Viewpoint: How to foster global citizenship through education

Global Citizenship, that is a sense of solidarity between citizens across the world, is increasingly important in today’s society. As we grow increasingly connected and interact with many different people so global citizenship teaches people of all ages not simply to understand these differences but to embrace them.

One of the central tenets of global citizenship is Global Citizenship Education (GCED). Teaching children to read and write is no longer enough. The challenges of the 21st century are fundamentally interconnected and education helps us to solve these challenges by promoting care and concern for our global family. GCED instils respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, gender equality and environmental sustainability. Working to attain these attributes helps to produce responsible global citizens.

To help ensure that GCED is integrated in education systems and featured in the future global agenda for education beyond 2015, UNESCO is organizing the Second Forum on Global Citizenship Education (Paris Headquarters, 28-30 Jan 2015) 

GCED is about more than simply learning however. It is about actions. By living your life according to the lessons of GCED and promoting those lessons to others, you can make a real difference in the world, as the following interview shows.

Rolando Villamero, 26, Philippines, is founder of an organization known as TOPDAC (Ten Outstanding Persons With Disability in Negros Oriental Alumni Community), empowering people with disabilities and raising awareness of their rights. Rolando is also a member of the United Nations Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) Youth Advocacy Group (YAG). GEFI advocates for education in three priority areas – put every child in school, improve the quality of education and foster global citizenship. As a youth advocate, Rolando uses GCED to help build and promote initiatives aimed at helping people with disabilities in his home city of Dumaguete in The Philippines.

Q: What does it mean for you to be a global citizen?

 Being a global citizen is more of a process. The very first thing you have to consider is having a deep level of awareness about the idea that we live in one world. I am particularly fond of the Ubuntu saying ‘I am because you are and because you are I am’. In other words everyone is connected and the first step towards global citizenship is having an awareness of one’s community.

Q: How does your work at a local level support global awareness and a global sense of belonging?

 A:  Just having programmes at a local level is the first step to global awareness. To use my own experience – I come from Dumaguete City in the Philippines, one of the country’s smallest regions. Since 2008 I have worked with children with disabilities to ensure that they have an inclusive education, this is the local level. On a global scale I advocate for that work and promote and explain the needs of these children – GCED enables me to share their stories, it gives me a voice and perhaps enables me to influence policy makers. I have also been able to use social media to connect with other people throughout the world and share practises and ideas. This is GCED in action.

Q: Anything else?

Through my work with United Nations Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) I have met other young people who are advocating for GCED and we’ve shared our different interests and experiences. So I talk about disability and my colleague from Australia advocates for education for indigenous people. We all come together to discuss what can be done and this shows a move from local to global synergy and demonstrates how we can push forward.

Q: Why do you think GCED is so important?

 GCED provides an awareness that we live in one interconnected society and makes us understand how those connections can affect other people. Teaching GCED and learning from it develops an awareness of our respective communities, making us understand that although we belong to one society the people within that society are from many diverse backgrounds. The key, however, is to recognise that awareness alone is not enough, you have to respect and embrace that diversity. One of the most important things about GCED is that it makes you aware of the pitfalls we have in society, the lack of tolerance, the misunderstandings. If we embrace and respect diversity then we can work against that discrimination and prevent isolation. GCED helps us strive towards creating a society for all.

Q: How can we work to better promote GCED throughout the world?

A: We want to create a universal approach but we need to respect context and individual difference at the same time. We need to get a balance between these two things. For example the context and needs of Malawi and The Philippines are very different and when we are promoting GCED we have to consider those different contexts. It’s important that we don’t impose our wishes on other people but that we listen to them.

Q: How does GCED help on a day-to-day basis?

A: It helps people understand that diversity may take different forms. A classroom setting is really a small world in microcosm in which we see a lot of diversity of gender, ethnicity, language and disability. GCED teaches children and their teachers to really appreciate and respect diversity in addition to reflecting on society and what they can bring to the community. The idea of the global citizen must start in the classroom. For example we run a lot of simulation workshops for children, helping them to understand how it feels to be blind or unable to walk and this really helps children without disabilities to understand their classmates. Using GCED to teach diversity to children helps them deal with their classmates and other people they may meet with higher levels of sensitivity and respect.

Q: What are the difficulties in promoting and implementing GCED?

A: The basic issue would be how do we make theory and practice meet? It’s not enough to simply say ‘here’s a paper talking about GCED’ we need to go beyond that and make sure that it’s being implemented practically at a grassroots level. We need to understand not only the politics but also the personal. If people don’t understand what GCED is then they won’t sustain it. The best way to sustain GCED is through the community.