Would a globalized curriculum be beneficial to students?
Globalization has become a ‘buzzword’ cited by various fields and education is one of the sectors interconnected considerably with it. The impact of globalization on education is supported by the popularity of international curricula: the International Baccalaureate (IB) is one of the most popular and well-known curricula adopted in more than 100 countries; Cambridge International General Secondary Education (IGCSE) is now the most popular course for 14-16 years old students worldwide. In addition, there are soaring numbers of international students around the globe. Nancy Brown’s Internationalising Early Childhood Curriculum: Foundations of Global Competence (2019) triggered me to explore the ‘Globalized curriculum’. I interpreted this term in two different ways: firstly, the curricula designed to be international (such as the IB); secondly, a curriculum that is borrowing and lending pieces of teaching methods and contents from other countries. Indeed, some national curriculums are transforming towards a global standard, as is well presented in the documentary Inside Singapore World-class Education System (SBS Dateline, 2019). It gave me a deep understanding of how globalized education is adopted in countries and enabled me to consider whether this is a definite beneficial transformation to students.
One of the most obvious trends of an internationalised curriculum is adding foreign languages to the curriculum, especially English language. Before Year 7 is the golden time to learn languages; it is innate in babies to distinguish different sounds, even the very similar ones. An experiment was conducted with babies aged 6 to 18 months and their parents in the BBC documentary Babies: Their Wonderful World (BBC Two, 2018). The result demonstrated that the innate ability to distinguish all the sounds in childhood diminishes after babies reach the age of 1 and then young children become only sensitive to the sounds in their mother tongue. The earlier children start learning languages, therefore, the better. A globalised curriculum, in most non-English speaking countries, helps children to start learning English early in schools without slowing down their first language teaching.
In addition, research shows that bilingual children have stronger brain activity (Nacamulli, 2015). When children are processing two languages, they use both hemispheres of the brain, while for monolinguals, only one hemisphere of the brain, usually the left, is used. Bilinguals’ brains are seen to have a higher density of the grey matter which contains most of the neurons and synapses and also more activity in various other brain regions when engaging a second language 54 (Nacamulli, 2015). The popularization of bilingual studies in a globalised curriculum in early years is bringing advantages to children in terms of development. The book Internationalising the Early Childhood Curriculum illustrates how the same topic is taught in different languages to the same group of children. The author points out that by learning the same projects in various languages, children are, in fact, learning how people speak the same thing but using different languages. Children can, thus, develop their global competence by learning knowledge in various ways. (Brown, 2019).
Understanding and respecting different cultures is important in this era, and language is now carrying meanings beyond itself. Indeed, when students are learning a language, they are also studying the cultures and history of that country. This is beneficial because children have a strong positive identity of their group by the age of three, and they begin to develop ethnic prejudice towards others by the age of six (Fitzpatrick, 2007). A curriculum that delivers culture-respecting content can strengthen children’s cultural understanding, in turn, generating positive results in changing students’ behaviours towards various cultural backgrounds. The IB and Montessori curricula, for example, are encouraging inclusivity, tolerance, and respect. Northern Ireland is even developing a curriculum called ‘Respecting Differences in Early Childhood Education’, which will track children’s attitudes and behaviours over 10 to 15 years. The programme shows an optimistic result, improving children’s willingness to play with others and develop empathy from a different background. The case in Northern Ireland demonstrates that culturepreference conflicts, such as not playing with those from a different background, are happening in schools and taking actions in schooling to diminish any form of cultural conflicts and inappropriate behaviours can be successful.
Due to the impact of globalisation, national curriculums are globalising as teaching methods and subject curricula are now also often shared and borrowed between nations. The National Curriculum even asks whether ‘globalisation has been driving convergence in the content of national curricula over time’ (The UK Department for Education, 2013). Science curricula, in particular, has experienced a convergence in the content over the years, according to the results shown in the TIMSS survey from 1999 to 2015 (Stacey, 2018). Countries that participated in this survey have shown a change in their science curricula and growth of the core science topics was common in all participant countries.
‘When students are learning a language, they are also studying the cultures and history of that country’
Although the curriculum is converging, the teaching and time management styles do still vary across nations. Countries are borrowing the ‘worth-teaching’ topics and adding them to the national curriculum, which makes science subjects more complete in general. There are other examples of curriculum borrowing as well: the ‘Master Approach’ in Maths is one of the most representative transformations in English Maths education. This is a methods of Maths teaching that is widely used South Asia, such as Singapore and Shanghai. These examples all exemplify how curricula are globalising, which is benefiting students worldwide as curricula become more accessible.
Students in globalised curriculums may feel rootless and unable to fully immerse into neither the home country nor the country in which they study. Globally, there are more than 10,000 international students, with the number of students in international schools increasing rapidly. As they are now being taught from more of an international perspective than ever before, they are learning more and more about the world to strengthen their global awareness. However, there can be a lack of case studies or examples relating to a globalised curriculum for specific countries. For example, A-level Economics is mostly about the UK and Europe. The schools outside the Europe that teach A-level Economics therefore cause their students to be unfamiliar with their own country’s economic performance. Overseas students and those in international schools are normally the group that experiences this due to not accessing enough knowledge about their home country in comparison to their peers.
Research shows that teachers with a better understanding of culture fostered a better classroom environment and have a better relationship with students. James Comer has pointed out that without a significant relationship, there is no significant teaching (Payne, 2008). Teachers who can set up a respectful relationship with students play a crucial role in schooling. Which means a globalised curriculum is not suitable for all students and teachers. One of the compelling points is that most international schools in non-English speaking countries tend to have a large number of native-English-speaking teachers, and these teachers could have significant different classroom cultures compared to other teachers in school. For example, making eye contact in most European countries in very common in schooling, and this is an essential part of the non-verbal communication. However, this is not the case in many Eastern cultures. For instance, eye contact in Asia is more likely to be interpreted as aggressive or unapproachable and avoiding eye contact is a way to be respectful. These different practices can come from the lack of cultural awareness of teachers, which is important ( Raeburn, 2018). Hence, the choice of international teachers plays a crucial role in pedagogical efficiency.
A globalized national curriculum that is inadaptable to teachers will minimize the beneficial outcomes. This particularly applies to the transformation of national curriculums. The most difficult step is not adopting the policy or teaching methods, but to let teachers to agree and adapt to the transformation. One case study used in Clever Land, written by Lucy Crehan, shows an example of teachers in Finland not able to adapt their education reform. Finland used to have a system in which children were selected in year 5 for university or vocational training. After this selection, children could not change their pathway during the whole education journey. Then, Finland changed the selection age to 15 years old which is deemed to be the age that students are well developed and can be the drivers of their education. Even though this appears to be the right movement for students, lots of secondary teachers find it hard because now everyone can go up to secondary schools, so the ability gap enlarged. Thus, with the new reformation, teachers need to think new ways of teaching which they find difficult at the beginning.
Tom Franklin, the ‘Think Global’ executive has said that ‘because we live in such a globalised world today, our mission should be to ensure every young person in school feel more confident and able to live in that world’ (Sutcliffe, 2012). Therefore, changing and reforming the education system to focus more on the global awareness is essential. By adding language studies, borrowing education policy and curricula, and bringing international perspectives, teaching, students can benefit not only academically but also culturally and developmentally. Nevertheless, educating students to fit well in the world as a global citizen will face lots of difficulties in the process. These come from both teaching and the selecting suitable systems in every country.