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Curriculum Case Study: How does a Global Curriculum Encourage Deep Learning? By Idil Yusuf

Curriculum Case Study: How does a Global Curriculum Encourage Deep Learning? By Idil Yusuf

Deep learning instils confidence and perseverance, and provides opportunities for all learners to succeed, despite the challenges perceived by others or by the individual themselves. A learner who adopts a deep approach to learning will seek to understand meaning. They have an intrinsic interest and enjoyment in carrying out the learning tasks, and a genuine curiosity in the topic, connections with other subjects, and building on their current learning.

The sustainable development goals (or global goals as they can sometimes be referred to) are the targets set by the United Nations in 2012 in an attempt to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. The goals tackle the global challenges we all face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environment, prosperity, and peace and justice. A team of teachers from both Foxfield Primary School and Rockliffe Manor Primary School used the goals as a starting point to design the learning for the children in their year group.

The global theme for the autumn term was environmental responsibility and global goal 6: clean water and sanitation. The intention of the teachers was for the children in year 5 to feel motivated to bring about a change to the way we think about water, in order for them to be inspired to raise awareness of the water crisis facing communities not too dissimilar from their own, in rural Malawi. The learning journey that ensued changed not only the attitudes of the children, but their families and the school community alike. 


Deep learning deepens human desire to connect with others to do good

Michael Fullan, Deep Learning

If as a side effect we want to understand and value our global interconnectedness, deep learning therefore must be learning that is valued and learning that sticks.


During the exploration stage of the learning journey, the children in year 5 analysed a range of statistics based on percentages of people that had access to clean water in both rural and urban areas. From this learning, children identified Malawi as a country with one of the lowest percentages of people with access to water. This provided a learning pathway. Assumptions were made that children would understand that water is not distributed around the world equally. Once this misconception was identified, changes were made to the learning journey so that the children could explore the idea of global water distribution. Children were posing questions such as, How can there be a water crisis when Malawi has a huge lake – why isn’t it being used as a water source?’ 

The teachers in year 5 recognised that in order for the children to be able to empathise with the people impacted by the water crisis in Malawi, they would need to acquire knowledge and understanding of the country and the people. The human and physical features of the country were studied to contextualise the learning and the children were able to make comparisons with their own locality. 

Speech bubble

A question the teachers in year 5 posed when planning and designing the curriculum was, ‘Will the children be able to relate to the problems the children in Malawi are facing?’ We know that children need a personal connection to the learning, whether that’s through engaging emotionally or connecting new information with previously acquired knowledge. Without that, learners may not only disengage and quickly forget, but they may also lose the motivation to learn. To further the children’s understanding of the daily challenges children in Malawi faced, they watched a video clip of pupils of a similar age travelling for several miles a day to fetch heavy containers of water that they knew could ultimately lead to ill health. The video featured a young British boy who had heard about the water crisis in Malawi and decided to raise money by travelling to one of the many affected remote villages and collecting water with the children. His story was powerful. The emotions in the classrooms were intense. A child in one of the classes with a complex home life (who would be considered a disadvantaged pupil) was so moved it brought him to tears.

We must foster global citizenship. Education is about more than literacy and numeracy. It is also about citizenry. Education must fully assume its essential role in helping people to forge more just, peaceful and tolerant societies.

Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General (2012)

The children couldn’t understand why the youngsters would go to such extreme lengths, walking to collect this ‘dirty, filthy water’ when they knew drinking it may lead to severe illness. This ‘cognitive conflict’ became a pivotal moment for our learning journey. It is only when existing mental structures are challenged that accommodation of the new information takes place, new connections are made and learning moves on.

In the deepening stage of the learning journey, the children in year 5 discussed the gender inequality associated with the water crisis. They felt a deep need to do something about what they had found.

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Learners respond to cognitive conflict in a variety of ways, but often the response is very emotive. For many, the initial response to cognitive conflict is confusion. The children genuinely struggled to make sense of what they saw. The emotions of the children in the classroom were unmistakeably genuine. Although open and probing questions can be planned in advance, sometimes an unexpected response to a stimulus can cause cognitive conflict for the teacher; you don’t always know what question you want to ask until you see this response. Teachers then requested that the children reflect on the choices the Malawi villagers had. ‘Would you rather put yourself at risk of dehydration or use the water you have regardless of its sanitation?’

