Why we do what we do. The case for global citizenship
Leo Thompson CIS School Support & Evaluation Officer


By Leo Thompson, School Support Evaluation Officer


As some of us pack away the fairy lights, baubles, and tinsel from the festive season, we also try to find time to pause and reflect. We reflect on what we do, what we have achieved, and where we are going. Occasionally we may go one step further and reflect on why we do what we do? 

If we get the process right, almost anyone involved in schools and colleges should directly or indirectly benefit students’ access to quality education, their safety, or their general well-being. If we don’t bring direct or indirect value to children as educators, then our efforts are worth little more than a paycheck, lacking the meaningful ‘purpose’’ advocated by popular theorists such as Dan Pink. Indeed the stated purpose at the foot of every CIS email signature, including my own, is to promote international and intercultural understanding, collaboration and support through the activities of members. Sitting invisibly behind this statement is an even bigger goal: the bringing of peace, harmony and equality to the world through the direct impact of our numerous and remarkable member schools. 

global citizenship

The importance of developing responsible students as a foundation for responsible adulthood has never been greater because we must contend with the antisocial toxins of insular egocentrism, divisive tribalism, and blind populism. Back in the 1800s, sociologist Émile Durkheim’s work was “concerned with how societies could maintain their integrity and coherence in modernity, an era in which traditional social and religious ties are no longer assumed, and in which new social institutions have come into being” (according to Wikipedia). In almost textbook Durkheim, we are currently spurred on to raise questions such as: why are the behaviours of citizenship important? And how should a good national citizen behave? When we turn our attention to international citizenship, then the scope of the questions is broader, more complex, and the stakes even higher. 

If the axiom is correct, the best measurement of people’s character is not what they say, but what they do. Equally, perhaps the best measurement of our education systems is how students go on to behave when they are no longer being assessed and have left school or university? Alumni data on university entrance courses and ensuing successes speak little to the moral fabric of the person and how they behave in the smaller circles of their friendship groups, and the larger circles in workplaces, in society, and across the globe. Do they give back? Do they lead ethically? Do they contribute positively and bring a ‘net benefit’ to their societies and the world?

Lawrence Kohlberg (1958) argues that the highest and 6th stage of moral thinking is acting on the principle of Kantian style universal laws in the sense of what if everyone did that? Just as our own individual tastes differ, the Western values that still dominate international curricula do not represent all values. There are, however, intrinsic values that connect vastly different cultures. Rushworth Kidder identified love, truthfulness, fairness, freedom, unity, tolerance, responsibility, and respect for life as a set of pervasive or ‘pan values’.

The work in some of our member schools, such as the Kuwait American School, to find common ground through established programmes such Living Values gives credibility to the claim that we can zoom out, or chunk up, and find a lens that unites us all.

To proceed now to my argument, global citizenship and intercultural understanding have never been more important and must be central goals for all schools. To be a little more concrete, CIS, by codifying standards that set the benchmark for our community, requires schools to address global citizenship as a fundamental aspect of its educational programme. For instance, our CIS Standard A3 (in the 2019 CIS International Accreditation Protocol revision): “The school puts into action its contextual definition of global citizenship embracing intercultural learning, both inside and beyond the classroom, as evident in the learning experiences of all students.” CIS, its strategic accreditation partners, and its member schools are not the only ones shaping the GC agenda. Oxfam, UNESCO, The Global Citizenship Initiative, UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, alongside many others recorded on the Ban Ki Moon Centre Portal, are also movers and shakers.

Though CIS seeks compliance with the core standard A3 from its accredited schools, many of our schools aspire far beyond this. They do it out of principle because it is necessary for the sustainable and peaceful existence of our civilisation.

Just recently, after walking my boys to school, I was making my way back home on a scooter (unpowered roller variety). I could see a car broken down at a busy junction, a child in the back, a woman stood behind it on a mobile phone. It was in the middle of the road with cars streaming around it. No one seemed to be helping in a classic example of the bystander effect. I leaned my scooter against a wall, went over and offered, in unimpressive German, to get it to the curb. The lady gratefully accepted. A man stopped and jumped out of his car and joined forces, then offered to use his car engine to jump-start the defective vehicle. We succeeded, and I went over to collect my scooter, which had vanished. Ok, an inexpensive stolen scooter is not the worst thing to happen in the world, but the act does underscore the need to address issues in society and reminded me that whilst one might be contributing, there is always the one who isn’t —a bit like a Zoroastrian battle between good and bad that all educators must wage.

If we simplify the work we do in schools, we essentially educate children on the basis of an agreed curriculum built around assessed learning objectives, values and dispositions. In the wider scheme of things it may not be the child’s mathematical proficiency, held in such high esteem by so many, that defines their future, but their ability to lead responsible change with the necessary competencies, understanding and dispositions. Whilst our public examinations and graduation ceremonies may be the fairy lights, baubles and tinsel of our international education systems, global citizenship and intercultural understanding may be the all-important tree. In the interest of our society, civilisation and planet, we must nurture it.