What is a ‘Global Citizen’ and are you one?

What is a ‘Global Citizen’ and are you one?

In the past two decades a new and highly profitable industry has emerged. It is expanding so fast few if any are able to accurately quantify it. We do know it operates in most every country, turns over billions of dollars, services many millions of clients, makes vast sums of profit for owners and investors, is staffed by hundreds of thousands of professionals, and yet is barely understood by most people, even those working in it.

And just what is this industry?

Learning how to be a global citizen.

The global growth in international schooling is one of the business/educational phenomenon of the past two decades. In 1999 there were approximately 2500 schools teaching 1 million students. Today, it is estimated there are over 8000 schools teaching over 4 million students. Research by the International School Consultancy Group reveals a 41.5% increase in the past five years alone. These schools (English-medium, K-12) are catering for the growing legions of middle-class parents around the world, all of whom are seeking a quality ‘globalised’ education for their children and are willing to pay for it. At this rate of expansion we are likely to see well over 12,000 designated and accredited international schools by 2022.

12,000 is a lot of schools, but in reality we are already well above that figure if we total such schools based on their international curriculum; e.g. those which offer the Cambridge International Examination (10,000+); those which offer the International Baccalaureate (4,583); and those schools which offer, for example, Canadian, American, Australian, Singapore accredited curriculums abroad (I’ve no idea how many this is, but it’s a lot). Add in all the private educational organisations similarly catering for this market in some form or another (e.g. Bloomberg identifies four Chinese school companies listed on the HK stock exchange all benefiting from the mainland’s 287.9 billion yuan private education industry) and one begins to acquire some appreciation of this industry’s size and reach.

The driver behind this amazing growth is globalisation. Specifically, the quite reasonable and rational desire by parents to get the best education for their children and judging that education to be of more value to their offspring if it offers global opportunities for study and work. Indeed, arguably the most prominent international school accrediting organisation, the Council of International Schools (CIS), places ‘the active development of global citizenship in education’ at the very centre of its vision and as a core expectation of all CIS member schools.

But just what does it mean to be a ‘global citizen’?

And are you one?

At this point we have to leave the world of facts, figures and balance sheets, and enter the world of subjective perspective. So please allow me to help you make sense of this highly amorphous concept. Well, give you my perspective.

Let us start by recognising that no one, by precise definition, can be a global citizen. Citizens exist by virtue of being legal subjects of a nation with the right to passports, to pay taxes, to reside. No one has that right, globally. In which case ‘global citizenship’ is an oxymoron, and impossible to achieve. We also know that some passports are more valuable than others, in that they’ll enable you to visit more countries, visa-free; e.g. Germany, Sweden, Singapore, Denmark, UK, being at the top. Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan at the bottom. So whether or not you can aspire to being a global citizen depends a lot on where you were born.

But there is something else at work here, and it’s not just about which country you were born in. It is about how you personally relate to globalisation and the opportunities now available in a world shrunken by the rapid advances in information technology. In other words, are you an internationalist or a localist? A very pertinent question at a time when we are seeing a rise in ‘anti-globalisation’ feeling, at least in the USA and parts of Europe.

The tens of millions of parents now sending their kids to private and international schools have already answered this question for themselves; they are on the side of globalisation. Increasing numbers of these parents are Asian, which reinforces the argument that far from being dead, the impetus for globalisation has now moved to Asia.

So, back to the question as to how we might identify and define a ‘global citizen’.

Below are the qualities, skills and aptitudes that I consider anyone must have if they are to assume themselves to be ‘global citizens’ and be active in that identity (you can place them in your own order of priority):

  1. To have some fluency in English language
  2. To have awareness and appreciation of other cultures
  3. To be comfortable in their own culture but respectful of others
  4. To be employable outside their own country (e.g. a professional)
  5. To be able to relate to people from different backgrounds
  6. To have self-confidence and related presentational skills
  7. To have some appreciation of the current major issues facing the world
  8. To have good information technology skills
  9. To be open-minded and tolerant towards others
  10. To espouse a personal value system which is ethical and principled
  11. To have experienced a good standard of compulsory education
  12. Ideally, to have experienced a good standard of college/university education (though not essential)

I know, many of you may disagree with some of these criteria, and certainly the first one, English language, which may be superseded by Mandarin some decades hence, though right now English is first.

Having stated what I judge a global citizen must be, I can also state the characteristics that, in my opinion, bar anyone from being or becoming a global citizen:

  1. Bigoted
  2. Racist
  3. Colonialist
  4. Sexist
  5. Misogynistic
  6. Religious radical
  7. Monocultural thinking/cultural supremacist
  8. Discriminatory (e.g. homophobic)
  9. Corrupt, criminal and venal in their practices
  10. Dismissive of and threatened by, the ‘other’ (e.g. anyone different)

You’ll notice that I personally don’t place a high value on certain academic attainments. Some kids will do well at maths, physics, PE, art, history, etc, some won’t. Failing in a maths exam will not in itself deny a child the opportunity to become a global citizen.

What is being promoted here is less a skill and more an attitude and value system; one of inclusiveness, inter-culturalism, multiculturalism, communality, unity in diversity, willing to assume a shared responsibility for humanity’s future. The English language and technology skills enable that person to communicate and relate, globally.

In my opinion, all good stuff. Which is why I am fully supportive of the drive to encourage children to think of themselves as global citizens and work towards that goal; to feel one is part of a global village community. It seems to me an inherently sane and desirable way to proceed if humanity is to survive.

Which brings me to Trump, Brexit and all those nationalist/isolationist hyenas currently baying at the gates.

Trump may be worth billions and be President of the USA, but he is certainly no global citizen. Nor are most of those Brits who voted for Brexit. Nor the European fascists about to vote in Italy, France, the Netherlands.

There are always the resisters, always the haters, always those afraid of diversity and difference.

But one expects that the millions of children around the world, currently going through global citizenship education, will not be among them. Which is one good reason to hope that one day these kids will assume the mantle of global citizen leadership.






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