Assessing global competence

Assessing global competence

In 2015, 193 countries committed to achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations – a shared vision of humanity that provides the missing piece of the globalisation puzzle.

The extent to which that vision becomes a reality will in no small way depend on what is happening in today’s classrooms. Indeed, it is educators who hold the key to ensuring that the SDGs become a real social contract with citizens.

Goal 4, which commits to quality education for all, is intentionally not limited to foundation knowledge and skills, such as literacy, mathematics and science, but emphasises learning to live together sustainably. This has inspired the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to include global competence in its metrics for quality, equity and effectiveness in education. PISA will assess global competence for the first time ever in 2018. PISA conceives of global competence as a multidimensional, lifelong learning goal. Globally competent individuals can examine local, global and intercultural issues, understand and appreciate different perspectives and world views, interact successfully and respectfully with others, and take responsible action toward sustainability and collective wellbeing.

Many teachers will have mixed feelings about this: is this just one more demand placed on their shoulders that will further dilute what students learn and contribute to making curricula a mile-wide but an inch-deep? And when the results from PISA will come out, will teachers be blamed for things they had no real opportunity to teach in any depth? Before judging this, it is worth having a look at what global competence as measured by PISA actually entails.

First, PISA expects that students can examine issues of local, global and cultural significance. This refers to the ability to combine knowledge about the world with critical reasoning whenever people form their own opinions about a global issue. Globally competent students can draw on and combine the disciplinary knowledge and modes of thinking acquired in school to ask questions, analyse data and arguments, explain phenomena, and develop a position regarding a local, global or cultural issue. They can also access, analyse and critically evaluate messages delivered through the media, and can create new media content.

Second, PISA looks at whether students understand and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others. This highlights a willingness and capacity to consider global problems from multiple viewpoints. As individuals acquire knowledge about other cultures’ histories, values, communication styles, beliefs and practices, they begin to recognise that their perspectives and behaviours are shaped by many influences, that they are not always fully aware of these influences, and that others have views of the world that are profoundly different from their own. Engaging with different perspectives and world views requires individuals to examine the origins and implications of others’ and their own assumptions. This, in turn, implies a respect for and interest in the people who acknowledge and appreciate the qualities that distinguish individuals from one another are less likely to tolerate acts of injustice in their daily interactions. On the other hand, people who fail to develop this competence are considerably more likely to internalise stereotypes, prejudices and false heuristics about those who are ‘different’.

Third, PISA looks at the extent to which students are able to engage appropriately and effectively across cultures. Globally competent people can adapt their behaviour and communication to interact with individuals from different cultures. They engage in respectful dialogue, want to understand others, and try to include marginalised groups. This dimension emphasises individuals’ capacity to bridge differences with others by communicating in ways that are open, appropriate and effective. ‘Open’ interactions mean relationships in which all participants demonstrate sensitivity towards, curiosity about, and a willingness to engage with others and their perspectives. ‘Appropriate’ refers to interactions that respect the cultural norms of both parties. In ‘effective’ communication, all participants can make themselves understood and understand the other.

Last but not least, PISA looks at young people’s role as active and responsible members of society, and refers to individuals’ readiness to respond to a given local, global or intercultural issue or situation. Globally competent people create opportunities to take informed, reflective action and have their voices heard. Taking action might imply standing up for a schoolmate whose human dignity is in jeopardy, initiating a global media campaign at school, or disseminating a personal opinion about the refugee crisis through social media. Globally competent people are engaged to improve living conditions in their own communities and also to build a more just, peaceful, inclusive and environmentally sustainable world.

It seems hard to deny the critical importance of these competences, particularly in a country that is as outward-looking and globally interconnected as Australia. But that alone does not answer the question of how teaching global competence can be reconciled with the myriad other responsibilities schools already have. However, for many children, school is the first place where they encounter the full diversity of society, so schools need to play a crucial role in this regard. Schools can provide opportunities for young people to critically examine developments that are significant to both the world at large and to their own lives. They can teach students how to use digital information and social media platforms critically and responsibly. Schools can also encourage intercultural sensitivity and respect by encouraging students to engage in experiences that nurture an appreciation for diverse peoples, languages and cultures.

