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Language Teacher

The Language Teacher

World Issues or A Global Perspective?

by Brenda Dyer & Brenda Bushell
Chuo University & International Christian University

Global Education is a growing educational trend world-wide, including Canada, the U.S.A., Europe, Mexico, the Philippines, India, and Japan. Although it has been criticized as an extra subject for an already crowded core curriculum, arguments have been made for its necessity:

In an interrelated world wherein our survival and well-being is intimately related to our capacity to understand and deal responsibly and effectively with other peoples and nations and with a host of international issues, global studies can be viewed as basic education. (Becker, 1978, p. 229)

The need for a global perspective in foreign language education in Japan is no exception. With Monbusho guidelines mandating communicative language teaching and the internationalization of Japanese high school education, high school and university English courses are shifting to approaches based on interactive skills and content dealing with social, cross-cultural, and global issues. According to the results of a survey administered to Japanese students studying English in three Tokyo universities, Japanese students themselves see the need for a global perspective in the subjects they study at college, including English (Bushell & Dyer, 1994).

While the rationale and benefits of global education in language teaching may be apparent to many EFL teachers in Japan, the status of global education in the West has been controversial. There has been and remains considerable argument in the West about the definitions and goals of global education. Lamy (1983) draws a distinction between international education, which tends to emphasize issues, and global education which emphasizes such concepts as interdependence, biocentrism, and "futures-thinking"; values, attitudes, and awareness. It is the latter definition, which implies values education, that has engendered the most criticism. To its supporters, global education is not a simple grab-bag of topics; neither is it merely environmentalism. It promotes a change in the way we see the world and reality; "a fundamental change of collective world view, equivalent in scale to the scientific revolution of the 17th century which overthrew the medieval world view" (Sterling, 1990, p. 121).

Definitions and Goals

Lamy (1983) identifies three definitions of global education as it has developed in the U.S. First, the geopolitical internationalist view, which emerged in the U.S. after World War II, defined international education as education that prepared students for the challenges of protecting the free world against the expansionist interests of the Soviet Union. This early version of global education assumed that national interests are protected through military strength and alliances that insure a global balance of power. In this view, international studies were needed to help develop effective foreign policy, and to assist in the development of the Third World, following a capitalist economic model. The second view, that of the free trade-internationalists, defined international education as education that prepared students for participation in a competitive economic world. By learning foreign languages and knowledge about other cultures, American investors and traders would be able to compete effectively with the Japanese and European business world. The last view, the utopian view, challenges the idea that every nation-state benefits from global interdependence; rather, the capitalist economic model allows rich and powerful nations to benefit the most. From this radical perspective, global education is education that promotes change in the existing international system that perpetuates injustice, conflict, and inequality. Utopian global education encourages attitudes which promote peace, cultural diversity, social justice and a sustainable environment.

Working within the context of the utopian vision of global education, Graham Pike and David Selby (1988) present the following model of a global perspective in education, adapted from Hanvey's seminal definition (1978). They present five goals which constitute the "irreducible global perspective," claiming that "if any of the five are not met, then the school is failing in part to address and prepare students for contemporary reality":

  1. Perspective consciousness is the awareness that we each have a view of the world that is not universally shared and that the perspective of others has its own legitimacy.
  2. Health of Planet awareness is an informed understanding of the concepts of justice, human rights and responsibilities in the health of society and of the planet. From the perspective of biocentrism, humans are one species within the planetary system and not in dominance over the planet.
  3. Systems Consciousness is the ability to think in a systems mode with a holistic view of the interdependent nature of change and cause and effect.
  4. Involvement Consciousness is the awareness of the ramifications of personal and collective choices.
  5. Process-mindedness is the awareness that learning is a cooperative, open-ended journey.

