The phrase “think global, act local” has for decades been a rallying cry for environmentalists concerned about the effect of people’s actions on the health of the planet. The same slogan should surely apply to education.
There are students of 67 nationalities enrolled at my college. Come and visit; in any classroom you’ll see the diversity that characterises London. Typically, in a class of 20 you’ll find students whose parents are from more than a dozen countries, speaking 20 or more languages. These are not overseas recruits – they are young British citizens living and developing their skills here in the UK. In fact, it’s hard to work in FE – at least in colleges serving our major cities – without being aware that we are part of an increasingly global economy.
You only have to look at the contents of your shopping bags to realise that trade is now international. Or go into your local hospital and look at the names of the doctors and nurses.
Rapid advances in satellite and internet communication, combined with cheap air travel and the fleets of massive container vessels filling our shipping lanes, have made global trade a reality. Goods, services, labour and capital are criss-crossing our planet in an ever-growing web.
And just as globalisation is bringing new opportunities and prosperity to all corners of the globe, so it is also bringing new problems and divisions: the fast-growing inequality between rich and poor, for example; the huge wealth being accumulated by a small elite; and the growing number at risk of being left behind in the race for a share of the good life. We need global solutions to these challenges. Global agreements over environmental regulation, taxation of excessive wealth, standards of justice and fairness.
An internationalist perspective
Sadly, instead of facing up to these challenges, a large number of our fellow citizens have chosen to stick their heads into the sandpit of nationalism. The urge to dismantle our European ties reminds me of the Luddite campaign to smash textiles machines during the industrial revolution. Like the Luddites, it won’t succeed in pushing back the tide of time – it will just cause delay and confusion. So, in the face of Brexit, we need to redouble our focus on ensuring that all we teach is informed by an internationalist perspective – to prepare our students to go with the flow.
In education, we need a determinedly global approach if we are to give our students the access to the new global labour market they need to enable them to compete for better-paid jobs. We need to revive modern-languages teaching; develop our links with overseas institutions; and accelerate the effort to ensure UK qualifications are recognised overseas, and that overseas qualifications have validity here.
Above all, we should prepare our 21st-century learners for the inevitability that their career prospects and future earnings will depend on their ability to think and act globally.
We need, in other words, to teach local, but think global.
Andy Forbes is principal of the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London