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Advocacy Gains Momentum: Global Citizenship Education for the Early Years

Adrienne Henck, ACEI, 

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) community has long understood the importance of the early years in developing the foundational skills and attitudes necessary for children to become engaged, global citizens. It is during the period from birth to age eight that children discover who they are, start to explore their own identity, and begin to appreciate the unique identities of others. By learning to be together and work together, they form the building blocks for global citizenship including fairness, empathy, tolerance, and responsibility. As children's perspectives expand to encompass their school, community, nation, and the world, they take the first steps toward adopting the mindset of a global citizen—one who recognizes that in an increasingly interconnected world, we all must learn to respect one another, work together to address shared human challenges, and take action to create a more peaceful, just, and sustainable future for all.


The Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) has long advocated for global citizenship education (GCED) for young children. From 1944 when ACEI featured Margaret Mead’s article “Preparing Children for a World Society” in its flagship publication, Childhood Education, to more recently when the organization published a special theme issue of Childhood Education Innovations (Nov. 2017) devoted exclusively to GCED. The issue included contributions from ECCE notables like Robin Hancock, Director of the Guttman Center for Early Care & Education at Bank Street College of Education, and Leslee Udwin, Founder and President/CEO of THINK EQUAL, an NGO that advances social-emotional learning in preschools. Over the years global learning for young children has also been a frequent topic at ACEI’s Global Summit on Childhood, annual conferences, and other international events.


Most recently, following a mapping exercise of the global citizenship education landscape, ACEI found that most GCED activities globally are targeted to secondary school levels, completely overlooking the foundational early years. Therefore, ACEI launched Global Schools First to help primary school leaders and teachers assess their progress on integrating global citizenship education throughout their entire school. Schools have the opportunity to be recognized for their commitment and excellence in global citizenship education, share and learn about the innovative practices of other schools, and be inspired by a global community of educators. The aim is that this innovative, new model, designed exclusively for primary schools, will improve schools’ capacity to implement an integrated, whole-school approach to educating young children as global citizens. (Learn more about Global Schools First here and email if you would like more information about how to participate.)


The development of Global Schools First has taken place at a time when a global movement around GCED has been growing. In 2012, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon identified fostering GCED as one of three priorities (along with improving educational access and quality) of his signature Global Education First Initiative (GEFI). Taking the lead in bringing together relevant stakeholders, UNESCO organized the First Forum for Global Citizenship Education in Bangkok in 2013 and the following year released what would become a seminal document on GCED, Global Citizenship Education: Preparing Learners for the Challenges of the 21st Century. In 2015, UNESCO again convened GCED stakeholders in Paris for the Second Forum on Global Citizenship Education and subsequently published, Global Citizenship Education: Topics and Learning Objectives. That same year GCED formally became part of the global education agenda when it was included in Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Target 4.7) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, solidifying its role as a viable education approach for preparing children with the competencies needed to create a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.


The increasing momentum around GCED shows no signs of abating. In a huge win for the ECCE community, UNESCO recently indicated a new prioritization of GCED in early childhood education. A study is currently underway that examines how UNESCO’s three dimensions for learning and teaching GCED—cognitive, social-emotional, and behavioral—are reflected in ECCE, primary, and secondary education globally. Specially, the study is expected to explore the shifts in emphasis between the three dimensions throughout the different levels of schooling. Existing research suggests that ECCE tends to focus more heavily on the social-emotional dimension of GCE. Therefore, the UNESCO study will also examine whether early gains in social-emotional learning in GCED are retained throughout subsequent levels of schooling. The findings of the study will feed into the planning of, and be presented at, UNESCO’s Fourth Forum on Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship to be held in Putrajaya, Malaysia, in March 2019.


The confluence of these two global education priority areas—GCED and ECCE—is particularly exciting for ACEI. According to Executive Director, Diane Whitehead, “ACEI has focused on the early years of life for many years to ensure that all children receive a good foundation from which they can grow and develop optimally. This means supporting children in gaining skills that will help them to become global citizens—caring, compassionate, confident adults. ACEI is so excited about the momentum from UNESCO and others for supporting the holistic development of young children.” Through participation in UNESCO’s Fourth Forum in Malaysia as well as a Technical Consultation Meeting on the GCED Network (a global network of GCED implementing organizations convened by UNESCO Asia-Pacific Center for Education and International Understanding (APCEIU) in 2016), ACEI looks forward to continuing to elevate the importance of global citizenship education for the early years.

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