Jon Gray, the headteacher of York House School, writes about teaching global responsibility in the classroom
Rewind 20 years and there was much less emphasis on children’s need to become global citizens. Whilst overseas travel wasn’t rare a decade ago, it certainly felt like a real journey of adventure into the unknown. Children today, travel (at least before the pandemic they did), relatively easily and inexpensively to a range of nations. In our digitally driven world, it is sometimes hard to fathom that not so long ago, communicating with people overseas, meant either talking over the telephone or writing letters.
Whereas learning about other countries was a staple diet of the curriculum in the past, children may now need more encouragement to participate in the local society they belong within. The curriculum of course, still features knowledge of the world especially in subjects like geography and science where topics such as the environment, are thankfully put on centre stage. Seeing individuals including Greta Thunberg play a real part in that geopolitical landscape, helps children feel they are part of the story and not simply observers.
It is important that this admirably broad canvas still attracts brush strokes from the children viewing it. They may not be able to do anything directly about the level of emissions in a major country, but they almost certainly can plant new trees in their gardens at home or on their school site. That in itself is valuable; a generation that acts will contribute more than one, which “de-platforms” and feels virtuous about itself as a result. As schools we can hope to have a positive impact on this front by educating pupils who set out to leave people and places better than they find them.
It’s not just about a global outlook. Children are certainly changing the way they think about their local area today. Something that comes strongly via the lens of sustainability is the importance of “Doing No Harm.” That is immediately related to the environment, but it also goes to areas of vexation such as traffic flow and the aesthetic landscape. Sometimes of course, the wider landscape is almost too vast to grasp. The individual story of the individual child in another context, is often more attainable and effective. Visiting inspirational speakers who have really been there, seen it and tasted it can also be extraordinarily powerful.