global citizens. Available at:

[11] Centre for community engagement. Guide to service learning. Available at:

[12] Centre for community engagement. Guide to service learning. Available at:

[13] Centre for community engagement. Guide to service learning. Available at:

[14] Learning for sustainability. Systems thinking. Available at:

[15] Learning for sustainability. Systems thinking. Available at:

Tara Barton

Tara brings passion and a deep understanding of service learning, rooted in years of experience, to her training. Her training builds bridges from theory to implementation while generously sharing her resources and knowledge to ensure our success. Tara works with the whole school (administration, teachers, students, and SL leaders) to build a sustainable program that is embedded in the curriculum and tied to the mission. She energized a faculty on a Friday afternoon, no easy feat, leaving them with a desire to learn more about SL and to become more involved. I cannot recommend Tara highly enough.

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