Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes: Understanding global competence through the lens of the OECD
By Hamish Curry, Executive Director, Asia Education Foundation
For the first time, in 2018 the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) included a component Test on Global Competence. The long-awaited results of this section were published on 22 October 2020, in the aptly titled Volume VI, ‘Are students ready to thrive in an interconnected world?'. The first edition of AEF Investigates looks at the results of this report.
For learners to effectively navigate and negotiate pathways with others across our interconnected world, they need to have global competence. Andreas Schleicher, Director (OECD Directorate for Education and Skills) explains that:
The backdrop to 21st century education is our endangered environment. Growing populations, resource depletion and climate change compel all of us to think about sustainability and the needs of future generations. ...Digitalisation is connecting people, cities, countries and continents in ways that vastly increase our individual and collective potential. But the same forces have also made the world volatile, complex and uncertain.
For the last few years, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has been refining its work to define the role of education in developing global competence. In simple terms, global competence is the combination of local, global and intercultural knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values across different cultural backgrounds and on a range of global issues .
For the first time, in 2018 the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) included a component Test on Global Competence. The long-awaited results of this section were published on 22 October 2020, in the aptly titled Volume VI, ‘Are students ready to thrive in an interconnected world?'.
Video: What did the PISA 2018 global competence test assess, and why is it important?
 PISA Vol. VI, p.56
Global citizens regard planet Earth as our common home.
‘Global competence’, as a description of how learners understand and interact with the world, has largely emerged since the turn of the century. When compared to a term like ‘global citizenship’ on an English text comparison (using Google NGram), the differences in the frequency of use are clear. See Figure One.
Figure One: Google NGram search ’global citizenship, global competence’ (2020)
Some of the background to the OECD’s approach on global competence was influenced by the work of the Competencies for Democratic Culture (CDC) by the Council of Europe in 2014. The CDC model has the same distinctions the OECD utilised in the development of their global competence model - especially in the segmentation of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values. Interestingly, the CDC filtered through ‘55 possible competences that were identified across the 101 competence schemes’  in order to refine their model. See Figure Two on the CDC model below -
Figure Two: Competencies for Democratic Culture model (2014)
As a case in point concerning the challenges in defining and measuring terminology, Brookings Institution convened a working group of 88 key stakeholders in 2014, including representatives of UNESCO, to explore Measuring Global Citizenship Education (2017) and had great difficulty in agreeing on a concise description of what it was. They referred to UNESCO’s (2015) definition of global citizenship as “a sense of belonging to a broader community and common humanity. It emphasizes political, economic, social and cultural interdependency and interconnectedness between the local, the national and the global.”
This circles back to the evolution of OECD’s definitions in their Global Competence model, emerging during a decade that has seen many education systems naming key competencies or capabilities as a core focus of learning. In late 2017 and into early 2018 - the year the PISA Test that included the component test on global competence was conducted - two key publications detailed how the OECD would approach global competence and its measurement. The first was published in conjunction with Asia Society titled ‘Teaching for Global Competence in a Rapidly Changing World’ with OECD’s own follow-up ‘Preparing our youth for an inclusive and sustainable world’. The latter publication provided significant detail on how questions would be framed in the PISA Global Competence Questionnaire.
Since then, the OECD model and descriptions of the four dimensions of Global Competence has remained the same, though its design has evolved. See Figure Three.
Figure Three: OECD Global Competence model, PISA Vol. VI, p.57
While OECD’s definition of Global Competence is based on the dimensions above, and explained on page 55 of the Report, the OECD makes a further important clarification: “Global competence is not a specific skill, but rather a combination of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values successfully applied both in face-to-face, virtual or mediated encounters with people who are perceived to be from a different cultural background and in individuals’ engagement with global issues”.
THE PISA 2018 GLOBAL COMPETENCE TEST
The significance of the PISA Global Competence Test cannot be understated. 66 education jurisdictions contributed student response data on global competence for hundreds of thousands of 15-year-olds. Languages, and the ability of students to speak foreign languages, are given additional emphasis and analysis in this Report. A study of this size has also highlighted the role of key factors such as gender, socio-economic status, and curriculum in relation to global competence.
For Australia, some of these factors in global competence were highlighted in a 2015 Australian study published by Deakin University titled ‘Doing Diversity: Intercultural Understanding in Primary and Secondary Schools’ which explored the relationship between socio-economic contexts, whole school integration, curriculum, leadership, professional learning, and learning experiences on intercultural capabilities in Victorian schools. It highlights successive efforts to better understand and measure these global and intercultural capabilities (or competencies) in education.
In many ways, an OECD Report of this size and detail should prompt more questions than answers and it does. The Report raises some very important questions drawn from the data :
- How much are students exposed to global news?
- How do they understand and critically analyse intercultural and global issues?
- What approaches to multicultural, intercultural and global education are used at school?
