As a young high school student I can still recall my father recommending me to read Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders. At the same time that he gave me this book to read my dad made reference to the hidden agenda in education. He warned me, a naive young teenager, about the ‘invisible’ influence that schools and teachers wield on their students through curricula.

In a thought provoking article in The Guardian entitled “What kind of global citizens are teachers creating?”,  Caroline Ferguson challenges us teachers to think more deeply  about our own perspectives on global citizenship especially because these very perspectives inform the sort of global citizenship we teach and the future society we are shaping.

Global citizenship education is a sociological experiment. Most schools promise to create global citizens or global leaders, but what kind of global citizen do we want to create? It’s a blurred utopian vision. Do we want future citizens who feel a moral responsibility to respond to global crises or do we want to encourage a powerful global elite?

The philosophy of cosmopolitanism underlies theories of global citizenship. Cosmopolitanism is the ability to balance a local and global identity. A cosmopolitan individual engages meaningfully with different cultures and feels at home in the world.

There are two potentially conflicting types of cosmopolitanism. One is an ethical sense of responsibility and social justice to the earth and its inhabitants. The other is the practical economic potential you get from cultural awareness and cross-cultural ability.

In the increasingly competitive worldwide environment, schools are expected to produce globally-competent students ready to take on the future economic world as we see it today. And cosmopolitan capital is evident in curriculums everywhere – Mandarin lessons and international field trips, for example, are designed to give students the edge in global awareness.

The cultural understanding gained from these programmes is valuable. They are, however, expensive and exclusive, which is why cosmopolitan capital can be so dangerous. Not only is it only really available to young citizens who have access to these global opportunities, but because of this it can also reinforce social inequality rather than encouraging social mobility.

Tracking how global citizenship is taught is tricky – it’s often tackled across various subject curriculums and cosmopolitan capital and active global citizenship are often interwoven. Some curriculums attempt to walk a tightrope between the two agendas. For example, the International Baccalaureate has a compulsory service component of active citizenship while including the social advantage of an internationally-recognised qualification (cosmopolitan capital).

On the other hand, the English national curriculum key stage 3 and 4 has few statutory aspects of global awareness in the citizenship course beyond human rights, and active citizenship is only included at a local school and community level. and active citizenship is only included at a local school and community level. Australia has prioritised Asia literacy across subjects for regional understanding and cosmopolitan capital. Curriculums in fast-growth Asian countries make no excuse for encouraging cosmopolitan capital for the sake of national growth – everyone has to get along for economic expansion.

Currently, schools choose what is taught and how. Curriculums are subject to individual school contexts and budgets allocated to global awareness. This arbitrary nature of global citizenship education demands attention. All students need equal access to cosmopolitan capital and opportunities for ethical global citizenship. Theories, philosophies and our own perspectives as teachers should be questioned rigorously as they inform the global citizenship that we teach and the future society that we shape.

There are competing ideological aims and agendas in how we introduce the world to our students.

If schools are indeed creating global citizens, let’s be aware of the educational, political and social power that we wield.