Shaping conversations – a reflection on the Global Citizenship Education Guiding Framework Meeting, June 2014

Injaru1[1]The Peculiar Dance of Education for Social Change in Different Spaces…

Injairu Kulundu, Western Cape Team Leader of Activate! – a network of young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa – reflects on her participation at the recent UNESCO Global Citizenship Education consultations, which began to consider how best to mainstream Global Citizenship Education into formal and informal education spaces.  Although a rather lengthy article, we think the insight and honesty that Injairu has captured in her article makes for an interesting read.


A Reflection on the Global Citizenship Education Guiding Framework Meeting, UNESCO Paris: Clarifying Topics and Learning Objectives (by Age) with the Experts Advisory Group

On the 23rd of June 2014, I was invited to the headquarters of UNESCO Paris to contribute to an introductory document being drafted on Global Citizenship Education. The meeting brought together a diverse range of experts that could provide key insight into what essential elements need to be in place if we were to boldly introduce the idea of Global Citizenship Education to the world[1]. Global Citizenship Education simply describes an articulated focus in formal and informal education around how we can educate learners about what is happening in their local contexts and how this links to systemic global issues. It seeks to challenge young people to strengthen their responses to their daily experiences through local action. Lastly Global Citizenship Education seeks to challenge us to unpack our identities and ask critical questions about what it means for us to live together.

At this meeting the 15 experts invited consisted of old professors who have been developing curriculums for years from institutions like the University of Beirut and the National Peace Academy in New York, key members of the Ministries of Education from countries like Kenya, monitoring and evaluation specialists who focus on Curriculum and Evaluation from places like Seoul and members of civil society organisations such as CIVICUS and Oxfam. It was truly a privilege to be invited to share insight into what we are creating together at Activate! Leadership on this platform.

The intention of this meeting was to have all of these different perspectives come together to think about the essential elements that need to be in place in order to grow and implement the vision of Global Citizenship Education internationally.

The desired end product of this meeting was a document that could adequately orientate policy makers and curriculum developers about what Global Citizenship Education (G.C.E) is. This included asking questions about what the merits of pursuing G.C.E within our education system are. What are the implications of G.C.E on learners and teachers? This was a very interesting task because each person present at the meeting arrived with their own ‘politics’ and perspective on what the essential elements for G.C.E would be.

So… I arrive in Paris armed with my perspective of what GCE means to Activate! and what participants and the Activate! staff members think are the essential elements that are needed in order for us to do the work that we do. I arrived in Paris holding the thoughts and experiences of the many young people that I have had the privilege to interact with at Activate!. I arrived with a youth agenda in mind only to discover that I was the only young person present!!!

So what does this mean? A high level meeting that could ultimately impact on learning for millions of young people around the world and I am the only young person present!!! I was not prepared for the immediate sense of pressure that this brought for me, as well as a quiet enragement that came with reflecting on how little young people’s perspectives seem to matter on such crucial issues. My other sense of annoyance came from the realisation that my presence in this meeting could not be able to speak for the multitudes of experiences of young people around the world – most of which I cannot claim to know anything about.

But… what are we actually saying?

Right off the cuff as the meeting began I was struck by how the seemingly ‘progressive’ language of the UN can often mask very conservative views. By this I mean the language that was being used to describe the merits of G.C.E such as tolerance, human rights, peace, sustainability easily mask an agenda that perpetuates the status quo. I was listening to these words and asking myself; are we really trying to create change here? Or are we simply trying to patch the potholes in the status quo? There was a sense that the language used to describe G.C.E could easily be used as a measuring stick to make sure that young people learn how to ‘behave’, get on together and use the right (safe?) channels to exercise their citizenship.

But what about having real conversations about inequality and justice and what it takes to respond to these things in our contexts? What about conversations that could boldly unpack privilege and the status quo? I was not satisfied that this was being sufficiently addressed. I was concerned that if G.C.E was captured in the dry institutional language presented here it would only inspire a re-institutionalisation of neo-liberal norms rather than a re-imagining of how the world could be. I was hoping that this meeting would begin to spark the conversation of where our power lies as young people and how we can use it to shape a world of our imaginings. Half an hour into meeting I knew that if I didn’t share these thoughts with the group as quickly as possible then I could easily zone out of the conversation for the rest of the week. If I didn’t anchor my voice strongly from the start it would be very difficult to find it later on… and so I did.

Something must be said about what it feels like to try and break up institutional language, what it feels like to sit at the table with high level professionals and be dared to share your insights in a way that can be provocative whilst still being accepted as worthy knowledge from a very short person. I say this because I know what it is like to have your comments patronised as a young person as if what you have to say is ‘cute’ but not central to the conversation. I wasn’t about to waste a trip to Paris to be a token youth – besides I had things to say…

It was important for me to find my boldness and articulate my concerns in a way that could open up conversation. I was sitting with an Activate! keyring set on my lap flipping through the concepts cards thinking through how I was going to put what I was going to say. I shared my thoughts with the group around re-imagining the world that we want and not simply recreating a system that is not working. I was pleasantly surprised by the support that came out for these comments from the floor. Different stakeholders in the room were quick to support the need to encourage the imagination needed to create new realities other than the ones we occupy. There was interesting learning here for me. One can easily set oneself up to feel like your voice is going up against a rock and as a result be surprised by how your comments can shake up a space. At this point I became more aware of the diversity of the different perspectives in the room and that my voice was indeed something necessary and welcome. There were co-conspirators present. This meeting could become very interesting.