In global education, knowledge is not simply an understanding of each world issue in a list of discrete issues, but an awareness of the interconnections among these issues. Moreover, along with knowledge, the goals of global education increasingly emphasize values and attitudes. According to the National Council for the Social Studies in the U.S., the purpose of global education is to develop in youth the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to live effectively in a world possessing limited natural resources and characterized by ethnic diversity, cultural pluralism and increasing interdependence (cited in Horstein, 1990, p. 2; italics added). Kip Cates (1990) states that global education in language teaching "aims at enabling students to effectively acquire and use a foreign language while at the same time empowering them with the knowledge, skills, and commitment required by world citizens for the solution of global problems" (p. 3; italics added). Also writing as a global educator of ESL, Susan Stempleski (1993a) notes that a global education approach to EFL involves four goals: knowledge and awareness, the values of concern, the skills of critical thinking, and action.

Roadblocks in the Path of Global Education

Much criticism of global education in the U.S. and U.K. stems from concerns about the values which it may promote: for example, environmentalism, multiculturalism, anti-consumerism, and so forth. The public debate about which values schools should promote continues to affect choices of curriculum, but with little agreement. There is a similar apprehension among language teachers about imposing values as global educators. Global education is transformative, not conservative; students are often challenged to examine and perhaps change their assumptions and values. This transformative view of education is especially problematic in cross-cultural contexts where foreign teachers are trying to respect the cultural values of the students and not impose alien ones. A recently growing awareness of the sociopolitical aspects of English language teaching (Santos, 1992; Eggington, 1993) suggests that when we teach language, we cannot help also teaching cultural values, whether explicitly or implicitly. Potential problems range from the concerns of teachers who feel uncomfortable with "shoving culture down students' throats when they need to pass the TOEFL" (Jones, 1993, p. 19), to the discomfort of students who feel pressure to agree with the eco-bias of the textbook's or the teacher's views.

The second obstacle to the successful implementation of global education is the existing school climate or context and its current pedagogy. In a devastating critique of American classrooms, Horstein (1990) suggests that to incorporate a global perspective requires a responsive school culture which does not currently exist. He cites John Holt on how children develop strategies which actively avoid thinking, in order to get through school by pleasing their teachers and avoiding embarrassment. What students are taught is how to seek the right answers, how to conform. Horstein found in 1986 that in the classrooms he surveyed, activities focused on reading the textbook, answering questions, and filling out worksheets. Furthermore, Horstein cites research by L. McNeill that documents how teachers oversimplify or mystify content in order to avoid controversy and to control students:

Students in these programs probably learn more facts about the world. However . . . there is no discussion of change . . . or attention to issues beyond content. Students may "know" new things and may be able to parrot certain concerns, but aren't they simply regurgitating what the teacher has told them and deemed important? Is this global education? (p. 14).

These concerns about school climate and pedagogy are mirrored in language classrooms in Japan. A certain climate suffuses the large university classes of students who have been trained since junior high school to memorize, translate, and obey. Factual topics such as pollution and deforestation can be easily incorporated into the typically large English classes by choosing from the wide range of English reading texts published in Japan. A unit from these texts typically contains a short reading that describes a current issue, followed by multiple choice or blank gaps and short answer questions. But as we have seen, global education not only presents facts pertaining to world events, but also seeks to transform learners' perceptions of their responsibility in nature and in society.

Implementing a Global Perspective in Language Classes in Japan

We believe the best way to achieve a global perspective in the foreign language classroom is through a learner-centered syllabus informed by the students' needs, their present understanding of global issues, and a clarification of their own values. Values-oriented education seems best implemented by learner-centered pedagogy that encourages students to take responsibility for their learning, to learn cooperatively in pairs and small groups, and to make connections between the classroom lesson and their own lives (Horstein, 1990; Stempleski, 1993a). Students should be encouraged to use their English to clarify and express their values, to think and speak critically about world issues, and to judge and synthesize other perspectives. The following are a few concrete suggestions:

The Needs Analysis: Beginning with an analysis of student needs, teachers can identify students' beliefs about, and interest in, several world issues, thus countering somewhat the problem of imposing teacher bias on reluctant students. In order to identify our own students' beliefs and interests, we adapted a questionnaire (see Appendix) developed to establish a baseline of global awareness among Canadian youth (Roald, 1991). [For a description of the results of that questionnaire, see Bushell and Dyer (1995).]

