Cover image: Guest Blog: How can educators engage with complex global issues?

Guest Blog: How can educators engage with complex global issues?

written by Douglas Bourn, Professor of Development Education at UCL Institute of Education and Co-Director of the Development Education Research Centre

Learning about and understanding global issues has never been more important than it is today. Be it the global pandemic, climate change, or ongoing concerns about the divisions between the rich and the poor, educational approaches are urgently needed to support learners of all ages to make sense of the complex world we are living in today, and which could guide them in becoming active agents for social change.

Are educators up to the challenge of teaching about global issues?

In February 2021, when the Teach the Future campaign asked school teachers in England how prepared they were to teach about climate change, 70% said that they hadn’t received any relevant training. Another recent international study showed that teachers have limited opportunities to engage in professional development related to global learning and related terms, particularly in the Global South (Bourn et al. 2017).  Many important global issues, such as inequality, social justice and sustainability therefore have a tendency to ‘fall through the cracks’ as they lack a natural ‘home’ within currently defined subject areas. So although teachers recognise the importance of the issues at hand, and are often very keen to engage with them, they may not feel confident in taking action without support - either from their school leadership, or from other sources - in incorporating these topics into their practice.

So, where do educators turn if they want to gain a better understanding of pedagogical approaches relevant to these challenging topics? How do you even describe this sort of pedagogy in the broadest sense?

What even is ‘Global Learning’?

Global Learning is a distinctive pedagogical approach that is about engaging in a process that recognises different approaches and ways of understanding a diverse, interdependent and fragile world.

However, defined approaches to teaching about global issues have a long history, and hence the terms used in research on this topic can be a little confusing. Increasingly, ‘Global Education & Learning’ (or ‘Global Learning’ / ‘Global Education’) is used as an umbrella term, although ‘Global Citizenship Education’ and ‘Education for Sustainable Development’ are also widely known. The Maastricht Global Education Declaration (2002), probably the most common touchstone for defining the focus and scope of this term, defines it as:

“Education that opens people’s eyes and minds to the realities of the globalised world and awakens them to bring about a world of greater justice, equity and Human Rights for all. Global education is understood to encompass Development Education, Human Rights Education, Education for Sustainability, Education for Peace and Conflict Prevention and Intercultural Education; being the global dimension of Education for Citizenship”.

Reviewing the research base, Global Learning could still be seen as an emerging field, typified by a rapidly growing number of publications on related topics. But the great potential that such approaches offer means that the field is firmly on the radar of policymakers in many countries, with related terms and approaches increasingly permeating national education policies, as well as international initiatives led by the UN, UNESCO, European Commission and OECD.

Who should educators look to for information on Global Learning approaches?

When it comes to finding resources and professional development opportunities on these topics, there is something of a confusing patchwork of provision. In the UK, a lot of related practitioners are connected to a variety on NGOs, including a network of regional ‘Development Education Centres’ (CoDEC). There is a similar picture across Europe, with Global Learning related activity often occurring as a strand of the work of development-related NGOs. Institutions dedicated purely to Global Learning remain few and far between, with most (like ‘Global Dimension’) focusing primarily on providing teaching resources.

The leading UK voice in knowledge generation on Global Learning is the Development Education Research Centre here at the IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society. Launched in 2006 with funding from the UK Department for International Development, the Centre has produced a substantial body of research on the subject, and runs a Global Learning Master’s programme, as well as a free online short course for teachers. It also is a leading partner in coordinating the Academic Network on Global Education & Learning, the international forum for academics and researchers in global education. Research and teaching activity on Global Learning is also happening at universities in Bath, Copenhagen, Bamberg, Oulu, Gothenburg and more.

With increasing concerns about the future of the planet, and the need to equip educators with the knowledge, confidence, and skills to address these challenges, global learning is becoming an essential approach for all sectors of education. However, educators will need the support of their institutions, and of government, to provide them with opportunities to develop their skills and to improve their practice.


Douglas Bourn is Professor of Development Education at UCL Institute of Education and Co-Director of the Development Education Research Centre.

The Development Education Research Centre has just launched a new Masters’ programme in Global Learning, aimed at educators from throughout the world whether they are working schools, colleges, higher education or the wider community. Find out more here.



  • Bourn D, Hunt F and Bamber P. (2017). A review of education for sustainable development and global citizenship education in teacher education. GEM Background Paper. Paris: UNESCO.
  • North-South Centre of the Council of Europe (2002). Maastricht Global Education Declaration.