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Three Main Challenges That Educators Face When Teaching their Students How to Be Global Citizens

Written by Russ Gadzhiev, PhD


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  – American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead


“No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.”  – Former U.N. Secretary General and Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan


“A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” –  Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen


The never-stopping process of globalization has changed our lives tremendously. In fact, globalization is continuing to have an enormous impact on every single aspect of our life – our personal relationships, careers and, of course, education. Education is influenced by global processes in many ways. But most importantly, educators are finally starting to realize that education must respond to global processes.

It is understood that educators need to make students aware of the existing issues and problems so that when they grow up, they know how to tackle them. These issues include poverty, war, environmental problems, the challenges to sustainable development, political instability around the world and many others. Educators that acknowledge these problems and make them part of their school curricula are preparing children and students to deal with these problems in the future.

Apart from that, what are the main goals of global citizenship education? Well, there are many. If we are talking about the cognitive dimension of global citizenship, then here we mean the need to help students understand and develop critical thinking about global, regional, and local issues. Here we are also talking about the need to help students understand that different countries and people are interconnected and interdependent. 

When we talk about socio-emotional aspects of global citizenship education, then we usually talk about helping students develop a sense of belonging to their communities as well as different other communities. We also strive to impart values and responsibility and other qualities that will make them global citizens. These qualities include being empathetic, solidarity and having respect for diversity and people’s differences.

Finally, there is a behavioural dimension of global citizenship education. It is usually concerned with helping students act effectively and in a responsible manner at the local, national, and global levels to make sure that we are living in a more peaceful and sustainable world. 

However, despite the obvious benefits of such education, many teachers, and educators all over the world are still reluctant to embrace the idea of its importance as well as incorporate it into their curricula. There are many reasons for that. One of the main reasons for such reluctance to embrace global citizenship education is that teaching students how to be global citizens entails many difficulties and challenges. In this article, we are going to explore these challenges and try to understand how to deal with them. 


Some teachers and educators are afraid that when teaching their students global citizenship education, they will be accused of indoctrinating them.


On the one hand, such concern is perfectly understandable. Indeed, delivering global citizenship education implies tackling global issues, including political issues. And this is where concerns about “indoctrination” may arise. Some teachers may think that when they talk about politics and political leaders, they are imposing their political views on their students. 

So how can we tackle and address this concern on the part of teachers? What we need to remember is that usually, it is quite easy to tell when someone is trying to “indoctrinate” others and when someone is just impartially talking about their political views. Most students these days can understand that too. Likewise, in order not to make classes on politics look or sound like indoctrination, teachers can approach teaching these issues creatively. For example, instead of just talking about politics, teachers can encourage students to organize debates. During these debates, each student will be able to make an argument for his or her point of view. There will be many opinions and many statements so this class will not come across as a class on indoctrination. 


Some teachers may lack the confidence required to make and deliver lessons on controversial issues.


This concern can also be perfectly understandable. Because many global issues (especially those ones considered controversial) may extend to some of the students themselves (especially if we are talking about multicultural classes and environments) than indeed teachers may want to be sensitive and cautious. Such sensitivity and caution are needed not to upset students whose lives are directly affected by global issues. 

 There is also another problem here. Global citizenship education means talking about current issues, issues that are developing right now. Some of these issues are quite unpredictable and for a teacher wishing to talk about them, there is no script or way to prepare. In fact, teachers indeed may need to improvise. A teacher must have a strong, solid understanding of global issues himself to be able to instruct his students. And that is something that some teachers may be lacking.

What can be done here to remedy this? Well, before we start teaching global citizenship to our students, we need to become global citizens ourselves. To become global citizens, we do not necessarily need to travel around the world (which would be beneficial). To become global citizens, we can start watching the news, for example. We can encourage our students to start watching the news and then offer them an opportunity to discuss the news in class. Ask them different questions about what they have heard. So here you will achieve two goals: you will be teaching your students to become global citizens and you will be helping them develop critical thinking too. It should be said that global citizenship and critical thinking go hand in hand and are both inextricably related.


Teachers may be sceptical that global citizenship education is important and must be taught to students.


This is one of the common reasons why many teachers are still reluctant to incorporate global citizenship into their curricula. Indeed, many teachers simply do not want to accept the fact that global citizenship is important. They may think that global citizenship is some fad, some useless fashionable concept that in fact does not have any value. That is why educators who are aware of the importance of global citizenship education interact with their colleagues and share their experiences on teaching global issues. The mutual exchange between educators will help to disseminate ideas on global citizenship further. 

In this article, we have discussed three main reasons why educators and teachers are reluctant to embrace the idea of global citizenship and incorporate discussions of global issues in their lesson plans. Some of them are easily rectifiable, but some of them may require more effort. If you are a teacher or educator enthusiastic about global citizenship, make sure you discuss the importance of global citizenship with your colleagues (who could be less enthusiastic about it). Your mission is important – by talking about the importance of global citizenship you will convince them to follow your example. 

Only by teaching global citizens will we be able to make sure that future generations are able to cope with global problems and issues. If unattended and ignored many of these issues will have a negative impact on our planet and the quality of life of future generations. Global citizens are not only concerned about global issues, but they also take part in the affairs of their local communities. If we raise more initiative-taking citizens like this, we will be able to promote democracy around the world and demolish the existing dictatorship. So, we should not underestimate the importance of global citizenship as educators.


If you wish to learn more about the concept of global citizenship and its importance, please have a look at other articles in our blog. Our experts have looked at the issue of global citizenship from different perspectives that may seem more interesting to you. Good luck and do not forget that when providing your students with knowledge on global issues and problems you are making a great contribution to our world’s prosperity. 





Russ Gadzhiev obtained his PhD in history and politics from University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and effectively communicates with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese.

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Chris is from Devon, in the south of England. He has been teaching English as a foreign language for over six years and has taught in China, the UK, Hungary and Spain. He has a background in Music and studied Composition at the RSAMD in Glasgow, Trinity Laban in London and at the University of York. After finishing his master’s at York, he travelled to China to teach and fell in love with it. He has been teaching ever since.

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