How to re-ignite real-world debates in the classroom - starting with the development gap

Rouna Ali
23rd January 2017 at 14:43

Classroom debates

On the 29 November 2016 I attended a British Academy debate entitled ‘Reducing Global Inequality: How do we achieve a fairer world?’ and it gave me an idea for a lesson plan to go with the unit 'The Development Gap’.

Eliza Anyangwe a freelance writer and moderator, and founder of The Nzinga Effect, chaired a panel of five people.

The speakers on the panel were: professor Sonia Bhalotra, professor of economics at the University of Essex, Joe Cerrell, managing director of global policy and advocacy at Gates Foundation, Mark Goldring CEO of Oxfam Great Britain, Naana Otoo-Oyortey, executive director of Forward UK, and Dr Jan Vandemoortele co-architect of UN Millennium Development Goals.

The main focus of the debate is how useful the new 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) as designed by the United Nations, are in reducing global inequalities. The SDGs have a new deadline of 2030 and replace the eight millennium development goals (MDGs) which had a deadline that expired in 2015.

What I learnt from this event was how the five speakers talked about this issue from very different viewpoints which were in tandem with their daily occupations.

For example, professor Bhalotra’s research was concerned that maternal depression around the world was not on the list of SDG targets even though mental health and substance misuse has been included.

Her research also stated that increasing the number of women in parliaments has a direct positive impact on women’s health in that country. This would increase women’s education and economic activity and the countries development.

The chief executive of Oxfam, Mark Goldring on the other hand argued passionately about wealth re-distribution as a way to achieve a fairer world. He reminded us of the truly shocking fact that 62 people on earth possess the wealth of half of humanity (3.5 billion people!).

In addition, he stated that the SDGs would not do anything to the richest people who live in lower income countries who do not pay any taxes to their governments which could then have been put towards that countries development. SDGs have their part to play in reducing global inequalities but more political will is needed.

His was a very poignant speech I thought that left a permanent mark on my brain!

A representative from a foundation owned by one of these 62 people (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), was Joe Cerrell and from his perspective, the former MDGs and current target setting with the SDGs has helped with child mortality etc.

However variations in wealth within a country were far greater than inequalities between nations and so these cannot be tackled on a global but national scale only.

Dr Vandemoortele said that the SDGs are ‘not fit for purpose’ because they are still based on the premise of extreme poverty which is a problem of the past as far as he is concerned. (Extreme poverty being defined as someone living on less than $1.25 per day).

By far the most striking speaker was Naana Otoo-Oyortey.

She believes that addressing the widespread and global violence against women, abuse in the forms of female genital mutilation, forced marriages, child marriages and murder, but more importantly, challenging the gender and socio-cultural norms that accept such violence and abuse against women and girls, is key to achieving a fairer and more equal world in terms of wealth, health and education.

In any given country women and girls make up half the population, and as geographers, we already know that it is no accident that the most advanced and developed countries also have a much higher degree of gender equality in their societies than plenty of low income countries that we could name.

Gender and development are very closely linked and should not be ignored or marginalized within such debates on inequality.

Therefore speaking and debating aside, which one of these approaches would actually result in a more equal world if put into practice?

How could you put them into practice? These are definitely questions for young people.

The GCSE AQA specification includes various ways in which we can reduce the development gap. For example industrial development in Malaysia, tourism in Jamaica, aid, fair trade in Uganda, debt relief and microfinance schemes in Bangladesh.

However a class discussion and debate about how the 17 SDGs could close the development gap (or not), could be a really valuable extra or optional lesson to complement this particular unit of work.

The lesson aim and focus would be the same as for the British Academy debate title ‘Reducing Global Inequality: How do we achieve a fairer world?’.

Firstly I would split the class into groups of six (one chairperson and five speakers). Every group is given a poster showing all 17 SDGs and they would spend a couple of minutes studying the new goals.

After a chair is decided for each group, every other member of the group is given a number 1 to 5. All the 1s in every group would be given biographies and information on Professor Sonia Bhalotra all the number 2s would be given information on Joe Cerrell and so on and so forth up to speaker number 5.

The speakers would then as in the real debate, take it in turns to present their arguments to their group with regards to how they think a fairer world can be achieved. The chairperson decides which speakers’ viewpoint is the most persuasive, powerful and practical to implement in the real world.

Each chairperson would then present their groups debate to the rest of the class.

Based on everything the students learn in this lesson, more questions would be raised than answered for sure but using the debate as a case study, the students would all write an answer to a practice question such as ‘How could the 17 SDGs reduce the development gap?’ (6 Marks).

They would have to make some reference to a few of the goals, give different perspectives followed by an overall concluding statement outlining their own detailed and fully explained opinions to be given the full 6 marks.

Finally, the debate was recorded so you will be able to watch it on this website soon.

Rouna Ali is a geography teacher and careers adviser in the London Borough of Hillingdon.