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Extended Essay: Nurturing global consciousness

A guide to the research process involved in your EE.

Nurturing global consciousness

The WSEE enables students to engage in an interdisciplinary examination of a topic of local and global significance. Students develop their understanding of their chosen topic by drawing on two Diploma Programme disciplines, one of which they must be studying already.

A unique aspect of the WSEE is that it seeks to do more than simply help students understand such a topic.

Through its RRS the essay encourages students:

  • to become more sensitive to local–global interactions
  • to reflect about themselves as thinkers and actors in local, national and global environments.

In brief, the essay seeks to nurture students’ global consciousness.

The WSEE puts a premium on rigorous academic work and meaningful personal reflection. In so doing, it seeks to help students understand more deeply:

  • themselves and
  • the global and local contemporary developments shaping their lives.

This section of the support material offers:

  • a definition of global consciousness and its relation to related concepts in international education, such as international-mindedness or intercultural understanding
  • a portrait of a globally conscious student
  • indicators of global consciousness
  • advice for supervisors to help students develop global consciousness.

What is global consciousness?

Throughout the decades, Diploma Programme teachers have sought to promote traits such as international-mindedness, intercultural understanding and global citizenship among their students.

Multiple terms have been used in international education to refer to desirable qualities of mind and dispositions in a globally interdependent world:

  • Awareness denotes some knowledge and sensitivity to international or intercultural issues.
  • Perspective relates to global, national or cultural viewpoints.
  • International or intercultural understanding refers to students’ understanding of the relationships between nations or cultures.
  • International-mindedness describes a disposition of openness and curiosity about the world and deep understanding of the complexity and diversity of human interactions.

Terms such as international or intercultural have been associated with specific countries, nation states and groups of people with particular sets of values and experiences. The term global has been associated with views of the world as a whole or processes that impact the whole planet.

In the definition of global consciousness proposed here, global refers explicitly to local–global dynamics. These dynamics are not limited to a uniform view of the whole world. Instead, they emphasize local–global developments and the global contexts in which they take place.

Global consciousness is the capacity and disposition to understand and act upon issues of global significance. It is the ability and willingness to understand oneself and others within the broader matrix of our contemporary world.

(See Boix Mansilla, V and Gardner, H. 2007. “From teaching globalization to nurturing global consciousness”. In MM Suarez-Orozco (ed). Learning in the global era: International perspectives on globalization and education. Berkeley, CA. The University of California Press.)

Global consciousness encompasses:
Global sensitivity Sensitivity to local phenomena and experiences as manifestations of broader developments on the planet.
Global understanding The capacity to think and act in flexible and informed ways about issues of global and local significance.
Global self A perception of self as a global actor and member of a local community, a city, a nation and humanity, capable of making a positive contribution to the world.

Global consciousness seeks to address these three dimensions simultaneously and therefore offers a comprehensive view of the capacities we have in mind.

Global consciousness—a student portrait

Global consciousness is an elusive concept, which makes it difficult for teachers to identify shared markers or indicators. It does not refer to a body of knowledge that students need to master. It speaks of more perennial qualities of mind and heart—dispositions or elements of character.

To make qualities of global consciousness visible we turn to a student portrait.

Sahdal: Portrait of a globally conscious student

Sahdal is a 12th grade student in Mombasa, Kenya. His WSEE focused on the relationship between people’s religious affiliation and their level of understanding of HIV/AIDS.

His interest in the topic developed in a biology class where students examined the structure of the virus and its effect in the body, and mapped the spread of the disease in Africa and worldwide.

For his study he collected and compared data on attitudes and knowledge about HIV/AIDS among youth, adults and leaders in the local Christian, Muslim and Hindu communities.

Global sensitivity

Sahdal was upset to learn about the global magnitude of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and its uneven distribution around the world. He had heard about it in the news before, but had not realized how tragic the problem was, especially within poorer countries. Learning about HIV/AIDS increased his alertness to the problem.

