Global citizenship must be placed at the centre of education systems

The great question of global citizenship education is how to build solidarity with people you don’t know, not those you do.

This question formed the basis of the week’s discussions in Paris at the Second UNESCO Forum on Global Citizenship Education (GCED) in support of the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative.       

The conference brought together 250 participants from across the world including teachers, educators, policy-makers, academics, learners and civic society representatives to take part in three plenary meetings and 20 concurrent sessions.  It concluded today [Friday30 January] with recommendations on how to place global citizenship education at the centre of education systems  - whether formal or non-formal. 

“There are many reasons to be optimistic but this is not the moment to be satisfied,” said Soo-hyang Choi, Director of UNESCO’s Division for Teaching, Learning and Content. “Global citizenship must be viewed as a life experience and not just a forum for intellectual debates. There must be occasions for learners of all ages to feel that they belong to a common humanity, to understand that they need to take care of others, both those they know and those who, as has been said, they don’t.” 

Several key questions were raised during the conference including: can (global) citizenship be taught?  How can we best promote its ‘soft skills’ such as collaborative learning and teamwork to facilitate change? What is the role of all the various stakeholders involved in non-formal and in-formal Global Citizenship Education such as the media, community-based organisations, faith-based organisations and the private sector? “GCED could change people, communities, nations and the world if it is well embedded in the global education system,” said Choong-hee Hahn, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations. 

It is important to learn from the past, said Jorge Sequeria, Director of the UNESCO Santiago Office, citing the experience of the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000 where the framework ‘had the best intentions…but wasn’t used.” There is, therefore, need for a universal education policy reflecting a multi-sectoral approach that could be translated into national agendas. 

It is also necessary to consider the role of both teachers and learners in GCED. “Teachers need support in terms of continuous professional development, continuous resources, trust from authority and parents to be fully professionally accountable,” said Susan Hopgood, President of Education International. “Education has the ability to empower communities and a broad and flexible curriculum is crucial to GCED.” Similarly, the needs of learners of all ages should be considered with GCED embodying both lifelong learning and intergenerational learning. 

One of the highlights of the Conference was the passionate engagement of youth activists and younger speakers, who lobbied for the importance of implementing GCED at a local level because ‘understanding each other at home might be even more important than understanding each other across borders’. 

“We feel it is of the upmost importance to regard youth as major stakeholders in the formal education debate since we are in fact the recipients of said education,” the Conference Youth Delegates said in a statement presented today. “We encourage UNESCO to stimulate non-formal and informal education methods in GCED as a way of reaching the children and youth still out of school for varying reasons.” 

The importance of GCED as a tool for forging peace was uncontested. However, “what does it mean to have GCED in a country where the national identity is contested and under construction due to the massive influx of refugees from bordering countries?” asked Aaron Benavot, Director of the UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report, citing Lebanon as an example. 

The continued implementation of projects such as the UNESCO Clearinghouse on Global Citizenship Education in order to help build a ‘silent revolution’ of learners, educators, states and UNESCO to drive the idea forward is central to ensuring that GCED is mainstreamed. “The concept of Global Citizenship Education needs to be given life beyond discussion rooms and UN documents and become a reality,” said Ms. Choi. 

The Forum was organized by UNESCO on the occasion of its 70th Anniversary with the support of Austria, the Sultanate of Oman and the Republic of Korea.