Four Unusual Literacy Skills of The Future: Global, Multilingual, Multicultural & Multidisciplinary

Four Unusual Literacy Skills of The Future: Global, Multilingual, Multicultural & Multidisciplinary

  • Thursday March 2nd, 2017
  • 11,472

What year are you preparing your students for? 1973? 1955?”

This provocative question is the opening line in Mary Hayes Jacob’ s 2010 book,  Curriculum 21. 

As a forward thinking educator, you want to answer that question with a date somewhere in the future.  So how can you make that happen?  Several experts have identified common key literacy skills such as numeracy, technology, etc.
In our experience, there are four unusual, but definitely trendy literacy skills which will be required in the future.  Like learning to read and write, each will broaden your understanding of the world, and, that of your students.

  1. Global Literacy

This is an individual’s understanding of approaches and issues around the globe.  It also implies a strong  connectivity with people in other parts of the planet.  A truly globalization literate person is one who can seamlessly integrate the local and the global perspective on any issue.

For educators, this breadth of understanding poses enormous opportunities for themselves and their students; but, also enormous challenges.  The opportunities are fairly obvious:

  • the chance to collaborate with colleagues in almost any country on mutual concerns,
  • the option to work in a field such as environmental studies that crosses all national boundaries.
  • the opportunity to travel and investigate, first hand, subjects previously confined to textbooks or videos.

So, what do we need to do to acquire global literacy and global competency?

Connectivity gives us our answer; but, only if we connect well beyond today’s digital realm.

Stretch yourself:

  • Deliberately read or listen to news which emanates from other countries. Even small weekly newspapers are often online. Compare the emphasis they put on different issues to learn what is important to their regular audience.  For example, when there is an earthquake in Italy or New Zealand, read about the impact in one of their local publications.
  • Check out reports from the UN agencies like health, labour and agriculture. They will not only give you a geography refresher; but, will help you understand some of the underlying issues around global issues like trade, migration and climate change.
  • Read books by authors outside your own country or region. Even translations of fiction can introduce you to the setting in a very human way.
  • Immerse yourself in a foreign culture by studying abroad or participating in an international exchange program

Then put it to work for you and your students:

  • Establish personal connections abroad through online conferences and keep up the contact.
  • Establish online connections to international resources and make them available to your students.
  • Work a little bit of globalization into each lesson plan.

Your reward for all this commitment will be a strong feeling that you are a true citizen of the world. You may discover economic and other opportunities that only your perspectives bring. Most multinational corporations already hire truly global people to fill top positions.

  1. Multilingual Literacy


To make all that connectivity work more effectively, you will want to extend your multilingual capacity. Remember that a language is the vehicle of a culture. So learning a new language is in fact immersing in and learning another culture.

Yet, learning a new language can be daunting.  Nobody wants to look or sound incompetent.

So, developing skills in this form of literacy means parking your ego and absorbing all the input you can from outside resources in a new language, and, learning from professional instructors.  If you can associate with a local or online group for whom your chosen new language is their natural form of communication, your learning curve will rapidly diminish.

All these efforts have significant rewards. Speaking with others in their own language, or, reading original research papers without losing anything in the translation are just two of the benefits of learning other languages.  In addition, even a few words will gain you new friends, and, the experts tell us it is a superb approach for developing our brains.

  1. Multicultural Literacy

For Canadians, this is pretty much a part of our daily lives.  With people from several hundred nations as our neighbours, we have opportunities, every day, to

  • try a new food group,
  • attend an annual celebration, or,
  • watch youth performing traditional cultural dances.

Sometimes, it just takes a bit of courage to participate in something new.  Try the local ‘ethnic’ grocery store first.

Your students may also be way ahead of you in this literacy capacity because each one of them represents one of our cultural groups and they constantly interact with one another.

  1. Multidisciplinary Literacy

As we extend our global literacy, we soon learn that no one academic area can fully address the needs and aspirations of those who inhabit this beautiful planet.  Solving all of the big issues such as climate change, economic disparity, and, public health require the combined efforts of our best minds in science and the humanities, working together.

So, to be a part of the move to a better future, we must reach out beyond the silo of our own academic field.  We don’t need to go back and get a second PhD, just take enough interest to learn what is important to our colleagues in other disciplines, and, think about how that might intersect with our own.

  • Pick their brains over coffee.
  • Work with them on committees to see how they approach them and what their priorities are.
  • Try a small research project together.
  • Based on your global contacts, join an international project which incorporates a number of different fields of study.

Armed with these four new forms of literacy you will be well placed to prepare your students for the future.  You may also want to remind them of the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “The future depends on what you do today.” 

Erin Bailo, Career Advisor.

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