He was also surprised to learn that he and his friends had a few misconceptions about the disease and its transmission. Increasingly he noticed how often the topic appeared in the news and brought clips to class. He came to recognize that the cases of HIV he learned about were not isolated events but part of a larger regional epidemic.

Sahdal also noticed that many of his peers did not want to talk much about the disease. Parents were not bringing the topic up and religious leaders seemed worried to do so as well. Recognizing the tension between his peers’ silence and the need to be informed, he focused his essay on the relationship between religious affiliation and understanding of HIV/AIDS. He explains:

HIV/AIDS is still spreading and many people are getting affected and dying—especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Because there is not a cure for it, it is important that youth are aware. In order to educate them we need to know their level of awareness.

In Mombasa, tradition and religious morals are highly regarded. Because religious leaders can be narrow-minded it is important to see whether these leaders limit or promote awareness.

In summary, how does Sahdal exhibit global sensitivity? He becomes more alert to the problem in its local and global dimensions, finding opportunities to apply outside the classroom what he learns in class. He is more attentive to media and community accounts of cases of the disease and brings up the topic among his friends at school and in his madrasah (religious school).

Recognizing that religious affiliations influence individual behaviour the world over, Sahdal points to the particularly religious culture in Mombasa where multiple traditions coexist.

Global understanding

Sahdal understands HIV/AIDS as both a scientific and a social phenomenon. He can explain how the virus causes AIDS, its structure and the kinds of cells it targets. He also understands popular beliefs and misconceptions about the disease and how religion and school control access to information.

Yet to exhibit a global understanding Sahdal must examine the relationship between the local and the global. How do perceptions of HIV/AIDS in his local city of Mombasa relate to the broader challenge of informing people around the world?

The beginning of Sahdal’s essay includes global statistics on HIV/AIDS worldwide and compares them to regional and local indicators. This sets a global stage for his local study.

He has important opportunities to examine the global dimension of his study as the paper unfolds. For example, Sahdal could examine how the three major world religions portray matters of health and lifestyle. He could also examine public national campaigns led by governments such as Uganda and Brazil.

In conclusion, Sahdal exhibits global understanding in his capacity:

  • to frame a global epidemic in local terms
  • to consider the perspectives of members of diverse religious traditions.

Opportunities to further Sahdal’s global understanding include helping him:

  • to move flexibly across local, national and global dimensions of HIV/AIDS
  • to ground his interpretation of religious perspectives in their fundamental principles.
Global self

Sahdal’s engagement with the topic of HIV/AIDS does not stop at understanding the problem. He believes that there are things he can do to ameliorate the situation—particularly in his own Muslim community.

If I go and have HIV awareness sessions in my community madrasah (my religious school), I can make a difference. I am just now planning sessions and awareness campaigns in my community madrasah.

Participating, and viewing himself as an active member of local and global communities, is a defining quality of Sahdal’s world view.

In his diagram below, Sahdal identifies topics of global concern with ease—for example, global warming, deforestation and destruction of animal habitats; religious intolerance and violation of human rights; and lack of resources, droughts and famine.

Most interestingly, he spontaneously notes his personal connections to each and describes a variety of actions in which he is engaged to ameliorate the problems. Actions include being a member of the school environment club for five years, volunteering at the local humane society and working in a local charity.

In the centre is me (the base). The first rows comprise personal ideas and activities, which are why I thought of the issues. The other rows are the issues raised.

Sahdal exhibits a global self in that he visibly views himself as being affected by global phenomena. He views his local actions as contributing to larger global developments. He is thoughtful about the extent and limitations of his contribution. For instance, he explains:

The problem that worries me the most is religious extremism and intolerance. Every day we hear about "suicide bombings", "Islamic militias", "Mujahedeen" and many innocent people die from these attacks. I am concerned because the concept of extremism, which some Muslims connect with religion, has no part with religion. This is something I notice often and talk with my friends about. I, as a Muslim, suffer from discrimination because of these views and in addition many people die. I am not doing much to make a difference in this area. Maybe because where I live there is not much extremism, trying to do something would not matter that much. However, if I decided to join activism for peace, I would make more of a difference. Nowadays I feel sympathy and feel that all I can do is pray, and that’s what I do.

