Global competence: the new education frontier

21st century skills elt Oct 22, 2021

By Lottie Dowling

Globalisation has become an everyday word, often heard in the news, political statements or trade-related topics.  We don’t need to look far, however, to see how globalisation affects us all on a daily basis: we drink coffee grown in Brazil, wear clothing manufactured in Bangladesh or China and live in homes furnished by the Swedish superstore IKEA. We have Japanese food for lunch and Italian cuisine for dinner, drink wine from France and talk to friends and family in different time zones on a variety of international technology platforms (Skype, Wechat, Whatsapp) on smartphones made in Asia. Increasingly, we also live and work in growingly diverse communities and contexts; migration and international student numbers increase yearly in many countries, while working abroad has become a norm for many people’s careers in this region.

So what impact is this having now and will it have in the near future for us all? And what does this mean for the education sector?

A Changing World

We increasingly hear that we need students to be ‘future ready’, fluent in either 21st century skills, or more recently, global competencies.

The demand for transferable skills is on the rise.  The Foundation for Young Australian’s New Basics Report outlines an increase in what they coin ‘enterprise skills’ from 2012 to 2015 in jobs advertised; digital literacy is up 212%, bilingualism 181% and critical thinking 158%.

New jobs are being created all the time to match the growth in digital technologies and a globalized world. In 2012, Forbes Magazine described 10 jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago, including app developer, social media manager, cloud computing services, market research data miner and sustainability expert.  One report recently predicted that students in primary schools today may do a number of jobs that do not currently exist.

Additionally, the world of work appears to be becoming more transient. It has been predicted that school graduates will have 17 different employers in their lifetime and five separate careers.

We know that different skills are needed in the future, that new jobs will exist and that the workplace will be very different. So what is needed to meet these challenges?

Global Competence

Global competence is argued by many to be the way to ensure students are future ready and is increasingly replacing the term ‘21st century skills’. With different definitions of global competence existing, however, which one should educators adopt?

World Savvy

“Global competence is the disposition and capacity to understand and act on issues of global significance.” (World Savvy)

World Savvy’s Global Competence Matrix starts with what they describe as core concepts, e.g. world events and global issues are complex and interdependent because one’s own culture and history is key to understanding one’s relationship to others. It then outlines three key areas to global competence:

  • values and attitudes (e.g. a desire to engage with others)
  • skills (e.g. being fluent in 21st century digital technology)
  • behaviours (e.g. commits to the process of continuous learning and reflection)
Partnership for 21st Learning (P21)

“Global competence is critical for innovation in the 21st century.

Educational approaches sensitive to our changing world infuse global awareness and cultural understanding into everyday classroom practices, while also utilizing the technological resources available to teachers and students today.” (P21)

For students: The K-12 Global Competence Grade Level Indicators lists indicators to assess global competence for each year level in four main sections: understanding, investigating, connecting and integrating.

For example, in Grades 5 and 6 they may demonstrate understanding of the global economy, by investigating economies of world regions (through multiple primary and secondary sources), connecting relationships between global economic topics, e.g. bartering, currency and integrating this new knowledge and information into presentations.  Alongside this, it provides six units of study for students to develop the goals: Global Society, Global Geography, Global Environment, Global Education, Global Economy and Global Politics.

For educators: The Globally Ready Teacher Competency Framework outlines pedagogy, content and technology as the three domains for instructional practice, providing standards that identify the attitudes, skills and knowledge needed for educators to achieve global competence.

Organisation for Economic and Cultural Development (OECD)

“Global Competence includes the acquisition of in-depth knowledge and understanding of global and intercultural issues; the ability to learn from and live with people from diverse backgrounds; and the attitudes and values necessary to interact respectfully with others.” (OECD)

Most recently, the OECD announced that the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, which traditionally test three key areas: Reading, Mathematics and Science, but will now include a new area, ‘global competence’. This will “evaluate students’ capacity to apply their knowledge, perspective-taking, and analytical and evaluation skills to tasks referring to relevant intercultural and global issues.”[1]

The competency is defined as having three key areas:

  • knowledge and understanding of global issues
  • intercultural knowledge and understanding and
  • analytical and critical thinking

The Emerging OECD 2030 Framework ties knowledge, skills, attitudes and values together to develop competencies, which then allows action to be taken.

All three models focus on ‘soft’ or transferable skills and include ‘taking action’ as the final stage of the development of skills.  The OCED model, which is relatively new, will become the new international benchmark, so this should be taken into consideration when deciding which model to adopt; however, P21 currently provides a comprehensive program with objectives and checklists for each year level, so it is a very practical resource with easy applicability. Ultimately, when choosing which model to adopt, it will depend on any number of factors that educators must consider: the curriculum, school, student needs, policy context, school leadership preferences, etc.

How can they be developed?

Once a model and criteria for global competence has been decided on, the next step is to consider how global competence can be developed.

The Asia Society suggests four key stages:

  1. Investigate the world beyond their immediate environment.
  2. Recognise others’ and express their own perspectives.
  3. Communicate ideas effectively with diverse audiences.
  4. Take action to improve conditions.

The approaches to developing global competence are endless and must ultimately make sense to the educator and the context that they are working in.

However, the idea that global competence is a new requirement for all students raises a number of questions for educators throughout the world.  Consideration is needed for what further professional development educators need; if their current curriculum and subject matter reflect the requirements of global competence, if resources are available and are suitable to support the development of this competency, and how to educate school communities and parents to ensure they are aware and supportive with the new direction schools may need to take to equip students with global competency.

To ensure that all young people not only survive, but also thrive in our shared unknown future, we need to equip them adequately, with global competence. As Albert Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”


The Foundation for Young Australians (2016). The New Basics: Big data reveals the skills young people need for the New Work Order.

Operation for Economic Competence Development (OECD). (2016). Global Competency for an Inclusive World.

McCrindle Research. (2014) Job Mobility in Australia

Casserly, M. (2012). Forbes. 10 Jobs That Didn’t Exist 10 Years Ago

[1] Operation for Economic Competence Development (OECD). (2016). Global Competency for an Inclusive World.

Lottie Dowling has worked in education as a school practitioner and professional learning leader on a global, national and regional level for over 16 years in a number of roles including; educator, designer and deliverer of professional learning, capacity building, curriculum development, global competency program content development and education management. Follow Lottie on Twitter @LottieDowlingNZ.

Image source: Professional