Critical Thinking: There have been several helpful suggestions about incorporating critical thinking skills in EFL (Dale, 1995). The following is an example of a writing sequence, adapted from Friederich's model (1995), which helps students to get a sense of their own bias, and to clarify and support an opinion. Taking the topic of racism, for example, the teacher may have the students watch a movie that features racism in some way (Mississippi Burning, Do the Right Thing). After viewing, students write a one-page problem-solution response to the movie. These responses are copied and shared among students who then embark on the task of classifying their classmates' responses, and presenting this classification, with comment, in a three to four page essay. Depending on their level, students may be taught at this point how to incorporate and cite quotations from their peers' work. The end result is a very simple research-based opinion paper using classmates' writing as source material. This fairly simple sequence challenges students to go beyond their individual views of causation, and to inspect them in the complex context of the views of their fellow students.

Values Clarification and Perspective Consciousness: To go beyond a mere exchange of opinion to a deeper level of perspective consciousness, value-clarification surveys are effective (for examples, see Stempleski, 1993b). In these activities, students are asked to define their own values more overtly than they may have previously done. Cross-cultural simulations put them into situations where they find themselves behaving in ways they might not have imagined. For example, in R. G. Shirts's "Bafa Bafa" students spend an hour in a simulated foreign culture where they experience bewilderment, hostility, and intolerance. After the simulation, the crucial teacher-led discussion introduces the notions of cultural world view, prejudice, and stereotypes. Greater self-knowledge and compassion are the possible results. ("Bafa Bafa" is available through Simile II, Box 910, Del Mar, California 92014.)

Interdependence: Just reading about interdependence or systems thinking may leave students confused. Interactive speaking and listening tasks can demonstrate, rather than simply describe, these ideas. In Global Teacher, Global Learner, Pike and Selby (1988) make copious suggestions for problem-solving activities for EFL speaking and listening classes that can serve as powerful interpersonal and linguistic lessons or as warm-up, pre-reading or pre-writing activities: for example, cooperative learning tasks where each student has a different piece of information necessary to solve a group problem, or a hands-on project where a model or a puzzle is actually put together.


While global educators in North America and Europe must often contend with the constraints of public school curricula, language teachers in Japan, particularly in university settings, have an enviable freedom in curriculum and textbook choice. The potential for a truly empowering global education exists in English language classrooms across Japan. Studying EFL in the context of global education provides an opportunity for students to merge cognitive with affective and social growth, and to connect learning and living. Certainly studying facts in English about world issues is an important starting point in the language and global education of our students, but using English to help articulate a flexible and compassionate global perspective is the wider goal.


Becker, J. M. (1978). Goals for global education. Theory into Practice, 21 (3), 228-233.

Bushell, B., & Dyer, B. (1994). Global education as a framework for task-based language teaching. Language and Learning Journal, 154-171.

Bushell, B., & Dyer, B. (1995). Global perspectives: A needs assessment for freshmen students. ICU Language Research Bulletin, 10, 3-12.

Cates, K. (1990). Teaching for a better world: Global issues in language education. The Language Teacher, 14 (5), 3-5

Dale, J. (1995). Critical thinking and cultural analysis in the Japanese university classroom. The Language Teacher, 19 (11), 61-62.

Eggington, W. (1993). On the sociopolitical nature of English language teaching. TESOL Matters, 2 (6), 4.

Friederich, L. (1995). Treasures: Writing about possessions. The Language Teacher, 19 (3), 72-76.

Hanvey, R. (1978). An attainable global perspective. Theory into Practice, 21 (3), 163-167.

Horstein, S. (1990, March). If the world is round, and school is flat, can we have global education in schools? Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society, Anaheim, California.