And it certainly does not mean adding new school subjects, but rather how we integrate aspects of global competence into disciplinary contexts. Imagine Elizabeth. In her history course, she learns about industrialisation and economic growth in developing countries, and how these have been influenced by foreign investments. She learns that many girls of her age work in poor conditions in factories for up to 10 hours a day, instead of going to school. Her teacher encourages each student to bring one item of clothing to class, and look at the label to see where it was manufactured. She is surprised to notice that most of her clothes were made in Bangladesh. She wonders under what conditions her clothes were made. She looks at the websites of various high-street branding shops to see if the websites can tell her about their manufacturing standards and policies. She discovers that some clothing brands are more concerned with human rights in their factories than others, and she also discovers that some clothing brands have a long history of poor conditions in their factories. She reads different journalistic articles about the issue, and watches a short documentary on YouTube. Based on what she discovers she starts to buy fair-trade clothing, and becomes an advocate for ethically responsible manufacturing.

That leaves the question for how PISA actually assesses global competence. In 2018, PISA will make a first start with a two-part assessment consisting of a cognitive test and a background questionnaire. The cognitive assessment elicits students’ capacities to critically examine news articles about global issues; recognise outside influences on perspectives and world views; understand how to communicate with others in intercultural contexts; and identify and compare different courses of action to address global and intercultural issues. In the background questionnaire, students will be asked to report how familiar they are with global issues; how developed their linguistic and communication skills are; to what extent they hold certain attitudes, such as respect for people from different cultural backgrounds; and what opportunities they have at school to develop global competence. Answers to the school and teacher questionnaires will provide a comparative picture of how education systems are integrating international and intercultural perspectives throughout the curriculum and in classroom activities. If you would like to try some of this out in your own classroom, PISA will be happy to share the questionnaires with you.

At the OECD, we believe that this assessment offers a tangible opportunity to provide the global community with the data it needs to build more peaceful, equitable and sustainable societies through education. It will provide a comprehensive overview of education systems’ efforts to create learning environments that encourage young people to understand one another and the world beyond their immediate environment, and to take action towards building cohesive and sustainable communities. It will help the many teachers who work every day to combat ignorance, prejudice and hatred, which are at the root of disengagement, discrimination and violence.

Some have already raised concerns about the feasibility of measuring students’ readiness to engage with the world through an international test. International comparisons are never easy, and they are not perfect, particularly when it comes to measuring such complex competences. But without quality data, it will be difficult to initiate a fruitful, global dialogue about what works in education.

National Robotics Week

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In May 2009, top universities and industry leaders appealed to the Congressional Caucus on Robotics to create a “national road-map” for robotics technology. On March 9, 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed resolution H.Res. 1055, officially designating the second full week in April as National Robotics Week. This resolution was submitted by U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (PA-14), co-chair of the Caucus, and other members.

National Robotics Week (RoboWeek) is organized by iRobot with the support of an Advisory Council, which recognizes robotics technology as a pillar of American innovation, highlights its growing importance in a wide variety of application areas, and emphasizes its ability to inspire technology education. Robotics is positioned to fuel a broad array of next-generation products and applications in fields as diverse as manufacturing, healthcare, national defense and security, agriculture and transportation. At the same time, robotics is proving to be uniquely adept at enabling students of all ages to learn important science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts and at inspiring them to pursue careers in STEM fields. RoboWeek is a series of grassroots events and activities during the month of April aimed at increasing public awareness of the strength and importance of the U.S. robotics industry and of the tremendous social and cultural impact that robotics will have on the future.

Initiated in 2010, the inaugural RoboWeek included 50 affiliated events around the country. The following year built on that success to include more than 100 events in 22 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In 2017, RoboWeek included over 300 events in all 50 of the United States.

We welcome all collaborators from industry and academia who would like to join us. Celebrate RoboWeek by hosting an event in your community, sponsoring or attending a local event, or spreading the word on social media.


