The following article comes from Rob Ford and Tatiana Popa at Heritage International School, Moldova. 

The idea of international education developing future “global citizens” may appear to be a very 21st century notion but it is in fact a 500 year old aspiration for humanity first espoused by the great European intellectual scholar, Desiderius Erasmus, when he declared himself to be a “citizen of the World”. Erasmus’s name is now forever linked with the astonishing pan-European education scheme stretching from Iceland, across Europe, to take in countries around the Black Sea, North Africa and all the way to Jordan. Over 10 million Higher Education students alone have benefitted from this remarkable vision of bringing young people together as global citizens and the power of transformative learning through an outward-facing experience which was at the heart of Erasmus’s works over five centuries ago.  

It certainly is not some nefarious EU scheme to clone identikit European citizens and the shock announcement on Christmas Eve in 2020 that the UK government would not be continuing to participate in Erasmus and be aligned with the EU on education, including qualifications equivalency, stood out starkly as the two negotiating sides got a deal hammered out for a post-Brexit UK. 

Developing global citizens fits completely with the UK’s defining concept of the 2020s, “Global Britain”, as a futures orientated aspiration for young people. We also know how valuable education is for the UK’s economy now and for the future. The false, binary dilemma of local identity versus global citizenship that has allowed a narrow discussion on this issue to dominate for too long, especially under the hollow notion of “citizen of nowhere”, needs to be also moved on if we are to support our students develop and take their future roles in a global society. As someone who has seen the transformative power of the Erasmus scheme in the UK and other countries over many years and in so many incredible projects, the frustrations and uncertainty of the decision to not continue being a part of a powerful, meaningful global movement is very understandable.  But for UK schools, there are still organisations like the brilliant Global School Alliance, to expertly support schools and continue to develop innovative, engaging & meaningful international education and partnerships.

At the heart of developing global citizens are the key strands of international mindedness, intercultural understanding and an interconnected globalised World that transcends national borders. What wasn’t understood, by many people and commentators with the announcement, were the school educational schemes like ETwinning, that have had an incredible impact on global learning, languages, CPD, leadership, curriculum and school improvement development.

The old Irish saying tells us “If you are trying to get somewhere, I wouldn’t have started from here” and we are all coping with a similar conundrum in education right now as we go into 2022. Resilience and adaptability are going to continue to be the watchwords for educators in the 2020s.  The same is true for the loss of Erasmus in the UK and the reality of “we are where we are”.

What it doesn’t mean though is we stay resigned and that we stop putting international education at the heart of our curriculum and developing our students as global citizens.

Students in a classroom

It doesn’t mean we cannot align and work with Europe or be exclusively “wider World ” focussed towards say the Commonwealth or Asia or Africa or America. We have it in our power as school leaders and teachers to stop the false binary choice and zero sum nonsense of the last ten years and have a global learning strategy that incorporates many strands, countries, projects and approaches into how we develop our networks and the benefits those partnerships bring back to our school communities.  Our students will continue to engage with Europe and the World but we are going to have to adapt and think about it differently.  

There are many examples of where this has happened that we can draw upon.  Global educators in the UK and around the World continue to be a very committed, resourceful and dedicated group in educational networks anywhere.  This is why Heritage International School is a GSA School Member. 

Heritage International School building

The work we are doing in Moldova, a non EU country on the edge of Europe where there is very limited access & opportunities to global funded education schemes, has benefited enormously by being a member of Global School Alliance and connecting schools and classrooms around the World, in a range of curriculum projects, that fulfils our mission as an international school.

We have had to find a successful strategy to develop an outward-facing approach to our global learning to connect our classrooms & students with those around Europe and the World. In Moldova, our brilliant people are our best assets and very creative in how they inspire students and bring the World to Moldova. This is where the Global School Alliance has helped considerably and UK schools can continue to develop their outward-facing curriculum through the GSA.

One student said to me “We all need to get used to change and things being done differently in the 2020s”. 

Wise words from someone so young. Erasmus lived through the dramatic changes of the Reformation in 16th century Europe but he always held true to his beliefs as a citizen of the World, the power of learning and to avoid the extremism in society knowing how to deal with “…both Kings and bullies”. He believed he was on the “right side of history” and history proved his outward-facing World view for young people correct.  Our global learning will continue to adapt and evolve for the 2020s because we know what we are doing in our schools, connecting our classrooms and cultures, will inspire and create the future leaders we need from our young people as confident, hopeful, global citizens. 

Rob Ford, Director of Heritage International School, Chisinau, Moldova, British Council Schools’ Ambassador.  Member of the Varkey/UNICEF-TTF2030 Global School Leaders’ group.

It’s an honour to be a GSA ambassador and to participate in the events, projects and courses that the Global School Alliance has to offer. As a teacher, I find it extremely important to get my students involved in global collaborative projects, as this is the best way to raise global citizens, to develop interculturality, tolerance and international mindedness.

Curriculum approach

One such project was the Global Culture Project, which was launched as a pilot project and offered me the possibility to collaborate with College Pilote Sousse in Tunisia. After making introductions, students were asked to make presentations of their countries, their schools and daily school life. We discussed gender equality, seen through the eyes of young people, and they gave examples of role models from their respective countries. They explored traditions and customs, religions, and what makes them proud of their country. It has been a very enriching experience for my students, as they didn’t even know that Christmas is not celebrated in Tunisia on December 25th.

We held a videoconference, where we discussed climate change and the situation in Moldova and Tunisia, our students making brilliant presentations about it. As both teams were part of the Climate Action Project, we watched Prince William speaking on Climate Action Day in a Google Meet session together, and reflected on the importance of climate education in schools and how young people can make a change by working together with the world.

We even had guests from the United Kingdom and Morocco at our video conference, with Collette Cotton and Ilham Haddadi joining me and Fethy Letayef, together with their students, and they shared their insights as well. A truly global student webinar!

In our last video conference, our students had the most intercultural experience, as they discussed books, films, and favourite singers. They even sang traditional songs! What an experience it has been!

Student Leadership

As a follow-up, my students wanted to join the GSA Secondary Student Council, in order to extend the work they are doing in the Heritage Student Council here. They enjoyed the virtual sessions and are working on a collaborative project, exploring plastic waste, with the other members of the GSA Student Council. This is an outstanding example of how student empowerment can bring immense benefits to the entire community.

Professional development and networking opportunities

The GSA monthly conferences are the right place to hear from the best educators around the world imparting their knowledge. For the sake of professional development, every educator has things to learn in order to implement further in the classroom, as well as to attend edutech fairs, which are also enriching and useful, especially in the pandemic and definitely after the pandemic is over and we are all used to the new virtual environment in teaching and learning.

Throughout the years, I was invited to speak at the GSA monthly conferences on many occasions. The year 2021 has been the case when I spoke at the first conference, sharing best practices in global projects and how I empower students, and our director, Rob Ford, was asked to speak at the final conference in December, highlighting the best moments in global education at Heritage International School in 2021.

Having worked in global education for many years, I can definitely say that Global School Alliance is a platform that unites the best teachers around the world and offers a place to work together for raising responsible, globally-minded citizens of the world.

Tatiana Popa, Head of Global Education and Hybrid Coordinator at Heritage International School, Chisinau, Moldova. Etwinning Ambassador, ISC Research Top 75 International Education Influencers for 2021, Climate Action Project & T4 Country Ambassador