It was during the deepening stage of the learning that the children became curious about what we meant by water-related diseases. Teachers set the children challenges to research the names of diseases that affected the villagers, the signs and symptoms of the diseases and, most importantly, possible solutions for prevention.

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s capacity to rewire and strengthen pathways between neurons that are exercised and used while weakening connections between cellular pathways that are not used or retrieved. Based on the new learning that the children were exposed to, the concept of people choosing to consume water that could cause serious health conditions such as dysentery and blindness out of sheer poverty, synapses and connections were formed in our brain circuits. This new understanding led to a co-created plan of action. The children were going to take action and become change makers.


Derived from the work of Allison and Tharby (Every Lesson Counts), expert teaching requires challenge so that learners have high expectations of what they can achieve. Teachers carefully balanced pupils struggling or grappling with learning while ensuring they weren’t pushed too far towards the panic zone. 

The children wrote letters to parents to inform of them of the issue and explained to them that they wanted their support to raise money for WaterAid by completing a sponsored walk. They had brainstormed different things they wanted to do with the money raised and came to the conclusion that the solution that would have the biggest impact would be to build a well for the community. 

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We all feel disempowered by doom and gloom and this can leave us feeling as if we are unable to make a difference. Greater understanding, especially when it is accompanied by action, can help to change that narrative. The global dimension to our curriculum helps pupils understand global issues and explore ways of addressing them within and beyond school. This more often leads to feelings of optimism and a wish to contribute to positive change in the local/global community. It was also during this deepening stage that the children completed field work in Deptford Creek with the aim of finding out more about the River Thames and its  sources, the water quality, what can be found in the river and how it contributes to the communities that surround it. The teachers felt it was crucial that the children make connections between the water crisis in Africa and what changes, however small, they can make to their own lives and those of their families. 

Children planned and wrote letters to their parents to inform them of their project and share their ‘why’. 


During the planning stage of the learning journey, the children explored the concept of sponsorship and analysed a range of existing sponsor forms to support them in the design of their own. They learnt about Gift Aid and the process of taxation so that they would be better equipped to explain to their families and community why it would be a good idea to ‘tick the box’. 


The children designed a Just Giving page and wrote the bio for it in the form of blogs as part of their English learning journey. The children were really able to see the links between their English learning and the project they were working towards.


Pupils decided that the best way to have an impact in their local area was to inform as many people as possible about what is happening in other parts of the world. The teachers at Foxfield and Rockliffe Manor planned a sequence of lessons that would lead to a final outcome in the form of a partnership-wide newsletter that would be sent out to all Inspire Partnership schools. 

Child writing

In the delivering stage of the learning process, pupils from Foxfield and Rockliffe Manor Primary Schools completed a ten kilometre walk in the rain from Woolwich to the O2. The walk was just over 6 miles long, which is the average distance that women and children walk in Malawi to collect water. The classes have jointly raised over £1300 through the very generous donations of families, friends and neighbours.

When I was beginning to feel tired I kept on remembering the children in Malawi that have to make a similar journey on a daily basis just to survive, then I kept on going.’

Child in Yew Tree Class

Trip1     Trip2

The determination the pupils had to complete the challenging walk was humbling. Some children had asked whether they could load their backpacks with heavy items to further understand what those young girls are tasked with on a daily basis. That sentiment was a common one, but one that the teachers didn’t encourage in case it became too difficult for them.

Give children teaching that is determined, energetic and engaging. Hold them to high standards. Expose them to as much as you can, especially the arts. Recognise the reality of race, poverty and social barriers, but make children understand that barriers don’t have to limit their lives.  Above all, no matter where in the social structure children are coming from, act as if the possibilities are boundless.

Charles Payne, So Much Reform

When the children returned from their sponsored walk and were greeted by an excited Key Stage 1 playground, their sense of achievement was remarkable. 'I feel like I have made a difference to people’s lives. I think it’s really unfair that just because of where they were born means that they don’t have the basic things like clean water.'

Deep learning is good for all but is especially effective for those most disconnected from schooling

Michael Fullan, Deep Learning

Over next few days, the children were encouraged to reflect on the term’s learning in the evaluating stage of the journey. The children discussed how the learning had impacted on them and whether or not they thought the learning would have a short-lived impact on them or a long-lasting impact. There was an overwhelming feeling radiating from the children that they achieved something significant. The teachers and children also reflected on whether they thought the learning had achieved what it had set out to do: teach children the attitude that they should hold the belief that people can often make a greater difference when they take action collectively.


1 CategoryLeadership Learning
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