Global connectedness

Most of us now have more opportunities to connect with others than ever before. Social networks, global branding and economic advancement, ease of travel and global communications – all accessed through a handheld device — characterise the world in which we live. I used to think that having a pen pal in Norway, to whom I wrote on delicate airmail paper, was the height of sophistication. Now I can talk to her face-to-face, share photos of our families, use Google Translate to write in Norwegian, even visit her town on Google Earth.

If you remember the world pre-Internet, it is truly something to be marvelled at. But it can also shock us; the now open, public nature of world events can harshly illustrate inequalities in living conditions, levels of prosperity and opportunities.

In this globally connected world, our challenge as educators is to prepare our learners to not only take advantage of all that this offers, but also to encourage them to question, investigate and act as global citizens.

What do we mean by “global connectedness”?

It is only a few decades since it took up to 100 days [Source:Te Ara] to sail to New Zealand from Europe. Letters took weeks. The closure of my local Post Office shop marks the influence of our changing, connected world. Through a combination of email, social networks and online shopping – by which I can purchase everything, from runner beans to running shoes, without leaving the house – many of our local stores are under threat. The convenience of being able to shop anytime, anywhere, purchase a Starbucks coffee in any city in the world or Skype someone in another country for just a few cents, seem to be unrelentingly tipping many countries beyond a point of no-return towards complete reliance on global connections.

While some countries have benefited from economic growth and improved living conditions as a result, never have we been so aware of how others live — and how unequal this can be. For example, although poverty levels in Latin America and the Caribbean (2001-2012) fell, 200m people, or 38% of the population, remain vulnerable [source: UNDP, 2014]. Global problems require global solutions. The Global Education First Initiative (United Nations), for example, advocates for equality of opportunity and access to education across the world [Source: United Nations, GEFI].

ALS Ice Challenge, anyone?). It brings untold benefits while exposing (even amplifying) mob mentality, inequality and injustice.

In New Zealand, this global connectedness can turn cheeky local start-ups into global heavyweights. Tested in a small market, we see our local heroes turn to global success: think Xero accountancy, Loomio software, Hapara teacher dashboard, and Icebreaker clothing to name a few. Crucially, we must remember that it is our local character, our cultures — particularly that of Māori and Pasifika peoples — and our specialist knowledge that grounds us globally.


There are three major drivers behind this trend of global connectedness.


This has been a powerful catalyst, enabler and intervention. Internet World Stats indicate growth across the planet in terms of usage, albeit unevenly. In the 2012 census, 4 out of 5 New Zealand homes had Internet access.

Changing demographics

Growth in workforces, aging populations, and increased international mobility in the search for employment has impacted on labour markets and supplies of skilled workers [Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment]. Many of New Zealand’s workforce travel here from overseas, often on short-term contracts, while other roles are now managed offshore.

Economic competition

The continuous push to win competitive advantage, in terms of supply and demand, now operates at a global level and impacts across social, political and environmental systems. While countries that operate competitive policies can grow their markets, the recent global economic crisis highlighted the risks and challenges that lie in such an interconnected system.

Impact on education: what does it look like for our learners?

The New Zealand Curriculum has anticipated this trend in its vision for connected learners who can support the well-being of New Zealand, can relate to others, participate and contribute to the world around them. Te Marautanga o Aotearoa also focuses on the same aspirations: Mā tēnei momo ako, ka āhei rātou ki te kake ake ki te tihi o ō rātou ake pūmanawa, ā, ki te mahi i runga i te tōtika, i te whai hua anō i roto i te hapori Māori me te ao whānui.

Technologically, there is growing support at a national level to ensure our schools have fast-connections (via Ministry initiatives such as the managed network and SnuP) and for our learners to have access to digital devices (see Future-focused learning in connected communities). There is support, too, for our teaching staff to be effective users of technology in the service of student-centred learning themselves (via Enabling e-Learning and PLD). There are growing social networks of educators who connect with others to develop their practice (such as the VLN and Connected Educator Month) and grassroots activities driven by local educators in global networks (#edchatnz, #TeachMeetNZ). There is growing interest and conversation around what ‘future-focused’ education might mean in our connected world.

As a result, we are seeing schools, kura, and ECE centres exploring and refining learning programmes that take advantage of global connections – and also inviting learners to inquire into their impact on their communities and beyond as citizens with an active part to play.

Challenges and opportunities

For educators today, in a world of global connections, there are a number of issues for us to consider: 

  • Designing learning that is authentic and grounded in the real-world: Learning to question, engage legitimately with “wicked problems” (see Hipkins, Bolstad, Boyd & McDowall, 2014) and orient towards justice and action.
  • Using approaches (pedagogies) that foster relationships and learning through participation: Explore the Key Competencies Online site and the school examples here for useful starting points.
  • Harnessing technology as the engine to drive the curriculum and pedagogy above: Our challenge is to model and encourage the use of technologies in ways that help learners engage meaningfully with others, have their voices heard, learn how information is filtered, seek alternative perspectives, present their views, collaborate, test and share.
  • Foster global (digital) citizens: Learners need to understand that a world of global connections, especially on the internet, presents challenges due to the lack of regulation and ease of self-publication. Explore NetSafe Kit and resources to support digital citizenship development in school.

For us as educators, if we are to be better together than we are apart, our first challenge is to embrace connectedness as a disposition of our modern profession. Secondly, we need to help our learners embrace the opportunities of connectedness in ways that understand that global does not mean equal. Our learners need to be critical thinkers, open to community action, globally-oriented and culturally-located. Thriving globally, grown locally.

Learn, participate, and share

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