Johanna Helin

What Kind of Competencies do Global Citizens Need?

For the past couple of months, I have been engaged in advocacy research for Bridge47 on the topic of Competencies for Target 4.7. The research report was published this week, so I'd like to share some thoughts on the topic.

The global quest for necessary competencies for the 21st century has dominated the education field for the past 20 years and many education systems have adapted competency-based models in formal and non-formal education. Competencies put emphasis on learning outcomes, showing proficiency and demonstrating mastery and they compass knowledge, skills, attitudes and values. This idea is also central to Target 4.7 which emphasises the need for all learners to have the necessary skills and knowledge to promote sustainable development. These should be fostered through all types of education, through schools, professional education, hobbies, peers, social media, etc.

UNESCO has operationalised Target 4.7 under Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Global Citizenship Education (GCED). Due to the multidimensional nature of both GCED and ESD, it is not easy to define the key competencies for Target 4.7. Some major international organisations like UNESCO, Council of Europe and OECD have formulated new frameworks to define what kind of competencies people need for a just and sustainable world that works on democratic principles - all with their own emphases. UNESCO  emphasises humanistic values, sustainability and environmental awareness; OECD intercultural communication and upward social mobility and CoE human rights and democracy. There are also differences between regions and cultures in their understanding and adaptation of some key concepts like sustainability, solidarity or human rights. Furthermore, the current polarisation present within many societies between conservative, liberal and more radical viewpoints make it challenging to agree on a common vision about what kind of change is needed.

The jointly agreed SDGs give badly needed guidance on the path forward but are vague on their definition of the competencies needed for fulfilling the task. The competencies for Target 4.7 should be debated, adapted, modified and implemented at global, regional, national and local levels, in all forms of education institutions. Regardless of different world views, experiences, cultural backgrounds and political contexts, the main goal should be to define the key competencies needed for environmental, social and cultural sustainability. It has become clear that 21st century education needs to be transformative, giving learners, i.e. the 'global citizens' of today, the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that support cooperation, collaboration, critical thinking, respect for others, problem solving, dealing with uncertainty and support them in addressing unequal power relationships.

Johanna Helin is the author of Bridge 47's research papers on Transformative Competencies - How to Define and Implement Competencies for SDG Target 4.7 and Indicators - The Need and Challenges of Tracking Implementation of Target 4.7

About the Author

Johanna Helin

Johanna Helin is an education doctorate student at OISE (University of Toronto) and carries out studies and evaluations through UbuntuEDU in Finland. She has more than 25 years of experience in Global Citizenship Education from Finland, Estonia and Canada.