Global Citizenship Education: Taking it Local

18 October 2018

With the world facing steep challenges such as climate change, and with poverty and inequality threatening global peace, the need to foster a shared sense of humanity among societies and people across the world has never seemed more urgent.

Although news headlines may focus on seemingly intractable differences between countries and groups, societies across the world have long lived according to principles that emphasize solidarity, dialogue and respect for diversity.

It is from this rich well of practices that UNESCO’s Global Citizenship Education (GCED) programme draws inspiration -- to instill in learners the skills, values, attitudes and behaviors to ‘live together’ and help shape more peaceful, sustainable societies and world.

GCED is enshrined at the global level in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in Sustainable Development Goal 4 and specifically Target 4.7 – but we see challenges to its implementation.

GCED is sometimes seen as an ideal that places global challenges over local needs. The concept of ‘global’ is perceived by some as being equal to ‘Western.’ In countries experiencing conflicts or deep poverty, GCED may be viewed as a ‘luxury.’

Part of the path to overcoming these challenges lies in showing the links between national and traditional concepts and the ideas at the heart of GCED.

This is the goal of UNESCO’s new advocacy report, Global Citizenship Education: Taking it Local, in partnership with the Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding -- to identify national concepts that convey similar notions to those in GCED, as starting points to teaching it.

The examples, ranging from France’s national motto to the South African humanist notion of Ubuntu, show that GCED does not seek to impose new ideas but instead aims to enhance a shared aspiration among peoples to live in peace with respect for all.

GCED is built around three key principles: respect for diversity, solidarity and a shared sense of humanity, which distinguish it from other educational approaches.

The core concept of respect for diversity is embodied in the notion of multiculturalism. In Canada, for instance, multiculturalism is a national policy to ensure that all citizens take pride in their ancestry and share a sense of belonging as well as identity. The 1988 Multiculturalism Act obliges the government to promote interaction between communities. Much of this work is carried out through the education system.

In Bhutan, the concept of Gross National Happiness permeates national policy, underscoring the primacy of societal good over economic growth. In 2008, it was decided to embed the Gross National Happiness principles in the education system.

Shared humanity is at the root of Sumak kawsay, an indigenous Andean concept, which revolves around the idea of humanity as an integral part of the natural and social environment and which has heavily influenced Ecuadorean culture. Translated as “well-being”, Sumak kawsay has been integrated into the constitution since 2008 and is also included in official textbooks for upper secondary education.

Of course, there are variations in how these notions are put into practice in different societies – in the relative focus given to nurturing peaceful social relationships, for instance, the weight given to the notions of generosity and hospitality, and the need for harmony with nature.

Still, UNESCO’s new study shows that core notions of GCED are shared across the world, taking shape in different concepts, to reflect different histories and cultures as well as similar aspirations for living together and peace.

In the words of the report, “all of this strengthens the call for greater national and local ownership of GCED, regardless of what name it is given.”

These themes were echoed at the Launch Event of the advocacy report held on 9 October 2018, at UNESCO Headquarters, with the participation of the Chairperson of the Executive Board, Mr Byong-hyun Lee, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education, Ms Stefania Giannini, and Dr Itak Chung, Director of the Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding.

All of this sends a single powerful message. GCED is not a new concept, but an aspiration long-held across the world. GCED is not ‘foreign’ but has deep local roots. GCED is not someone else’s but all of ours.