Students want to learn about global issues in school, yet one in three don't

03 March 2020

Students around the world are keener than ever before to learn about global issues like climate change in school, but currently almost a third aren’t getting the opportunity to do so, according to new research.  

Over 11,000 students aged 13 to 19 took part in our international exam board Cambridge Assessment International Education's first ever Global Perspectives survey and shared their views on global issues; how they learn about them; and how their awareness of these issues might impact on their future career choices. 

Globally, more than a quarter (26%) of all the students who responded to the survey said climate change was the biggest issue facing the world today. It topped the poll in three quarters of countries surveyed – the highest number of students opting for this were in Spain (46%), UK (45%), New Zealand (44%) and the United States (39%). 

Only students in China, Indonesia and Brazil bucked the global trend. Chinese and Indonesian students felt pollution including plastic waste was the number one concern, and students in Brazil said poverty and economic inequality was their top concern. Globally, pollution and poverty and economic equality, were the second and third most chosen issues of concern.

Almost all students who took part in the survey (96%) believe it is important to learn about global issues in school. However, almost a third (31%) say they do not currently get the opportunity to do so, despite wanting to.  

As a result, the research found many students around the world are turning to other sources of information to learn about global issues. A quarter of all students surveyed said their most trusted sources of information are charities and organisations dedicated to particular global issues, one in five turn to the internet and 17% to social media. 

Younger students are learning about global issues in school slightly more frequently than their older peers. 41% of 13 to 16 year olds say they discuss global issues in school at least once a week, compared to just 35% of 17-19 year olds.   

Almost half of all student surveyed felt that time at school dedicated to learning about important global issues would encourage them to be more active in raising awareness about it. Others said that better access to information explaining how they can help and a high profile campaign would encourage them to do more.

The study found that many students are already very active in taking individual action to tackle global issues.A staggering 92% of young people globally, already take some form of action. More than half (55%) raise awareness by sharing knowledge with family and friends, and 46% have made changes to their own lifestyle. Almost two in five students raise awareness on social media (38%), 26% sign petitions and 21% give money to organisations working to address big issues.  

And looking ahead, three quarters of young people around the globe who responded to the survey said that when applying for jobs in the future they will consider what a potential employer’s attitude is towards global issues.  A further 4 out of 5 want to pursue a career where they can make a positive contribution towards solving their issue of biggest concern.

Finally, two thirds of students globally believe the situation with these issues will be worse by 2030. Only 28% thought they would be better in 10 years' time. 

The survey was conducted leading up to Cambridge Global Perspectives Week which runs from 1-7 March 2020. During the week, schools will have the opportunity to trial a Cambridge Global Perspectives™ lesson with younger and older students. 

Christine Özden, Chief Executive, Cambridge International, said: “In a world that is constantly evolving with some huge global challenges ahead, we feel that it is even more important that students not only engage with key global issues but develop the skills to research, discuss and evaluate the facts, and work with others to understand different perspectives around the world. 

“Cambridge Global Perspectives equips students with the essential skills they need for further study at university and for the future world of work. We look forward to giving many more schools and students the opportunity to learn about this unique programme during Cambridge Global Perspectives Week.”  

Cambridge Global Perspectives is a programme that provides an opportunity for students aged 5 to 19 to think and learn more about the topics and global issues they care about. It also focuses on developing life-long skills like critical thinking, research and collaboration. 

During Cambridge Global Perspectives Week schools will be sharing what they did during the trial lessons on social media – Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Cambridge schools that already offer the programme to their students will share stories and views on Cambridge Global Perspectives, including what they are doing in their lessons that week and examples of exemplar projects their students have produced.