Global Learning & Critical Thinking


Published: 5th February 2015

Critical thinking

GLP-E aims: Young people will also develop the skills to interpret that knowledge in order to make judgements about global poverty. In this way they will be able to:

  • think critically about global issues.

The GLP has a strong focus on developing young people's knowledge and understanding of development, and in particular on exploring different approaches to reducing global poverty through development. This is an opportunity for pupils to develop their skills in enquiry and critical thinking by engaging with sometimes complex and controversial ideas - thus also developing their understanding, views and responses in an informed way based on evidence and sound knowledge. Many of the GLP subject-based case studies have a strong focus on enquiry and/or critical thinking and the approaches of different schools subjects will make distinctive contributions to this area of work.

In relation to global learning, enquiry and critical thinking might include:

  • asking and responding to a range of questions, e.g. as part of an investigation into how poverty was reduced in a place or through a particular project, and opportunities to plan, develop and reflect;
  • explaining and reasoning, thinking about evidence and making judgements or decisions, e.g. in a role-play or decision-making exercises;
  • assessing or evaluating information, e.g. distinguishing fact and opinion, evaluating the sources of data/evidence and the message they convey;
  • making links between topics, so learning to think systematically, e.g. between historical and present patterns of trade, colonialism, migration and culture;
  • expressing a point of view, understanding that people have different points of view, and engaging with these, e.g. through discussion;
  • looking for hidden meanings or perspectives, for example from groups unrepresented in a discussion or issue.
  • considering different voices and points of view on global issues, e.g. different perspectives on the causes of global poverty and the actions people can take to overcome it;
  • being able to change one's point of view, e.g. about who will benefit from a development.


Key Questions for investigation:

Enquiry and critical thinking

  • Which questions do I need to ask? Which are most useful, important? How could I investigate these questions?
  • What's the best way to present and communicate the results?
  • What arguments could I use? Which are the best arguments?
  • Where is this information from and is it reliable? Is any information biased?
  • How good is the evidence? What is fact and opinion?
  • Who should have a say and why? What do I think? What do other people think? Do I need to change my thinking?
  • Do people's views have an effect on changes in the world?


Examples from the history curriculum:

A. Considering different voices and/or points of view and explaining and reasoning, thinking about evidence and making judgements or decisions.

When studying the Vikings at Key Stage 2, for example, we might begin by asking pupils to draw a Viking. They will inevitably draw a tall shaggy man with a sword or axe and a shield. Certainly their raids on monasteries and towns reflect this image. Much of the evidence from the time reinforces this. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle [an annual record kept by monks from the time of Alfred the Great] is particularly critical of the Vikings, as you would expect. It quotes priests finishing their sermons with the prayer, ‘Lord, protect us from the Northmen.'

Yet it is possible to use the evidence to paint a very different picture of the Vikings. They went exploring, and were probably the first Europeans to find, and briefly settle, in North America. They traded throughout the known world - Russia, North Africa, the Mediterranean and Constantinople all had strong trade links with Vikings. And of course they did settle in Britain. Viking towns like Jorvik give a very different picture of the Vikings.

So what is the real image of Vikings we should arrive at in our history lessons? Were they violent thugs, or gifted traders and craftsmen? Each opinion is valid, supported by the right evidence, but how do we reconcile the differences?



B. Making links between topics, so learning to think systematically.

There are striking parallels between some of the topics chosen as part of the Key Stage 2 curriculum. For instance many children will start their course looking at Stone Age to Iron Age in Britain, and the changes - and continuities - in that 10,000 year period. But the Maya, for example, in MesoAmerica, were still a stone -age society around 1200AD. Why might this be? Ancient Sumer built the first cities in the world, centred around a strong farming economy. Many years later, Britain moved from a hunter-gatherer society to a settled, agricultural-based society in the New Stone Age. Similar parallels can be made with Bronze Age and Iron Age Societies, or between the Roman Empire in Key Stage 2 and the British Empire in Key Stage 3. These kind of links are essential if pupils are to develop a coherent picture of British and World history.


C. Explaining and reasoning, thinking about evidence and making judgements or decisions.

At Key Stage 3, for example, students often look at Nazi Germany. Germany 1933-45 is often portrayed as a terrifying place, totally controlled by the Nazis and the Gestapo. People are portrayed as being afraid to step out of line. But was this always the case? Can you govern 80 million people through fear? And was there a Gestapo [Secret Police] officer or informant on every street corner?

The case of Otto and Elise Hampel throws an unusual light upon this. Otto and Elise lived in Berlin and for two years, from 1940-1942, distributed hundreds of hand-written anti-Nazi posters and postcards. They knew they would probably be captured and killed, but they insisted on doing what they believed to be right. You can find out more about the Hampels here...

The online Museum of German Resistance lists many more people who stood up to the Nazis because they thought it was the right thing to do.

The Hampels give us an opportunity to re-examine evidence and re-think our conclusion about life in Nazi Germany, as well as asking ourselves if we would have had the courage to do what we thought was right despite the consequences.

I'm sure you can think of many more examples that grow logically out of your own history curriculum.