A global survey issued in 2020 showed that students in the UK and around the world have a genuine interest in learning about global issues, specifically climate change.

The Cambridge Global Perspectives survey, conducted by Cambridge International, asked over 11,000 students worldwide aged 13-19 years about their views on global issues, how they learn about them and what action they are taking to find solutions.

Over a quarter of students (26%) said they thought climate change was a bigger issue than poverty and pollution. Nearly half of students in the UK (45%) believe that climate change is the single biggest issue we are facing, followed by poverty and economic equality (12%) and pollution, including plastic waste (11%).

The survey also found that students’ desire to learn about these issues was not reflected in their education. Almost all UK students that participated (99%) said they felt it was important to learn about global issues in school, but more than a quarter (27%) said they weren’t given the opportunity.

Over half of UK students (52%) said that having dedicated time within their school day to learn about global issues would enable them to be more active in raising awareness if them. However, less than half (45%) reported taking part in class discussions led by a teacher on these issues.

Almost a third of UK students (31%) said that organisations and charities were their most trusted source of information, followed by websites (17%) and the media (17%) and social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (12%). In contrast, only 6% of students said that a teacher was their most trusted source of information when it came to global issues.

Peter Monteath, Regional Director Europe at Cambridge International, said: “With the impacts of climate change and poverty dominating headlines, global issues have never felt more local.

“Students are aware of the impact these could have on their futures and are active in raising awareness of them, so it makes sense that they want to learn about this issue in the classroom, as well as the change to debate with other students.

“We believe schools should offer this opportunity, helping to direct keen minds to become engageed global citizens who want to find the innovative solutions to the complex problems we face. Instead 12% rely on social media for their information on global issues.”

Despite UK students feeling that their education doesn’t measure up when it comes to global issues, the survey showed that many of them are still active when it comes to raising awareness or finding solutions.

A vast majority (94%) of students said they are taking independent actions, including making changes to their lifestyle to help make a difference (61%), sharing knowledge with family and friends (71%), buying products that raise funds to tackle global issues (37%) and giving money to relevant charities and organisations (35%).

How do the rest of the world’s students compare?

The survey by Cambridge International involved over 11,000 students from around the world, including 800 from the UK. The survey was conducted in English and was promoted across social media channels, focusing on 12 target countries – Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Spain, UAE, UK and the USA.

As well as the UK, other countries where students felt climate change was the most pressing concern included New Zealand, Spain and the USA. Brazil, China, Indonesia and Pakistan, on the other hand, ranked it as less important, with fewer than 1 in 5 choosing it as their top concern.

In China and Indonesia, pollution was the most cited global issue, while Brazil’s students chose poverty and inequality as the biggest concern.

The survey also revealed widespread differences in the ways global issues are taught or talked about in schools around the world. For example, only 17% of students in Pakistan and Spain said their textbooks covered global issues, while students in the UK are the most likely to discuss global issues with their classmates and other students.

Nearly a third of Indian students said that taking part in extracurricular activities focused on global issues, such as field trips, helped them learn about and understand global issues.

The survey also found differences in the ways students around the world take action to try and tackle the global issues that concerned them the most. In Brazil, three out of four students said they shared knowledge with family and friends, while Spanish students were the most likely to change their own lifestyle habits, with two thirds saying they had taken this approach.

Political action was most popular in the US, with 16% of students saying they had contacted political representatives about the issues that mattered most to them.

Meanwhile, students in the UK and New Zealand are most likely to use their spending power to effect change, by voting with their wallet and only buying products that helped tackle their chosen issue.

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