- What approaches are used to educate culturally diverse students?
- How are schools leveraging this diversity to develop students’ global competence?
- What approaches are used to stimulate peer-to-peer learning between students from different cultures?
It should also be acknowledged that the development and administration of an international test on global competence is not without its challenges. First, it should be noted that the context of the OECD’s work emerged from Western-centric research and assessments of this field and may have limitations in its framing. Secondly, it is incredibly challenging for any test that requires students to respond to cultural contexts to encapsulate everything diverse nations may want students to know or do about global competence.
Notwithstanding those qualifications, the Report provides some important perspectives to help education systems better address global competence going forward.
 PISA Vol. VI, p.140
 Competencies for Democratic Culture (2014), Appendix B, p.69
 Measuring Global Citizenship Education (2017), p.3
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Students should not only be able to navigate this complex environment – they should benefit from it. 
The OECD’s Global Competence model has 4 key dimensions. In order of complexity, they are:
- Dimension 1: Examine local, global and intercultural issues
- Dimension 2: Understand and appreciate the perspectives and worldviews of others
- Dimension 3: Engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions across cultures
- Dimension 4: Take action for collective well-being and sustainable development.
A comparison of responses on OECD Global Competence dimensions reveals one of the consistent patterns in this Report and the levels of awareness and perceived agency of youth on global issues.
Understanding the scale and context of global issues is a key factor in being able to appreciate adversity and achievement; even in relation to the results of this very test itself. The PISA Test covered seven global issues - Climate Change & Global Warning, Global Health, Migration, International Conflicts, Hunger or Malnutrition in different parts of the world, Causes of poverty, and Equality between men and women in different parts of the world.
Clearly, taking action on any of these issues requires a highly perceptive and contextual interpretation and creates some tension around what it means to be globally competent.
Consider the table below (Figure Four) that indicates very strong awareness in students across the range of global issues facing the world (related to Dimension 1). In general, two out of three students understand these global issues exist and appreciates there are challenges in many societies and environments.
Figure Four: OECD PISA Vol. VI, p.73
When compared to responses about students’ agency on global issues in Figure Five (related to Dimension 4), the responses show a similar level of consistency and agreement; noting that the OECD average appears to be reversed in this configuration when compared to the Figure Four. Overall, these averages are a powerful reminder that despite differences in results for various nations, a high proportion of students across 66 education jurisdictions feel they understand and are willing to address complex global issues. However, when drilling down OECD notes a pattern where “…findings show that students are more likely to engage with simple actions that do not require time or financial commitments.”
A further reinforcing finding suggested that “students who exhibited more positive intercultural attitudes were more likely to report that they take action than those who exhibited fewer positive attitudes.” Taken collectively, this data provides the evidence that young people have the capacity and willingness to engage with global issues, provided they have the opportunities, knowledge and teacher-guidance to help them take steps to address them.
Figure Five: OECD PISA Vol. VI, p.143
Perhaps one of the most important clarifications in the PISA Test on Global Competence were the details revealed on how education jursidictions participating in the full test were scored in their proficiency in global competence.
OECD categorised these into six levels of proficiency; see pages 157-160 of the Report for details on the descriptors for these levels of Global Competence. Proficiency scales describe not only student performance, but also the difficulty of the tasks presented to students in the assessment. The overall spread of performance by participating nations was summarised that on average:
- Level 5 – 4% of students attained the highest level of proficiency
- Level 4 – 9% of students attained this level of proficiency
- Level 3 – 16% of students attained this level of proficiency
- Level 2 – 21% of students attained this level of proficiency
- Level 1 – 23% of students attained this level of proficiency
- Below level 1 – 26% did not attain level 1 proficiency.
Larger groupings of student results are in the lower levels of proficiency. This perhaps indicates the level of difficulty and comprehension required in this PISA Test, as well as the expected reasoning, awareness, and complexity of higher levels. Global Competence test questions can be viewed here and the sample Questionnaire can be viewed here. Results were also linked to other factors which included students’ economic, social, and cultural status, gender and immigrant background.
Interestingly, there are connections between performance in this test and the regular PISA tests on reading, science, and mathematics. “On average across the 27 countries and economies that conducted the global competence assessment, performance on this test was correlated at 0.84 with performance in reading; at 0.79 with performance in science and at 0.73 with performance in mathematics.” It would suggest that the overall effectiveness of an education system has clear benefits beyond traditional disciplines, notwithstanding other factors for individuals and jurisdictions. Andreas Schleicher reiterates that the “global competence of our youths today may shape our future as profoundly as their reading, math and science skills.”
