The world is getting smaller day by day. Terms like global world, globalization, digital citizenship, and diversity are commonly heard in all sectors. The world’s structure and economy has changed to the extent that nothing is “local” anymore. The 21st century truly requires global mindedness as an operational framework along with global competency and diverse visions. The education system has been deeply impacted by these overwhelming changes. Increasing, there are calls for a global view and world citizenship to be taught to students in order for them to be responsible global citizens. It is said that global mindedness helps students academically, interpersonally, and with career aspirations. I wonder how we can help students grow and build skills that could help them succeed amidst a rapidly changing world. How can we engage our youth to become responsible global citizens, and to think and act in a global context?
I had the pleasure of participating in an engaging and creative solution to this question last month. Now in its fourth year, the Global Ideas Institute (GII) is an initiative of The Learning Partnership, the Munk School of Global Affairs, the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, and University of Toronto (U of T) Schools. The program aims to provide research and learning opportunities on global issues for high school students in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
This exciting program provide teams of 4-6 students the opportunity to tackle a real-world challenge without a current solution and try to come up with ideas to solve the problem. The challenge this year was the issue of financial inclusion in the Global South. Students were asked to provide some ideas on how to make financial services accessible for people in India, particularly in areas where there are not enough banks and financial institutions and people are not familiar with financial services or do not trust them. The students had the opportunity to attend monthly lectures by U of T professors to benefit from their expertise and experience in dealing with the global issue. The lectures and the supplementary materials provided context and knowledge for the students to work on the problem. The students also had U of T student mentors to support them through the process. At the end of the program, the students attended a day-long symposium to present their ideas to a panel of judges, teachers and other students. The program provided an interdisciplinary learning experience for students and they needed to apply learning from different fields to tackle the problem.
I had the chance to attend the 2015 symposium on April 8 and to listen to the students’ presentations. Twenty-nine student teams from across the GTA showcased their strong teamwork, knowledge, creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking and presentation skills. I was very impressed with the students’ ideas and presentations and the fact that they showed great passion about the challenge and their work. They came up with incredible ideas to provide financial inclusion for the poor, working women, and people living in villages. They were fascinated with the idea of founding non-profits that could educate people to trust financial institutions and to leverage their services. I was amazed with the students focus on public education and raising awareness. Some groups came up with providing mobile technology for people to use different financial applications. Others thought of low-interest loans and inexpensive financial services for people. The students’ ideas, marketing strategy, and business models made me think of what high school students could accomplish when given the chance. The students were very excited about the program. Some of them told me that they really enjoyed the experience within a university environment and as a “university student”. They described the experience as transformative, fantastic, and engaging.
We all know that our students in high school do not have enough opportunities in their curriculum to develop the knowledge and skills that help them succeed in a new challenging world. The consequences of this lack of global-mindedness for us as a country are enormous. As educators, we cannot afford to ignore the impact of a global mindset. Opportunities such as the Global Ideas Institute allow students to build the leadership skills that we need for the future, where global diversity is seen as an opportunity and strong component of a thriving world.
Negin Vatandoost is a Policy and Research Analyst at The Learning Partnership. Her focus is on research and evaluation, equity and education for the 21st century. Get in touch with Negin on Twitter @Neginva