The Global Citizen Degree Program, which James MacDonald created in 2010 during his tenure as Head of School at the Yokohama International School in Japan, presents an innovative way for schools to create globally-aware and socially-responsible students. As highlighted on the Academic Social Action Collective (ASAC) site, this forward-thinking program uses the International Baccalaureate (IB) degree as its base and then offers students the opportunity to complete additional assignments and projects in order to complete one of three levels of the Global Citizen certification. More information on the program is available on the Yokohama International School site and the ASAC site.
James explained how he came up with the idea on the LearnED Leadership blog:
“Clearly there’s very important academic learning that happens in the classroom, but the classroom is no longer the sole domain of education, yet our credentials haven’t changed. Schools have changed, education has changed, but our credentials remain focused on academic learning. When you think about what a powerful message that’s sending to everybody in the community about what we value…well it’s no wonder kids chase grades…it’s because that’s what we value and give a qualification for. So were conscious about avoiding a system driven by checked-boxes or making kids jump through hoops, but we realize our kids are doing this stuff anyway but it’s not acknowledged.
“When you think about how 55% of IB graduates come from public schools in the USA and they receive the same diploma as our students, no matter what school program they come from, I feel an obligation to help our students standout when it comes to college applications. At YIS we wanted to differentiate ourselves, rightfully I might add, because we have a very strong program. I think one of the great things of about the Global Citizen Diploma is that it is both very idealistic and pragmatic at the time.”
ASAC sat down with Mr. McDonald and posed the following questions:
For many schools, it is easy to establish a meaningful social action project, but the true challenge lies in actually motivating students, many of whom have not had previous experience with such issues, to become involved. How did you and YIS staff motivate your students to pursue the Global Citizenship Degree, even though it involved a lot more work on the students’ behalf?
The diploma is not meant to add anything, but merely recognize what our students are already doing. While keeping a blog is some extra work, we do provide students time for this but the core activities are experiences that the school have been providing for many years. We are just making sure we have a qualification that can reflect our program.
What benefits (or setbacks) have you seen from those students that have pursued the Global Citizenship Degree?
Our first graduates received their diplomas this June so it is a bit early to draw many firm conclusions. But we know colleges have been very interested in the information we can now provide them about our students, and it has also been really great to see the pride many students have taken in their achievements. I saw the process prompt them to think about their learning in a different way and reflect upon all they have done.
How have you managed to integrate the Global Citizenship Degree Program with your school’s social action projects, such as as siting the earthquake-ravaged schools of Tohoku, Japan and your school’s partnership with Refugees International?
Again, this stuff was all happening anyway. Social projects go to the heart of our mission and these activities reflect who we are. As such, the new diploma has not caused us to dramatically change things. But the diploma highlights the importance of these activities and I think has been shaping more conversations around our school about our priorities and the importance of the learning that happens outside of the classroom.
Looking beyond the Global Citizenship Degree for a moment, how did YIS form its partnership with Refugees International, the Sanigitachi Project and the sister school project with Tohoku? Are there any guiding principles or partnership guidelines that other schools should adhere to when searching out worthy projects or causes to work with?
The reality is that many of these partnerships get established because of relationships between our staff and others. Often a staff member has an interest in an area and this can lead to relationship with an external group. We do tend to review these relationships regularly, and often need to make a tough choice about what we won’t take on board as there tends to be more good ideas that there is time and resources. We have not developed a firm set of criteria though, and tend assess things on a case by case basis. I think of the long term goals of introducing something like the GCD is that, over time, our school will probably become even more systematic and deliberate in its management of these learning opportunities.
Is it your desire to see the Global Citizenship Degree replicated in other International Schools and if so, is there any type of implementation plan in place for interested schools?
Well, funny you would ask because we are in discussions with two other schools now about offering this in different locations. It would be pretty amazing if teachers from other schools could moderate student blogs, if we could arrange for students to connect online with each other about their GCD activities, and for like-minded schools to be working together to design the next generation of high school diploma. Stay tuned!