CS1 – Exploring Global Citizenship and Multilingualism

Global citizenship and especially multilingualism are concepts that more and more teachers are familiar with, but perhaps might struggle to offer a clear definition of. What exactly do these terms mean? And, why and how should these concepts be incorporated into contemporary teaching practices? The aim of unit 1 of the GCMC toolkit is to introduce these concepts and make them accessible for teachers, students, and teacher educators.

When discussing these terms (global citizenship and multilingualism), we realized that they were linked in our understandings because we see how local issues affect and are affected by global issues. Therefore, we centred Unit 1 around the relationship between local and global issues, and the role of languages.

In our case study, we worked with pre-service teachers to explore two exercises that addressed the topics of: ‘Interconnectedness’ and ‘Multilingualism’. Our aim was to raise awareness of our interconnectedness. The first exercise ‘Interconnectedness’ draws attention to the globalization around us by getting participants to consider how far some of our possessions have travelled to end up in our wardrobe or kitchen. The second exercise ‘Multilingualism’ aims to get participants to reflect on this topic by exploring interesting facts about languages and the ways in which languages may be similar or different.

Our participants, who worked with our materials, were pre-service teachers with varying degrees of teaching experience. We started our session by asking the pre-service teachers how they would define the terms ‘global citizenship’ and ‘multilingualism’. Many of the participants were studying to become language teachers so they had a clearer vision of the notion of multilingualism but many struggled to offer a definition of global citizenship. Their suggestions typically centred on the idea that global citizens are those who have travelled the world and are interested in knowing more about places across the globe. Very few considered the idea of citizenship and the implication of people all being citizens of the planet with a sense of shared responsibility for global issues. Hardly any participants took this idea further to consider the idea that actions on a local level can impact others on a global scale. After discussing their ideas and thoughts, we offered three definitions per concept and provided discussion time. Participants revisited their initial ideas and considered in what ways there were points of connection to these definitions or new concepts to explore. One participant shared the following thought: “I think the term global citizenship is a bit newer, to give this approach a name. But it’s the same thought: ‘How the world is connected, how we all come together’ and that we need things from everywhere. And then it can be random things like, ‘Where does our petrol come from? And why is it so expensive now? And how is that connected?’”

What resonated the most with our participants was the importance of teaching their students about embracing diversity and empowering them to feel that they are able to make a difference in the world through their own actions. After having examined the toolkit and its topics as a whole, the participants reflected on activities from their own school time or current practice which address similar or related concepts. They commented on how they were often dealt with individually bur rarely, if ever, within a sense of interconnectedness and taking a holistic, global perspective on the topics such as environmentalism or poverty. One participant mentioned that they discussed how clothing is produced and how far clothes travel before arriving in our wardrobes, but that the underlying message was not explicitly dealt with.

Working on the exercise about ‘Interconnectedness’, the participants appreciated how it helped to make clear the potential global impact of everybody’s actions. In the exercise, students are asked to look at their clothes and food items, and to note down in which countries these items were produced. We started by getting participants to check the origins of the clothing they were wearing to give them a feeling of what this activity might look like in class. We then discussed their personal shopping habits and how mindful they are about buying regional produce. The participants found this to be a thought-provoking and eye-opening activity and particularly liked the idea of visualising the results on a world map. A participant suggested the potential for combining this activity with a field trip to visit a supermarket where students look at the origins of products. It was also suggested that this exercise could easily be integrated into work in a geography class on global production, geographical locations, and distribution networks.

The second exercise on ‘Multilingualism’ offers 12 fun facts about languages (for example that the Cambodian alphabet has 70 characters or that there are 200 made up languages) and aims to engage learners with different languages in a playful way. We discussed each fun fact with the pre-service teachers and they had to guess whether they were true or false. Afterwards, we evaluated the variety of languages and countries addressed in the fun facts, and the participants felt that this exercise successfully embraces the global spirit of the project as it highlights languages spoken all over the world. The participants considered multilingualism an important topic to address in today’s classrooms, stating that “I think it’s very difficult because nowadays, there’s so many languages in one class […] I don’t want to offend anyone, but I also want to encourage myself and all the students that I would like to learn more about their culture and their language. I think it should be important that you learn something about their culture as well.”

The participants enjoyed the variety of fun facts about numerous different languages and appreciated their informativeness. To increase digital literacy, participants proposed that this activity could easily be digitalised and used online or via a learning app. The participants also appreciated that the materials were available in different languages. In terms of considering other subjects, participants suggested the exercise could also be used in a mathematics class given the use of statistics and percentages.

Overall, in working with this group of future teachers on the materials and topic of Unit 1, we were delighted to see how interested they were in this topic and how eager they are to include it into their own teaching practice in all subjects. The participants appreciated the variety of materials and the flexibility to focus on the aspects that resonate most with them, stating that “I quite like that [with these materials] I’m able to promote students’ critical and independent thinking. […] You are able to bring students to the point that they can use these skills, decide and read between the lines, to say what is presented to them and analyse it.” Their comments reveal how motivated they are to make global citizenship and multilingualism defining themes in their daily practice.