The six levels of proficiency were also mapped into segments for the nations who completed the whole test component (see Figure Six). However, it is important not to be drawn into competitive comparisons between nations by such data, which has been a common pitfall of the PISA ‘league tables’ being used as a pointless race to the top. Instead, they offer some insights into the spread of proficiency. For example, the larger chunked patterns would suggest that practical interventions on global competence could have a significant impact. This data should again prompt questions about the various education systems and their curricula, and the exposure and experiences of students in relation to global competence.
Figure Six: OECD PISA Vol. VI, p.161
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The data also show that the world is no longer divided between rich and well-educated nations and poor and badly educated ones. 
The 66 education jurisdictions that took part in the PISA Global Competence Test (of the 79 that completed the core PISA Tests) have provided some unique insights. Twenty-seven jurisdictions engaged students with the complete Test, and a further 39 took the Questionnaire (including Australia). It is worth noting the participation and diverse results for the Asia-Pacific region, across Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chinese Taipei, Macao (China), Hong Kong (China), Indonesia, Korea, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Thailand, Turkey, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Viet Nam.
More than 40 per cent of students in Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, The Philippines, and Thailand performed below Level 1 proficiency in Global Competence. By contrast, less than 10 per cent of students in Hong Kong (China), Singapore, and Chinese Taipei performed at this level. To some extent, it appears that the globally integrated island entrepots have performed better than some others in Asia. A correlation between high scores in global competence and high GDP from external trade could be an additional criterion that plays a subtle but contributing role to the global awareness and familiarity of students.
The broad differences in these results provide an opportunity for education systems across the Asia-Pacific to collaborate in lifting the shared understanding and interactions around global competence.
When it comes to Dimension 1 of Global Competence in the Asia-Pacific, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Viet Nam reported the lowest levels of awareness of global issues. The smallest proportion of correct answers on Dimension 4 for ‘taking action’ was observed in Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, The Philippines, and Thailand.
Being amongst such company in the Asia-Pacific should also inspire a multicultural nation like Australia to further participate in learning about and building global competence within the region. Positive and sustainable learning relationships between education systems is highly relevant and effective platform for developing global competence.
Furthermore, given that perspective-taking and respect are key tenets of global competence, these results should encourage a nation like Australia to continue to foster intercultural learning with our regional neighbours. Australia should take note of education jurisdictions in Singapore, the Republic of Korea and Hong Kong who scored very highly across most of the dimensions and in the upper levels of proficiency in global competence, as well as in the core PISA Test categories. The effectiveness of these education systems was noted in research from the Grattan Institute back in 2012 ‘Catching Up: Learning from the best school systems in East Asia’.
The Report provides some interesting insights on the influence of immigration and multiculturalism on global competence. The Report suggests immigrants have an impact on global competence. For example, data from Australia highlighted that students “…reported the most positive attitudes towards immigrants, with values in the index that were significantly higher than the OECD average.” Similarly, for Australia “differences in awareness of intercultural communication in favour of immigrant students were observed in 9 countries/economies”, with immigrant students also exhibiting “…greater agency regarding global issues” including Australia.
Participation at this scale has also allowed a much stronger indication of how global competence is related to global knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Figure Seven gives an indication of the strong correlation between respect for, and interest in, other cultures, as well as the depth of thinking that helps develop perspective-taking and empathy with others. While these kinds of links should not be a revelation, they do provide the kinds of evidence which helps inform and persuade education systems and jurisdictions to embed elements of global competence in their curricula.
Figure Seven: OECD PISA Vol. VI, p.109
On curricula, the Report notes that this alone is not enough to impact learning around global competence. Including global issues and intercultural learning “in the curriculum was not positively associated with the corresponding attitudes among students. A possible explanation is that the effectiveness of the intended curriculum depends on teachers’ capacity to successfully integrate these topics into their lessons.”
It shouldn't be a revelation that professional development and whole school approaches are a clear factor in making measurable differences.
Further benefits to gathering data of this type and size are the ways in which it reinforces and reminds the participating education jurisdictions that there are many gaps to be addressed. A clear tension is access to information and engagement with global contexts between advantaged and disadvantaged students.
While differences in average performance across countries and economies were large, the gap that separates the highest-performing and lowest-performing students within each region was even larger. Singapore stands out as a country with the highest mean performance and greatest variations, while Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and the Philippines showed lower mean performance and the smallest variations. Furthermore, students “enrolled in advantaged schools tended to enjoy more opportunities than those enrolled in disadvantaged schools to participate in three of the ten learning activities assessed: learning about different cultures; participating in classroom discussions about world events; and learning how people from different cultures can have different perspectives on some issues.”
One final gap in participation is the role of gender. “In 45 of 65 countries and economies that took the questionnaire, girls showed significantly greater awareness of global issues than boys.” Similarly, in “all countries and economies, girls reported greater respect for people from other cultures than boys.” Notably, some of the largest gender gaps in favour of girls were observed in Australia.
