By Heidi Gibson, Director of Global Schools First
No one individual can defeat the threat of COVID-19 singlehandedly. As the world faces the crisis of coronavirus, we are, at the same time, reaffirming our reliance on each other through our critical role as collaborators. COVID-19 presents a unique challenge to our global community. Everyone must do their part to ensure that the virus is contained, including children.
Humans have been collaborating since there have been humans. Our complex societies and greatest achievements are testaments to this collaboration. From Neolithic trade routes to online shopping, from the pyramids to skyscrapers, every step along our human journey has been marked by cooperation between people. Our ability to take collective action and collaborate with others throughout our local and global communities is particularly apparent and necessary during times of crisis, such as the pandemic we face today.
Health care staff are collaborating to help care for the sick, delivery workers are collaborating to ensure supplies get to households, agricultural workers and grocery staff are collaborating to keep the food supply working, and scientists are collaborating to understand COVID-19 and how to combat it. However, the collaboration needed to fight COVID-19 is not confined to adults. Children are great collaborators, too.
In their homes, children learn to cooperate and collaborate with siblings or other family members. In school and in their communities, children learn the values of collaboration and teamwork. As they engage in playtime and in activities with their friends, they learn the value of working together to achieve a common goal. Today, children all over the world are being asked to work together to achieve a common goal of staying healthy and safe from COVID-19. Although children’s lives are being disrupted, they are learning important lessons about working together.
Yes, it can be challenging for children to understand and embrace their role within a pandemic. When we ask our children to sacrifice time with their friends, activities, and schools, we should also empower them by explaining why. Let them feel a sense of purpose and efficacy by contributing to the global goal of controlling this pandemic. At the same time, parents and educators must help children understand that they are not alone; they are part of a world full of people who are collaborating to achieve this aim.
The impacts of COVID-19 and our fight against its spread definitively show the importance of preparing ourselves and the rising generation to survive and thrive in a globally interconnected world. We need to take this opportunity to ask ourselves if children are learning the skills they will need to flourish and conquer further global collaboration challenges. This is the work of global citizenship education.
Global citizenship education focuses on teaching the skills and attitudes needed for broad social collaboration. It highlights skills such as the ability to dissect and understand complicated topics, critically examine our surroundings, consider ethical responsibilities, and communicate with diverse groups of people. It emphasizes attitudes such as a responsibility to the common good, a sense of community belonging, and deep empathy. These are all skills that are foundational to supporting collaboration. After the past few months, can there be any doubt that this should be an essential part of every child’s education? Everyone should be prepared to join together to face the global challenges that lie ahead. The good news is there is no better time to start.
The resiliency of the human spirit in adversity is inspiring and we have had many examples to inspire us in recent months. We can feel encouraged and part of something greater than ourselves as we watch the examples of Italian musicians on balconies sharing a sense of community, dancing Iranian nurses sparking joy, educators around the world sharing resources, and neighbors putting up signs to celebrate special events from a distance. This can be a moment for hope, not despair. Hope that out of the ashes of a global pandemic, we can build a world that recognizes our greatest strength is each other.
At Childhood Education International, we hope that as children weather this crisis and return to their classrooms, they continue to be supported to increase their empathy and become secure in the knowledge that they are a crucial part of a global community collaborating to build a better future for all.
We have developed a small conversation guide to help children explore their identities as community members, helpers, and global citizens. We suggest this conversation guide can be a starting point for parents and teachers as they discuss with children how they are an integral part of a collaborating and caring community. We have even included a certificate to award children in recognition of their role as “stay at home heroes.”