Global Learning at Any Age

A Global Kids participant holds up an award. (cambodia4kidsorg/flickr)

To young people of all backgrounds and ages, the world can be a fascinating place. But how do you open up the world for young people who may have never traveled beyond their own neighborhood? Global learning must take account of how children learn and grow, and educators need to select concepts and issues that are developmentally appropriate. Afterschool programs should also consider the various places and spaces where children can access global experiences, including via technology and online.

For young children, expand their world view by starting with self and family. Then broaden their knowledge to other children and families around the world. Young children have a natural sense of empathy and curiosity. They understand the concepts of difference, comparing and contrasting, and giving and taking. It is both developmentally appropriate and powerful to help them share, give, and think outwardly.

In middle childhood, 6- to 10-year-olds form more complex relationships beyond family, particularly with peers. They are increasingly able to analyze and categorize, which, under some circumstances, can lead to prejudice and stereotyping. But they are also developing a strong sense of morality and fairness. They can grasp multiple perspectives and explore how and why people live and learn differently in other places.  

Early adolescents have a sense of how things connect and can understand causality. They’re becoming good problem-solvers and critical thinkers and are looking for ways to make a difference. They want to interact socially with other young people as they start to seek independence and define their identity. This age is ripe for tackling global issues like the environment, and collaborating across borders online and in person.

Teens and high school students are ready for a lot of choice and a lot of voice. Global activities can be a strong draw for older youth, offering opportunities to take leadership on issues about which they care deeply. International affairs debates are very attractive to this age group, as are apprenticeship models where teens master high-level skills under the tutelage of experts and professionals.

Global Kids, an afterschool program in New York, develops high school leaders through its Power of Citizenry program and Online Leadership Program. Urban youth become informed about global issues, develop leadership skills, and explore higher education and careers, particularly those in international affairs through a summer program in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations.  

Global Kids youth leaders educate their peers by organizing conferences, creating media projects, leading workshops in classrooms, and developing public awareness campaigns. For example, the Global Kids Annual Youth Conference is designed and led by youth participants. They identify the theme, conduct research, develop and facilitate workshops, and emcee the event—all intended to educate and inspire their peers to become informed about global issues and take action in their communities. Themes include: Environment and Sustainability, Global Health, Globalization and the Media, and more.

Global Kids participants also learn how to use technology, including virtual worlds and games, as a vehicle to educate and inspire others to take action. A group of high school youth working with Global Kids staff and a game design company created “Ayiti: The Cost of Life,” in which players learn about poverty by assuming virtual responsibility for a fictional family in Haiti, making decisions about when to send children to school vs. work, and how to spend scarce resources. This and other “serious games” on global issues can be found through Games for Change, an organization that promotes digital games for social change.  

At any age, a focus on global literacy can help to build the foundation for empathy, civic participation, and career success as well as strategies that help youth deal with complexity in their own lives.