The Role of Afterschool in Global Learning

A student maps human migrations as part of an afterschool project.

In order to become successful in a global age, all students from all backgrounds will need an array of educational opportunities to become globally literate—both during the school day and beyond. At the same time, the afterschool field is increasingly interested in how their programs can help all young people grow up prepared for life and work in these changing times. Global literacy—knowledge about the world, skills to collaborate across boundaries, and values of respect and understanding—is essential to this preparation. Afterschool educators and youth workers now have a new opportunity, and a new responsibility, to ensure that students are globally ready for college, work, and citizenship in the 21st century.

Successful afterschool programs develop and promote strong relationships among youth, schools, families, and community institutions. And afterschool educators bring a wealth of experience in developing understanding and appreciation of peoples and cultures. However, global literacy implies much more than exposing young people to the cultures in their communities. It requires an intentional approach to opening doors and expanding horizons for youth, so as to increase critical knowledge and skills for success.

Although we live in an interconnected world, many of America’s young people have yet to go beyond their block. Afterschool and summer programs help to redress equities among low-income and minority youth. This commitment must now be extended to providing global literacy opportunities to young people who are unable to access them otherwise. Afterschool programs can help all young people realize that they have both the right and the capacity to be successful on the world stage.

Informal learning programs, including afterschool, before-school, and summer programs in schools, community-based and faith-based organizations, cultural institutions and museums, and other settings, are appropriate places to try new things and look at learning and communities in new ways. As the education field considers how to best restructure the learning day and year for the benefit of youth, all kinds of education programs can benefit from a global approach that includes strong linkages between academic outcomes and youth development.

Afterschool programs are powerful resources for global literacy, and as such they can:

  • Expose young people to in-depth content about global issues as well as cultures, countries, and languages
  • Provide youth with opportunities to develop and use media literacy and technology skills to conduct research and communicate effectively on global topics
  • Enable social and emotional development critical to cross-cultural understanding, communication, and collaboration
  • Develop leadership and civic participation by empowering young people to take action on issues of both local and global relevance
  • Engage youth in learning about international possibilities in college and future careers

As Heather Weiss, Director of the Harvard Family Research Project states,“ There is a good fit between afterschool programs and global literacy because what both are trying to do is help a young person become a responsible and caring adult—responsible for themselves as citizens, workers, and family members.”

It is critical that afterschool programs take the next step—across thresholds, across boundaries, across cultures—and give young people new opportunities and skills to experience and engage the world.

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