The importance of citizenship in schools

I went to public government school as a kid and every day we hit the books and studied hard. Most of it was memorization and calculation, but we got it done and we passed the tests. Little thought was given to how our studies fit into a global context.

One thing I regret most as a kid is going on the big international trips that my school occasionally offered. Like a typical American, I believed that the USA was the center of the world and that all world politics revolved around what our current president was doing. This certainly wasn’t a conscience thing, just sort of built in to the way I acted and thought. I discovered the truth to this when I was 25 and moved to Asia. In fact, the USA is not at the center of the universe!

It’s this realization that I wish I would have had at a younger age in order to have been a better citizen of the world and a cosmopolitan of the many different cultures of the world. By citizen, I mean learning to put everything I learn into a global context and thinking how does this affect people on the other side of the world. And by cosmopolitan, I mean having an appreciation and reverence for the people and cultures of whose countries I visit. These are the values that I believe are of an utmost importance in international education today.

What is international education?

Before I continue, it will be important to know what I believe to be international education. I’m not referring schools that have the word international in their title. After all, there are many international schools that are not international and many non-international schools that area. Also, I am not talking about schools that we would call overseas teaching a UK- or US-based curriculum. Again, there are many schools that teach these curricula that are not international.

By international, I simply mean schools that are preparing their students to have an international mindset and to enter an international workplace. “…an integral part of an internationally minded education includes understanding that people of different backgrounds hold different views, and students need to learn how to appropriately examine why they believe what they believe.”1 It’s this removal from the students’ own contextual understanding in culture and mindset and thinking about the broader aspects that will help them to be internationally minded.

Global citizenship as a subject

I am suggesting that it is necessary that schools help students develop an international mindset through a dedicated subject in the curriculum. The reason for this is that students need time and resources to be able to put everything they’re learning into a bigger scope and thinking about the big issues. Although this can easily be accomplished within the context of the students’ other subjects (and should be), this dedicated time will help students to learn from each other and be able to piece together the necessities of understanding their learning in a global context.

It’s also important to realize that students have a chance to learn from one another as classes will often be multi-cultural and give way to more cultural context than with a teacher or a textbook. “…a student’s social class/race/gender all have significance in determining the social experiences they have at school…”2 It’s these social experiences that students will gain the most understanding about our world from.

Internationally minded attitude

It’s more than just learning, but have a chance to be able to put into practice what is learned that will make students great global citizens. At the school where I currently teach, we’ve rolled out a citizenship program that puts the onus on the student to give back to the community and prove him or herself a great global citizen. This is done in the context of big projects and school volunteering. This attitude, which puts everything they’ve learned into play, will carry themselves into the international market and global workforce, making them successful in their future endeavors.


1. Holmes, A., and S. VanAlstine. “From I to International: Toward International-Mindedness Through Interdisciplinary Music Instruction.” Music Educators Journal 101.2 (2014): 45–50. Web.

2. Marsh, Colin J. Key Concepts for Understanding Curriculum. Fully rev. and extended ed. ed. Washington: Falmer Press, 1997-, 1997: 33. Print.

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