Mainstreaming global learning - dilemmas of definition and depth


Just over 10 years ago I wrote an article entitled 'The Global Education Terminology Debate: Exploring some of the issues' which appeared in the Sage Handbook of Research in International Education (and was updated as a second edition in 2015). The main audience for the handbook has been those in the international school/education world where ideas of 'international mindedness' or 'global consciousness' are well-established - the chapter served as an introduction to the development education and global learning field in the UK, which mostly works with state-funded schools.

I have been revisiting the issue of global learning terminology as part of global learning collaborations with new friends around the world, and because the lovely Dr Karen Pashby and I are 'attempting' to write an article for the International Journal of Development Education and Global Learning (now free to access here, go check it out!). As always, the age old 'terminology debate' haunts discussions with those who have been actively involved in different types of global learning for many years, but seems less significant to those have more recently come on board. What I have been anecdotally seeing in the #TeachSDGs movement, for example, is a particularly accessible, collaborative and non-divisive form of global education - see here for more on this.

In the old article, I begin by referencing a quote from the opening address of the Maastricht Global Education Declaration (2002), worth repeating here:

For some years now, the concept of global education - that is, education for greater justice, democracy and human rights, with a global perspective - has been gaining credence and momentum. However, the ideas and actions behind the concept are certainly not new. Many in Europe and elsewhere have been engaged in those constituent types of education that go together to make up global education - development education, human rights education, intercultural learning, education for peace and conflict resolution, environmental education and education for sustainability... What is relatively new, however, is the notion that these types of education might be brought together internationally through the umbrella term of global education. (Rugus, 2002:1).


Global education was then understood as an all-encompassing term that suggests an adjectival educational model with holistic, affective, cognitive and participatory dimensions. It has always been conceptualised alongside core 'global' skills and competences - a recent manifestation being something like Pisa/OECD 21st century global competences.

The article acknowledges the different fields of global education or global learning through taking a historical perspective - something Professor Doug Bourn also does in the very useful research paper The Theory and Practice of Global Learning which can be read here. Over the years different types of global education have been seen as more conservative, liberal or radical than others, and both Doug and I recognise that in the early 1990s a move towards using the term 'global' as opposed to 'world', 'development' or 'international' in global learning because it was perceived to be more relevant and accessible.

For decades many of us around the world have also been reflecting and teaching about the history, complexity and usefulness of the idea of global citizenship and cosmopolitanism in education - sometimes referred to as #GCED (Global Citizenship Education). It is with some excitement that the discourse of GCED returned in UNESCO 2014 and 2015 publications Global Citizenship Education Learning Objectives, and, significantly of course, alongside #ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) in the UN SDG target #SDG4.7. I've also enjoyed reading the most recent publication Education for the Sustainable Development Goals (2017). In the old days, we only had the 1974 Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms to refer to!

That said, global citizenship education is not without its critics, both from the right and the left, externally and internally - as are many other global education traditions or strands (such as development education for example, this topic alone merits a new blog;). In the field of global education in the UK different traditions exist with different levels of 'radicalism' and general understanding when placed in relation to mainstream educational practice and political discourse - in fact I always use the term 'field' in part to acknowledge the heterogeneous characteristics of global education.

Whilst I have in the past tried to use global education or global learning as umbrella terms (as I did in this old article), arguing that their strength is that they do not exclude or discount the important contributions made by all of the traditions contained within, there's been a shift in my thinking as I have become more familiar with the field of Education for Sustainable Development. I now believe that #ESD and #GCED work best hand-in-hand, but both are prone to misunderstanding, suspicion (including mutual suspicion) and... quite frankly... both make for way too complicated elevator pitches, ie when I have to explain to someone totally unfamiliar with the field what I do in two minutes!

Instead, there are increasingly three core frameworks or reference points that I use - the first two actually exist, and the third often exists in people's heads (although there are frameworks out there on this too as referenced above):


1) The UN's Sustainable Development Goals (aka Global Goals)

2) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (alongside the Convention on the Rights of the Child).

3) 21st Century Skills and Competences (including critical thinking, digital literacy, intercultural understanding, agile/collaborative working etc.)

When we give educators, students and employees the space to reflect upon these and encourage the creation of models of practice that fit with pre-existing practice and interests, from my experience so far the results are exciting, organic and critical forms of global learning. These three frameworks provide exciting tools for collaborative and intergenerational reflection, planning and action.

My mission has always been to facilitate collaboration between different stakeholders and sectors in global learning. One of the most tricky things to navigate is the ever-present tension between the practice of mainstreaming global learning and making it more accessible on the one hand, whilst advocating for more depth and critical theory on the other. I'm always on the look out for projects that successfully ride these choppy waters!

#GlobalLearning #Globalcitizenshipeducation #SDGs #TeachSDGs

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