Sahdal’s portrait offers a window into the mind of a globally conscious student. It shows that, to be globally conscious, students must:

  1. have information about the world
  2. exhibit a distinctive way of being in the world
    • be attentive to the ways in which global phenomena are manifested in local realities, as well as their own and others’ realities
    • be reflective about their own roles as participants in local, national and global contexts.

Clearly students will exhibit global consciousness in very different ways. Sahdal positions himself within issues and actions he deems important. Others may do so according to the places where they have lived or influential people in their lives.

Regardless of these differences, students exhibit global consciousness when:

  • they are attentive to issues of global significance around them
  • they understand such issues in depth
  • they can place themselves as thinkers and actors in today’s complex and interdependent world.

Evidence of students’ global consciousness

The portrait of Sahdal offers an in-depth picture of a student's unfolding global consciousness.

To support supervisors seeking to nurture global consciousness among their students, the table below includes markers of global consciousness and illustrative student quotes. Such markers are not exhaustive but they offer a rich repertoire of qualities of mind and heart to be promoted.

Teachers are encouraged to identify and nurture additional indicators to expand on the options presented below.

Indicators of global consciousness

Global sensitivity—a sensitivity to local phenomena and experiences as manifestations of broader developments on the planet
Identify topic

Student can recognize and frame topics of local–global significance.

I come from a small town in South India where the main problem is the lack of communication with the rest of the world. We don’t have technology like the internet. This leaves the general population uneducated, in ignorance about people and happenings outside.

In today’s global information societies this isolation is a serious problem. The information available from a few (questionable) sources leads to stereotyping and labelling of other cultures and races. Religious and cultural intolerance leads to instinctive violence and hatred between groups.

Availability of information can counter these negative effects and aid understanding, and that is what I studied in my village.

Selective attention

Student notices local–global connections to her topic in everyday life

Every article in the newspaper that relates to education immediately attracts my attention. I talk to everyone I meet about this issue!


Student raises questions and expresses a desire to investigate topic

I studied how the economic crisis of 2008–2009 affected the working of an NGO (Sadhana village). The press reported the effect of the economic crisis was far-reaching and would affect most people in the world. Being an economics student and working with the NGO, I was curious to know how the economic crises of big cities could affect a small NGO operating in rural India. My love for economics made me think about the effect of the recession as a relatively disconnected area. Curiosity kicked in and I decided to do it as my extended essay.

Media use

Student tracks chosen topic in the media, internet and sources

I have kept updated on the debate in Norway, how laws are set into effect and what people think. The media covers this extensively so I have found and learned of new things.


Student is attentive to multiple perspectives on the topic

[It is important to] understand and acknowledge the existence of a multitude of different cultures by appreciating their differences, striving to learn about them, and realizing that knowing only one’s own cultures is incomplete.


Student identifies opportunities to act related to the topic

I studied the lives and choices of four rural girls who had moved to the city and were either domestic or sex workers. These girls were not able to go to school. Through my interviews I felt the need to do something for them after I finished my essay. I have begun to talk with the girls' employers to ensure that they can go to their local public school.

Global understanding—the capacity to think and act in flexible and informed ways about issues of global significance
Rich knowledge base

Student employs relevant disciplinary and interdisciplinary concepts, theories, methods and findings in appropriate and flexible ways

The Holocaust changed our way of thinking forever. We can now see that the Kashmir and Middle East problems too come down to an “us versus them debate”.

Understanding dimensions

Student understands multiple aspects of a problem including the global and local dimensions

Access to education will help empower people and help them overcome suppression and the overriding of their rights. Hunger is also linked to lack of empowerment and suppression of masses. All three problems are interconnected.