The Robot Showcase is coming to Los Angeles and Long Beach

Robot’s Lab Feature a Teacher: Using NAO as a tool for learning and as an adventure program simulator.

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Bob Barboza is an educator, STEM journalists, composer and founder of the Barboza Space Center STEM & STEAM fellowship Program and Kids Talk Radio Science.  He trains Jr. astronauts, engineers, and scientists for the “Occupy Mars Learning Adventures.” His students and interns are learning robot and satellite design, building, and repair.

Bob also teaches the Summer Barboza Space Center Fellowship Program for the Long Beach Unified School District. He has been using the NAO robot since 2013 when he realized NAO was the tool for him to get kids excited about going to Mars, “NAO has legs, hands, and it’s totally, programmable which makes it the best tool to experiment going to Mars  and excite the students to learn more”

“Every time the students program the NAO Robot they feel amazed and Inspired to do more complex learning with him”. His High Schools students feel ready to work in Engineering programs, the specific projects with the robot last one week. And they really like the fact that they can program NAO and see the results immediately. “Their work is from typing to action,” Bob said. NAO is an actor in the Occupy Mars Learning Adventure simulation program.

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For Bob, the educational and social impact that he has noticed is that his program is appearing at more educational and robot events, and the audience seems to enjoy the special workshops and overall experience. The impact on the community and the rest of the district has been positive. They will participate in two city events centered around letting the community get a deeper understanding of robots and how they are used in education.

Lastly, to Bob, NAO is the best experimental tool to get students around the world excited about working together and studying STEM and STEAM++ project-based learning (science, technology, engineering, visual and performing arts, mathematics, computer languages and foreign languages) as they pursue careers in the Aerospace Industry. He will continue working to interact with more kids and transform the way of learning with NAO.

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Robots in the Classroom

In Finnish experiment, robots teach language and math classes



Students use a language trainer robot, Ellias, during their lesson at the school in Tampere, Finland March 27, 2017.

Credit: Attila Cser/Reuters

Elias, the new language teacher at a Finnish primary school, has endless patience for repetition, never makes a pupil feel embarrassed for asking a question and can even do the “Gangnam Style” dance.

Elias is also a robot.

The language-teaching machine comprises a humanoid robot and mobile application, one of four robots in a pilot program at primary schools in the southern city of Tampere.

The robot is able to understand and speak 23 languages and is equipped with software that allows it to understand students’ requirements and helps it to encourage learning. In this trial however, it communicates in English, Finnish and German only.

The robot recognizes the pupil’s skill levels and adjusts its questions accordingly. It also gives feedback to teachers about a student’s possible problems.

Some of the human teachers who have worked with the technology see it as a new way to engage children in learning.

“I think in the new curriculum the main idea is to get the kids involved and get them motivated and make them active. I see Elias as one of the tools to get different kinds of practice and different kinds of activities into the classroom,” language teacher Riikka Kolunsarka told Reuters.

“In that sense I think robots and coding the robots and working with them is definitely something that is according to the new curriculum and something that we teachers need to be open minded about.”

Elias the language robot, which stands around a foot tall, is based on SoftBank’s NAO humanoid interactive companion robot, with software developed by Utelias, a developer of educational software for social robots.

The math robot — dubbed OVObot — is a small, blue machine around 10 inches high and resembles an owl, and was developed by Finnish AI Robots.

The purpose of the pilot project is to see if these robots can improve the quality of teaching, with one of the Elias robots and three of the OVObots deployed in schools. The OVObots will be trialled for one year, while the school has bought the Elias robot, so its use can continue longer.

Using robots in classrooms is not new — teaching robots have been used in the Middle East, Asia and the United States in recent years, but modern technologies such as cloud services and 3D printing are allowing smaller start-up companies to enter the sector.

“Well, it is fun, interesting and exciting and I’m a bit shocked,” pupil Abisha Jinia told Reuters, giving her verdict on Elias the language robot.

Despite their skills in language and mathematics however, the robots’ inability to maintain discipline amongst a class of primary school children means that, for the time being at least, the human teachers’ jobs are safe.