Jones, S. F. (1993). Culture teaching or English teaching? TESOL Matters, 3 (3), 19.

Lamy, S.L. (1983). Defining global education. Educational Research Quarterly, 8 (1), 9-20.

Pike G., & Selby, D. (1988). Global teacher, global learner. Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton.

Roald, J. B. (1991). Project international education: A study of perspectives. Canadian Global Education Report, Paper 8. Halifax: Saint Mary's University Press.

Santos, T. (1992). Ideology in composition: L1 and ESL. Journal of Second Language Writing, 1 (1), 1-15.

Stempleski, S. (1993a). Linking the classroom to the world: The environment and EFL. English Teaching Forum, 31 (4 ).

Stempleski, S. (1993b). Focus on the environment. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Sterling, S. (1990). Environment, development, education: Towards a holistic view. In J. Abraham, C. Lacy & R. Williams (Eds.), Deception, demonstration, and debate (pp. 119-131). London: Kogan Press.


Global Education Questionnaire

Male ____ Female ____
Recent TOEFL Score ____
Time spent studying abroad ____

Part A
Indicate the degree of your concern about each of these global issues.

1. ____ the disposal of garbage and wastes in the world
2. ____ the destruction of traditional cultures and the environment by tourists
3. ____ poverty and hunger in the world
4. ____ discrimination against women in the world
5. ____ racism and discrimination in the world
6. ____ protectionism in global trade
7. ____ the destruction of tropical rainforests

1---------- 2---------- 3---------- 4---------- 5---------- 6---------- 7

Part B
Indicate the degree of your agreement with each of these statements.

1. ____ War is usually the result of greed or envy.
2. ____ The world would be peaceful if all nuclear weapons were destroyed.
3. ____ Problems in the world would be solved if people everywhere trusted one another more.
4. ____ Developing countries are poor because their people have too many children.
5. ____ Poverty exists in the world because people in the richer countries don't care.
6. ____ The world's natural resources are being exhausted because people in industrialized countries are too greedy.

1---------- 2---------- 3---------- 4---------- 5---------- 6---------- 7

Part C
Rate the frequency of your participation in each of these activities during your high school years. Then circle the ONE method you believe is the best way to learn about world affairs.

1. ____ Class discussions about world problems
2. ____ School projects or essays about world issues/other countries/cultures
3. ____ Watching movies or TV programs in school about world issues or other countries
4. ____ Special presentations by visitors who talked about life or problems abroad
5. ____ Special school or community projects to collect money or help people in other countries
6. ____ Discussion at home or with friends about world problems
7. ____ Viewing news programs on television
8. ____ Study/homestay abroad

1---------- 2---------- 3---------- 4---------- 5
never sometimes often

Part D
Indicate the degree of your agreement with each of these statements.

1. ____ The problem of world poverty is so enormous and complex that I don't see how my life or my efforts will make much difference.
2. ____ The problem of world poverty is my problem since the future of my life is tied to the lives of all other people on earth.
3. ____ The problem of world poverty is solvable, and my responsibility is to do everything possible to get people and governments to work on a solution.
4. ____ The problem of world poverty is mostly a problem of foreign countries and it will have little effect on my life as a Japanese citizen.
5. ____ The problem of world poverty is a problem for the government to solve. It has little to do with me.

1---------- 2---------- 3---------- 4---------- 5---------- 6---------- 7

Part E
Indicate the degree of your agreement with each of these statements.

1. ____ I think learning about global issues in English (reading, writing, and discussing about world issues in English) can lead to the improvement of my English ability.
2. ____ I believe I need to improve basic grammar, vocabulary, and conversation skills before I try to study global issues in English.
3. ____ I think it is important for university students to spend some time in study about global issues, regardless of their major.
4. ____ I am tired of "Save the Earth" campaigns and I would resent having an environmental theme in my English class readings and assignments.

1---------- 2---------- 3---------- 4---------- 5---------- 6---------- 7

Article copyright © 1996 by the author.
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Last modified: November 13, 1996
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