Understanding perspectives

Student understands a topic considering multiple and different perspectives including their own

Programmes to ensure academic success among aboriginal youth in British Columbia have often failed. To understand why, I needed to go beyond general statistics and ask whether these programmes actually met the needs and cultural viewpoints of aboriginal communities. In these communities, storytelling is very important and elders are key in approving youth programmes. You can only understand aboriginals’ mistrust when you consider their cultural perspectives more fully.

Effective communication

Student is able to communicate effectively across disciplinary, cultural, social and geographic barriers and reflect about the importance of effective communication

I feel that if I cannot effectively communicate my research findings [on the experience of Nepalese women] I have not done well on it. Since I am trying to prove that there are the local problems but also a more global issue present and we need to do something about it, effectively communicating that is crucial in gaining people’s belief and support … I don’t want any of what I do or say to be misunderstood or acted upon in a way that I had not intended.

Informed action

Student has reviewed prior solutions to a given problem to inform her own proposal

Once I understood how clean production technologies could result in more economically and environmentally effective improvements for the factory, I shared my findings with the CEO, who seemed interested in considering some of the improvements I identified. Previous efforts to optimize production had resulted in either costly innovations or greater pollution and inefficiency.

Informed judgment

Student considers ethical implications of a local–global issue and develops a reasoned position on the topic at hand

Globalization is by far the most important ethical issue of today for me.

This is because it is hard to discern whether world integration is beneficial to our entire civilization or proves a disadvantage for developing nations that cannot keep up with the rapidly changing modern and capitalist societies.

Globalization connects us. It enables people to travel and interact with others around the world.

Yet, on the other hand, as we have seen with the economic crisis, problems in a few countries can damage the rest of the world. There are also signs that a few countries are controlling countries.

As a result there are also more incentives to use global connections for the world to move forward on unified ethical goals like eliminating AIDS, poverty and corruption.

Global self—a perception of self as a global actor and member of a local community, a city, a nation and humanity, capable of making a positive contribution to the world
Personal engagement

Student shows "ongoing inclination" to think about local–global connections

I am from Japan but have lived in East Africa almost half of my life so I am interested in and attached to major problems like poverty. Constantly realizing the economic differences that exist in the world while I was growing up made me connected to issues in developing countries. So for every problem I see I think about that.

Local–global autobiography

Student views herself (her identity, biography and future plans) in light of local–global understanding

These are topics that interest me, and which I want to work for in the future. My extended essay is on acceptance of homosexuals as parents, and I lead a religious discussion group on campus. PS I’m heterosexual and agnostic.

Recognizing perspective

Student can locate his own perspectives (cultural, geographical, social, religious, ethical) and reflect about these in meaningful ways

I aspire to be a globally minded person, able to represent different perspectives and opinions, not only one’s own beliefs. Being open to everybody’s perspectives and not only the ones you have grown up with.

Local–global agency

Student views himself as local entrepreneur able to act in the local–global sphere

I can make a difference, at least within Norway, by working actively for increasing awareness and acceptance levels. I am considering doing an internship or something similar at Norway’s gay and lesbian association.

Nurturing global consciousness

Supervisors working with students on their WSEE enjoy a unique opportunity to:

  • support students’ interdisciplinary research
  • engage in reflections about what it means to be an internationally minded or globally conscious person.

The IB expects that, during advisory sessions and through informal conversations, supervisors will encourage students to:

  • be aware of opportunities to connect what they are learning with local and global developments around them (global sensitivity)
  • reflect about their own values, thoughts, commitments, concerns and possible actions with regard to the topics they study
  • make meaningful connections between their personal lives and the issues under study (global self).

Through their exchanges with students, supervisors will gain a better sense of their students’ unfolding global consciousness. Supervisors are requested to comment on this aspect of student development on the extended RPPF.

For example, teachers may characterize a student’s global consciousness considering the indicators above. They can provide evidence by describing:

  • a pivotal learning moment
  • the student's discovery of self
  • observation of the student’s spontaneous engagement with the topic outside of school
  • a reflection on how the student enriched her or his self-portrait as their project unfolded.

Supervisors' observations, and their supporting evidence, directly inform examiners when they assess the essay against criterion E (engagement).