Big picture thinking How to educate the whole person…
Programme for International Student Assessment
Veronica Boix Mansilla
© OECD 2022
Globalisation and digitalisation have connected people, cities, countries and continents in ways
that vastly increase our individual and collective potential. But the same forces have also made the
world more volatile, more complex, more uncertain and more ambiguous. The world is witnessing
a growing disconnect between an infinite growth imperative and the finite resources and delicate
ecosystems of our planet; between the financial economy and the real economy; between the
wealthy and the poor; between the concept of gross domestic product and the well-being of people;
between technology and social needs; and between governance and the perceived voicelessness
No one should hold education responsible for all of this but neither should anyone underestimate
the role that people’s knowledge, skills, attitudes and values play in social and economic
development and in shaping the cultural context.
In today’s world, education is no longer just about teaching students something but about helping
them develop a reliable compass and the tools to confidently navigate through an increasingly
complex, volatile and uncertain world. Success in education today is about identity, it is about
agency and it is about purpose. It is about building curiosity – opening minds. It is about compassion
– opening hearts. And it is about courage – mobilising our cognitive, social and emotional resources
to take action. These are also our best weapons against the biggest threats of our times: ignorance
– the closed mind; hate – the closed heart; and fear – the enemy of agency.
Things that are easy to teach and test have become easy to digitise and automate. We know how to
educate learners who are good at repeating what we tell them. But in this age of acceleration and
artificial intelligence, we need to think harder about what makes us human.
Algorithms that sort us into groups of like-minded individuals create social media echo chambers
that amplify our views and insulate us from opposing arguments that may alter our beliefs. These
virtual bubbles homogenise opinions and polarise our societies; and they can have a significant
– and adverse – impact on democratic processes. Those algorithms are not a design flaw; it is how
social media works. There is a scarcity of attention but an abundance of information. We are living
in a digital bazaar where anything that is not built for the network age is cracking apart under its
The conventional approach in school is to break problems down into manageable bits and pieces
and then to teach students how to solve these bits and pieces. But modern societies create value by
synthesising different fields of knowledge and making connections between ideas that previously
seemed unrelated. Innovation comes from connecting the dots.
In today’s schools, students typically learn individually and at the end of the school year, we certify
their individual achievements. But the more interdependent the world becomes, the more we
need great collaborators and orchestrators. We can see during this pandemic how the well-being
of countries depends increasingly on people’s capacity to take collective action. Schools need to
help students learn to be autonomous in their thinking and aware of the pluralism of modern living.
This is important. At work, at home and in the community, people will need a broad understanding
of how others live in different cultures and traditions, and how others think, whether as scientists
or as artists.
The foundation for this doesn’t entirely develop naturally. We are all born with “bonding social
capital”, a sense of belonging to our family or other people with shared experiences, common
purposes or pursuits. But it requires deliberate and continuous efforts to create the kind of “bridging
social capital” through which we can share experiences, ideas and innovation with others, and
increase our radius of trust to strangers and institutions.
These considerations led PISA, the global standard for measuring the quality of educational
outcomes, to include ‘global competence’ in its latest evaluation of 66 school systems. To do well on
this assessment, students had to demonstrate that they can combine knowledge about the world
with critical reasoning, and that they were able to adapt their behaviour and communication to
interact with individuals from different traditions and cultures.
It is perhaps no surprise that countries that generally do well in education also tended to show
higher levels of global competence: students in Singapore and Canada who do well on the PISA
subject matter tests also came out on top in global competence. What is more interesting, however,
is that a country like Colombia where students often struggle with reading, math and science tasks
does far better on global competence than predicted by its reading, math and science scores.
Also Scotland, Spain, Israel, Panama, Greece, Croatia, Costa Rica and Morocco did better than
expected. In turn, students in Korea and the Russian Federation did less well than predicted. In other
words, global competence is not an automatic by-product of academic learning, it is something
that needs to be nurtured.
But how can this be done effectively? How do we design curricula, instruction, assessments, and
learning environments that develop students’ global competence?
This publication offers research-informed and actionable pedagogical principles that policy
makers, leaders, and educators can use to support equitable and effective global and intercultural
competence education. It includes case studies to illustrate these guiding principles in
real-life contexts like classrooms, museums, learning centres, cultural exchange programmes, and
digital platforms. Around the world today, teachers like Marissa (Box 1) are embracing the shifting
demands of their profession.
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