Global Learning Networks: Supporting Students as Changemakers & Peacebuilders

Paula Cordeiro

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of welcoming educators from around the world who were attending the Global Education Benchmarking Groups’ (GEBG) annual conference.  Since this organization represents schools that are working hard to globalize their curricula, and many of the readers of the blogs on this website are attempting to do the same, I thought I would share a few ideas I presented at the conference.

I might be in a professor in higher education, but whether we are K-12 educators or higher education faculty and staff—many of us care passionately about preparing young people for this rapidly changing, culturally diverse world. And we do it through engaging them in learning deeply about global issues and the wicked problems that our planet faces.

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of teaching in independent schools, leading an independent school in Spain, and now I conduct research in low-fee independent schools in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, next month I’m taking graduate students to Rwanda again, and we’ll be visiting several schools. While engaged in this short-term global learning experience, I want my students to deeply explore issues that the teachers and school leaders in these schools are struggling with—universal access to a quality education and all that entails; and I want them to think innovatively about why many of these schools and their nations are struggling to reach the targets set in the Sustainable Development Goals.  And we know from research (Manning, 2022; Eitkowsky & Mendez, 2018; Quezada & Cordeiro, 2016),  even short term global professional development experiences—such as these two weeks in Rwanda—if carefully structured, can increase intercultural competence. So, I will be curating their learning experiences in Rwanda.

But let’s step back for a moment–I’m a huge fan of Paulo Freire—and he talked about being critically conscious—learning to perceive the social, political and economic contradictions around us, and then to take action against the oppressive elements of those contradictions. He believed that social change emerges from raising social consciousness. I believe affording educators and students deep global learning experiences—not educational tourism—but highly quality learning opportunities raises their social consciousness. That’s why we have to carefully curate these global learning opportunities.

In my current faculty position, I teach about social innovation and I teach in a School of Peace Studies. Why a School of Peace Studies? I do this because when I first started to work in education in Rwanda—over 10 years ago—in a post-conflict society and in the aftermath of genocide- I started to learn about what is called Positive Peace. The word ‘peace’ did not really have a lot of meaning to me earlier in my career.  I thought that peace was simply the absence of war.  But the Norwegian Sociologist Johan Galtung—often called the father or founder of peace and conflict studies—talks about negative peace and positive peace. Negative peace is the absence of violence or the absence of war, but positive peace is defined as the attitudes, the institutions and the structures that create and sustain peaceful societies. The same factors that create lasting peace also lead to many other positive outcomes that societies aspire to, such as thriving economies, and better performance on environmental measures.

So, another way to frame what K-12 educators are trying to do in their focus on incorporating global education practices in their curriculum is to create positive peace. And from my perspective, educators are asking their students to become Changemakers, and Peacebuilders. 

The University of San Diego where I work is one of 150 universities worldwide with the designation of being an Ashoka Changemaker University. We have a proven track record of a campus-wide focus on social innovation and changemaking. I’m proud to say that I was active in leading USD’s efforts to become an Ashoka Changemaking institution. Through this network we collaborate with each other and the Ashoka main office to advance social innovation and changemaking across higher education. And we made a commitment to embed changemaking across the academics and the entire institution itself. Being an Ashoka University is a leading designation for social innovation in higher education. In many ways it’s similar to membership in organizations such as the Global Education Benchmarking Group. GEBG is a network similar to the Ashoka network and as professionals in education, we need networks to not only improve our learning but that of our students as well.

Educators who offer global learning opportunities are planting and then nourishing seeds with their students. Challenging them to think critically and deeply about issues from various perspectives. And, I believe in the maxim that the person who knows only one country or knows only one language know no country, knows no language. We have to be able to compare and contrast in order to deepen our learning since when we experience something different– it jolts us. It gives us pause. It makes us ask questions. We have cognitive dissonance. And we know from the research that this underlying tension then motivates a person to make an attitude change.

We all need to belong to networks of like-minded people so we can deeply explore the topics we are passionate about. Networks afford you the space to have deep conversations to ask key questions and to learn some new ideas as you interact with like-minded colleagues from across the country and across the world– so you can learn together.

Like many of you I’ve been overwhelmed by what’s happening in Ukraine. All I can think of is that millions of people are displaced, families are being torn apart, hundreds of children have already died. Our world desperately needs people who are changemakers; people who are peace builders. Our world desperately needs educated citizens who can view issues from global perspectives and have the skills to manage conflict. We need global citizens who promote the common good, wherever they live. We need the students we work with, to unite people and cultures for positive peace, and for a sustainable future.


Eitkowsky, P., & Mendez, S.L. (2018). Influence of a short-term study abroad experience on professional competencies and career aspirations of graduate students in student affairs. The Journal of College Student Development.

Manning, M. (2022). Short-term study abroad programs. The Journal of Higher Education Policy and Leadership Studies.

Quezada, R., & Cordeiro, P.A. (2016). Internationalization in Teacher Education in the US: Innovative Programs and Practices to Meet the Global Challenges of Tomorrow’s Schools. In Lee & Day (Eds.) Quality and Change in Teacher Education pp 195–21.


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