How do I wash my left hand without my right: On choosing key competencies for G.C.E

Next up we were asked to think about the key competencies that we think would be important for a G.C.E learner to have. This basically meant that we had to identify what we hope learners will be able to do as a result of a G.C.E intervention. We were asked to do some ‘rapid fire’ picking of indicators from a list that was provided. At this point I was very unhappy with how things were being done. It removed the space for reflective thinking about what the key competencies could possibly be and how we could better refine our ideas around this. At this point I watched like an anthropologist as my senior colleagues (many of who were monitoring and evaluation experts) had to soldier through this exercise. It was also interesting to see the different forms of non-violent protests that came out as people bent the rules of the task to accommodate what they thought they should be doing. We were instructed to choose 3 competencies from a list; some groups chose as many as 8 competencies much to the annoyance of our convener. This was interesting to watch.

Pushing Transformative Learning into the Mainstream

The most important part of the meeting for me was the second day when the learning objectives for G.C.E were tabled. This was the chance to speak deeply about what the curriculum for G.C.E should include. When going through the proposal the night before I realised that a lot of thought and detail was put into identifying what learners would understand by the end of the program. It fascinated me that so much thought was given to what the learners should know but not how the teachers (who would be the key facilitators of this) could successfully impart this knowledge. G.C.E basically proposes a huge shift in how teaching happens. It advocates for transformative learning in formal and informal education sectors. This way of working is actually asking teachers from all over the world to think differently about how they teach and to incorporate this into the formal education sector. This is a radical move! Finally, the space to interrogate and work with alternative ways of teaching in mainstream education.

My experience as a facilitator really helped me think through the key issues here. I have come to understand how much work it takes in order to do the work that I do. My question at this point was; how are they going to prepare teachers to do this work? And did they understand that if they miss the opportunity to get the buy-in and understanding of the teachers then the project of G.C.E would not be viable. We realised at this point that despite the fact that we are talking about G.C.E, one of the most interesting things about what is being proposed is the space for thinking differently about how we teach and how we learn.   We decided at this point to restructure the guiding document in order to make transformative learning part of the foreground of the document and not the background. At this point it was interesting to see how we were collectively trying to push the envelope of what G.C.E within the highly bureaucratic space of the UN.

How do you dance the dance of an outlaw in an encumbered space? On riding different trains towards social change.

The learning involved here got me thinking: How do you push boundaries within a system that in itself has to be fairly conservative about its politics? It was very interesting to watch how the process was being facilitated, how the understandings around transformative learning were being worked with in a way that could make sense to diverse policy makers and curriculum developers from across the world. It was interesting to watch what language was deemed adequate, insufficient or risky.

The opportunity to be a part of crafting this document was valuable because we were getting a chance into input on something that has the potential to be picked up on a massive scale. The content that we were working on needed to be presented in a way that it could possibly creep into the cracks of the UN system and hopefully grow. We needed a ‘one size fits all’ version that could be accessible and safe to assimilate into different contexts. In other words, there was a sense that if we presented a transformative agenda to radically address the issues that are embedded in what it means to be a global citizen we might chase away the small opportunity we had to begin the work. So the question then became; how do we present what we think G.C.E should be in a way that can be taken up and worked with? This was an interesting space to observe the politics of policy making; what it looks like when you have to work with grand ideas that will be pushed into education ministries around the world.

So there I was fully aware of how far we could take this G.C.E thing but still having to respect the process that I was a part of. I understood that I was not there to create another movement like Activate!. I was there to help give guidance for another space altogether. This learning echoed an important point that came out in the Public Accountability Exchange! that we had in May. I remember at the end of the Exchange! we spoke about the fact that we have to understand that there are different spaces that exist that are pushing the agenda of social change. These spaces serve very different functions in the long run. UNESCO is trying to push the agenda of transformative learning for social change in their own way and Activate! is pursuing it in another.

It also got me thinking about the space that we occupy as Activate! and how fortunate we are that we can willingly push boundaries in the work that we do. I came to fully understand the implications of the work that we do and how special it is. Seriously! We often don’t have to beat around the bush about what we want as young people. Each Activator can define and move themselves towards their idea of what social change should ultimately look like.

So… as a result of this whole experience what do I bring back for you as an Activator and colleague?

Firstly, I am humbled by the power of what we are creating together here at Activate! As a facilitator in the space I am constantly amazed and enriched by the experiences that we create together in the training rooms across this country. Between the crazy icebreakers and deep conversations I have always been aware that what we are creating is special. I was surprised by how much more appreciative I am of this space after my experience in Paris. People out there are only starting to articulate something that we are sitting in. We are pushing boundaries people! It’s something to be proud of. What we have to share is vital, and it seems that an international audience is starting to take note of this. They want to use Activate as a working example of what G.C.E looks like in practice. Let’s hope that this gives us the space to share who we are and what we do on many other platforms. Let’s hope that this brings more life to our work and that many can hear and be a part of the vision that we are trying to create together.

[1]  The definition of what Global Citizenship Education (G.C.E) is was explored in depth in a paper presented in Seoul Korea in September 2013.  Please see the full guiding document at:‐materials/singleview/news/unescos_seoul_consultation_deepens_understanding_of_global_citizenship_education/#.UjxKSX‐bFng

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