While there are attempts to interpret the various reasons for this, gender differences should act as a reminder to educators, and their systems, to consider how structure and delivery of content is varied and scaled to ensure genders develop mutually reinforcing knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
Communication is a significant factor. How young people can develop global competence within, and between, cultures requires further critical analysis, and none more so than the role of languages.
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Learning multiple languages has the potential of developing a range of skills that extend beyond the realm of language proficiency. 
Students who learn a second language was noted as very common across all education systems who participated in this PISA Test. In regions with a high level of ethnic and linguistic diversity, speaking multiple languages becomes a very effective skill to navigate and negotiate amongst people. However, it is unsurprising that in nations where English is the national language there is a much higher proportion of students who do not learn a second language.
Some argue that the apparent global ubiquity of English creates apathy in learners in seeing the value of another language, yet the frequency of Mandarin, Spanish, and even Hindi globally are also extremely high.
For nations like Australia who rate second last in learning foreign languages, it highlights a glaring rift in building global competence locally, globally, and interculturally. Associations with global competence and speaking two or more languages were positive and statistically significant in almost all countries.
The Report’s Executive Summary dedicates seven pages (from pages 23-30) to data exploring the significance between languages and the Global Competence Dimensions. In most secondary school education systems across Asia-Pacific, learning a second language is compulsory (unlike Australia), with flow on effects on the way languages are offered, resourced and taught. The low and declining rates of language learning in Australia remain alarming, and undermine our global competence. However, more than 40 percent more immigrants than native-born students in Australia spoke two or more languages. The largest proportion of students who speak several languages in Asia was observed in Hong Kong, Macao and Singapore, where more than 90 percent of students reported that they speak two or more languages.
Figure Eight: OECD PISA Vol. VI, p. 131
When it comes to growing global competence, how students interact, even in their first language, is still crucial. As the Report clearly states, “effective communication in intercultural contexts is also facilitated through active listening. This means listening not only to what is being said, but also to how it is being said, through both voice and accompanying body language. Competent students are capable speakers who can use their body language and voice effectively when they discuss and debate global issues. They can express and justify a personal opinion and persuade others to pursue a particular course of action.”
An understanding of the ways in which students can interact to build global competence can help guide educators, and learners themselves, in developing more advanced skills and attitudes.
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Equipping citizens with the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve their full potential, to contribute to an increasingly interconnected world, and to convert better skills into better lives, needs to become a more central preoccupation of policy makers around the world. 
This Report provides recommendations and strategies for how education systems and schools can improve levels of global competence amongst students. Through the question data, OECD reported that the “most common activities students engage in are those that involve instruction and learning, rather than those that involve active discussion or participation. This could indicate that current teaching practices rely on teacher-directed instruction rather than participative activities.”
Ways of helping teachers scaffold and change these pedagogic approaches for improved global competence would be constructive next steps.
There are some strategies outlined in the Report that certainly help guide schools in facilitating greater global competence. These include pedagogical approaches for co-operative learning, project-based learning, and role-playing and simulations.
Having a culturally sensitive or inclusive curriculum is given particular emphasis, cautioning that “school curricula often focus on national histories and cultures of the majority group while neglecting those of minority groups. A culturally inclusive curriculum treats the cultural affiliation of minorities as an asset that enriches the learning experience of all students.” This area of ‘cultural sensitivity’ is referenced in the Victorian Intercultural Capability Curriculum, but it would benefit from being embedded as one of the key strands.
To really embed and amplify global competence requires a whole-school approach. No one teacher or area of a school can drive and scale global competence.
The Report reinforces that core message. Offerings from school leadership and education system leaders, governance and curriculum scaffolds, positive teacher-student relations, and intercultural content all play an integrated and significant role in positioning global competence as a key benefit of a world-class education.
One area deserving of additional emphasis is professional development – which is seen as an ongoing factor where the very knowledge, skills, and attitudes of teachers in navigating global competence cannot be ignored by education systems.
Figure Nine: OECD PISA Vol. VI, p.195
In summary, for real global competence to continue to flourish in schools, sustained efforts around comprehension, communication, and collaboration must happen - and they must be planned for by systems, schools and teachers.
To the students and the educators, who see, and aspire to see themselves as global citizens, it will be the extent of local, global and intercultural exposure, experiences and empathy that help them thrive in today’s world.
WAYS AEF CAN HELP
- AEF provides a range of resources and toolkits to support whole-school approaches, including the What Works series.
- AEF has a range of curriculum resources to guide schools in delivering intercultural content across key learning areas.
- AEF engages students across Australia in learning about Asia-Pacific through a range of Youth Forums, fostering greater collaboration and communication.
- AEF offers schools opportunities to develop partnerships with schools across Asia-Pacific, especially through its BRIDGE School Partnerships program
- AEF also offers customised professional learning courses in global citizenship for education jurisdictions and regularly writes about a range of issues and opportunities around intercultural learning.
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