Education towards global competence in the 21st century


Last week saw the inaugural education conference at my school’s parent university, the first Srinakharinwirot University Conference in Education (SWUICE). The theme of the conference was ‘Education towards global competence in the 21st century’.

The keynote speech on the first day was given byProfessor Roger Moltzen, Dean of Education atWaikato University, New Zealand. Professor Moltzen gave a very interesting address, outlining what he considered to be the necessary elements for an education that would provide learners with the opportunity to become globally competent citizens. Although there were some other interesting speakers and sessions at the conference, in this post I would like to reflect on Professor Moltzen’s keynote address, because he touched on some points that I think are at the heart of a number of debates in education at the moment.

Professor Moltzen outlined what he considered a globally competent citizen might look like. Some of the attributes of a globally competent citizen which he identified are I suspect attributes which many educators have been instilling in their learners for many years. However I think there are some ideas, especially those relating to globalisation and technological advances, which are going to become increasingly important for learners in the 21st century. Therefore I think it is worth reproducing his ideas here.

What does a globally competent citizen look like?

– Can understand and appreciate, but also critique, their own culture, language & history

– Is informed & engaged with matters of social justice equity & inclusion

– Looks for and finds purpose in their lives

– Their disposition towards learning is more important than their hard knowledge due to rapid changes in knowledge & information

– Is prepared to take a stand & take a road less travelled

– Is opinionative & prepared to be contentious (we should be actively encouraging students to develop their own points of view)

– Is able to make appropriate decisions about when, where & how to express their views & act on their convictions

– Is ethical, behaves with integrity & takes responsibility for their actions

– Is aware, curious & interested in learning about the world & it’s peoples

– Is committed to environmental sustainability, both locally & globally

– Understands the why, not just the how, of social, cultural, ethnic, linguistic & religious diversity

– Is cross-culturally sensitive, informed & confident

– Speaks at least two languages

– Has well developed people skills – emotional intelligence (how do schools deal with this?)

– Thinks & acts critically, creatively, & caringly

– Has well-developed problem solving skills, & approaches tasks innovatively & laterally

– Is open to new ideas & seeks out multiple opinions, perspectives & approaches

– Listens & observes

– Can accommodate ambiguity, recognise complexity & is able to suspend judgement

– Realises that they can make a difference

– Is community-minded with a service orientation

– Understands the world through disciplinary & interdisciplinary eyes

– Is resilient

– Identifies & creates opportunities for personal or collaborative action to improve conditions

Professor Moltzen further suggested that education is increasingly no longer about the right answers, but about asking the right questions. He described an example of an assignment he sets with his students, where the students submit a question of their own, which they then have to answer. The assignment is then assessed both on the quality of the question and of the answer. He stressed the key factor for him when assessing these assignments was the need for original thinking in the development of the question and the way in which it was answered. He also noted that students had initially liked this approach (thinking it was easy!), but as they moved into it more deeply, became aware that it wasn’t as simple as it might have seemed at first.

He finished with two key questions for us as the audience:

– How well do we as educators model global competence?

– How do we develop the attributes that produce globally competent citizens?


A number of interesting points appear in this list, but I’ll focus on two that stood out for me. The first is the idea that a disposition towards learning will become increasingly more important than storing knowledge within the individual. This resonates withconnectivity theory, a theory of learning proposed by George Siemens in 2005 which incorporates both individual knowledge and knowledge contained within networks. As knowledge and information continue to increase exponentially, learners cannot possibly store these data within themselves, but need to know how to access, evaluate, and analyse them.

The second point I found compelling was the idea that an interdisciplinary orientation will become increasingly important. This is something that various approaches in education are seeking to address, for example project-based learning and STEM/STEAMinitiatives. However, with the confines of national curricula and high stakes examinations it is not always easy to incorporate these pedagogies.


I think that in his keynote speech, Professor Moltzen identified some of the key issues that many of us as educators are increasingly thinking about. I certainly found myself agreeing with the attributes of a globally competent citizen which he described. The question I find myself asking, from a classroom practice perspective, is how to reconcile the need for content knowledge, curriculum requirements, and examination-style assessments, with the need to enable learners to become globally competent citizens. Are these two approaches even compatible, and if they are, in what ways can we best help our learners become globally competent citizens?

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