Students in a global survey have singled out #ClimateChange as the most important issue facing the world, with over a quarter (26%) placing it ahead of issues like poverty and pollution.

This is even more pronounced among students surveyed in the UK, where almost half (45%) believe that climate change is the single biggest issue, followed by poverty and economic equality (12%) and pollution including plastic waste (11%). 

Over 11,000 students aged 13 to 19 took part in the Cambridge Global Perspectives Survey. They shared their views on global issues, how they learn about them and what action they are taking to find solutions.

The findings showed that students’ appetite to learn about these issues is not reflected in their education.  Almost all (99%) UK students who responded to the survey said it is important to learn about global issues in school, yet more than a quarter (27%) aren’t given this opportunity. Over half of students in the UK (52%) said that having dedicated time within their school day to learn about global issues would enable them to be more active in raising awareness of them, but less than half (45%) take part in class discussions led by a teacher on these issues.

Students are also turning to sources outside of school for their information on global issues. Almost a third (31%) of UK students said organisations or charities dedicated to a particular issue were their most trusted source of information, followed by websites (17%) and the media (17%) and social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube (12%). In contrast, only 6% of UK students said that a teacher was their most trusted source of information about global issues.

Despite this, UK students are proactively trying to raise awareness of global issues and find solutions, with a vast majority (94%) saying they are taking independent action, including:

  • Making changes to their lifestyle to help make a difference (61%)
  • Sharing knowledge with family and friends (71%)
  • Buying products that raise funds to help tackle global issues (37%) – the highest percentage globally
  • Giving money to relevant charities and organisations (35%) – again the highest percentage globally

Peter Monteath, Regional Director Europe at Cambridge International, said:

“With the impacts of climate change and poverty dominating headlines, global issues have never felt more local. Students are aware of the impact these could have on their futures and are active in raising awareness of them, so it makes sense that they want to learn about this issue in the classroom, as well as the chance to debate with other students.

“We believe schools should offer this opportunity, helping to direct keen minds to become engaged global citizens who want to find the innovative solutions to the complex problems we face. Instead, 12% rely on social media for their information on global issues.”

Christine Özden, Chief Executive, Cambridge International, said:

“In a world that is constantly evolving with some huge global challenges ahead, we feel that it is even more important that students not only engage with key global issues, but develop the skills to research, discuss and evaluate the facts, and work with others to understand different perspectives around the world.

“Cambridge Global Perspectives™ equips students with the essential skills they need for the future. We look forward to giving many more schools and students the opportunity to learn about this unique programme during Cambridge Global Perspectives Week.”

The survey was conducted leading up to Cambridge Global Perspectives Week, which runs from 1-7 March 2020. 

About the research

  • Over 11,000 students around the world, aged 13-19, including more than 800 from the UK, took part in Cambridge International’s first ever Global Perspectives survey online and shared their views on global issues in November 2019.
  • The survey was conducted in English and promoted across social media channels.
  • It particularly focused on 12 target countries – Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Spain, UAE, UK, USA.
  • Respondents included Cambridge International students, but also students studying national curriculums and other international education programmes.

Geographical observations from the survey

  • Half of students ranked climate change as their top concern in New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. It was chosen by fewer than 1 in 5 in Brazil, China, Indonesia, and Pakistan.
    • Pollution was the most frequently cited global issue of concern in China and Indonesia, with poverty and inequality topping the survey in Brazil.
    • Access to good healthcare, telecoms, and infrastructure came bottom of the poll in most countries.
  • There are widespread differences in how global issues are taught or talked about in schools around the world.
    • Only 17% of students in Pakistan and Spain said their textbooks covered key global issues.
    • Students in the UK are the most likely to discuss global issues with other students.
    • Taking part in extracurricular activities focused on global issues like field trips, were mentioned by nearly a third of Indian students, more than double that in Indonesia, South Africa, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Globally 92% of students said they had taken personal action to help tackle the global issue which concerned them the most. However, the actions they take vary around the world.
    • Three out of four students in Brazil share knowledge with their family and friends.
    • Spanish students are the most likely to change their own lifestyle, with over two-thirds saying they had altered their own behaviour.
    • Political action was most popular in the US, with 16% saying they had contacted political representatives about the issue that mattered most to them.
    • Young people in the UK and New Zealand are most likely to use their spending power to effect change, by buying products that help tackle their chosen issue.


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