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To gain a deeper understanding of global citizenship education, we need to examine the past.

At the conclusion of World War II, the world was deeply divided, economically bankrupt and in desperate need to work together. Education was seen as a key to creating a new kind of future based on peace, collaboration and cross-national understanding. 

UNESCO was established in 1945 with the aim of promoting peace and security through international cooperation in education, the sciences and culture. To champion this work, UNESCO hosted a series of education seminars to discuss the role of education in bridging long-lasting peace and cross-national understanding.

UNESCO was established in 1945 to promote peace through international cooperation in education, the sciences and culture.


From these discussions, the concept of global education emerged. Global education later became known as global citizenship education, with the aim of preparing young people to live and work in collaborative, meaningful and peaceful ways.

Tracing the development of global citizenship education

Since these early beginnings, global citizenship education has continued to develop and evolve. More recently, global citizenship education has become a global target, as outlined in the 2015 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG indicator 4.7.1. This means that global citizenship education will become more visible in education policy, curriculums and teacher education programmes around the world.

The 17 SDGs are an urgent call for action at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by all United Nations Member States including New Zealand in 2015.

© United Nations

Governments, international organisations, non-government organisations and the private sector have all played a role in shaping global citizenship education to reflect their own goals, aspirations and interests. Because of this, there is not a universal definition of global citizenship education. 

For example, UNESCO’s recent work on global citizenship education has centred around the promotion of peace and sustainable development in local and global contexts. In this clip, New Zealand Education Commissioner for UNESCO Professor Carol Mutch highlights how UNESCO defines global citizenship education.

Professor Carol Mutch, New Zealand Education Commissioner for UNESCO, speaking about UNESCO's vision for global citizenship education at the Growing Global Citizens in Aotearoa Teacher Forum 2021.

© Centres of Asia-Pacific Excellence

Oxfam aims to make the world a more peaceful, secure and fair place by encouraging young people to take action within their local and global communities. On the other hand, the Global Citizen Forum centres global citizenship around five adaptive pillars: governance, mobility, culture, sustainability and technology. This showcases some of the different ways that global citizenship education is defined by organisations. 

Global citizenship education in Aotearoa New Zealand

In Aotearoa New Zealand, interest in global citizenship education has grown since the 1960s, when post-war education sought to strengthen young people’s understanding of social justice from a more global perspective. Since this time, concepts relating to global citizenship education have been interwoven throughout the curriculum.

The New Zealand Curriculum document.

@ Ministry of Education

In our current English-medium New Zealand Curriculum, global citizenship education is embedded within the social studies, learning languages, geography, history, health and physical education, arts and economics learning areas as well as through the curriculum vision, values, principles and key competencies. In Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, our Māori-medium curriculum, young people are encouraged to contribute to Māori society and the wider world in positive and effective ways.


What will our world look like, sound, like and feel like when all young people in the world participate in global citizenship education?

  • How will the world communicate with each other? 

  • How will the environment be protected?

  • How will global challenges be solved? 

  • How will disagreements be resolved? 

What role can young people play in creating this future?

Useful links

UNESCO: Global citizenship education topics and learning objectives provides a comprehensive guide to teaching global citizenship through cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioural dimensions. 

Find out more about the key themes that underpin UNESCO’s work in global citizenship education

Read more about  Oxfam’s definition of  global citizenship and how this informs its work on global citizenship education.

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