One world, many meanings;Reviews;Geography;Books;Features amp; Arts

19th November 1999 at 00:00
GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK 2000. Earthscan pound;20. PACHAMAMA: Our Earth - Our Future. Evans pound;7.99, In association with the United Nations Environment Programme. IN THE GLOBAL CLASSROOM I. By Graham Pike and David Selby. Pippin Publishing Toronto pound;22.95.

Michael Storm on three books that show how development education has a range of interpretations.

The geography classroom has always been an important site for development education. And while geographers tend to feel challenged by curriculum change, things appear to be looking up for development education - government funding has quadrupled to pound;3 million and the Development Education Association, an umbrella organisation for around 250 agencies and institutions, is currently fielding 400 queries a month.

But the concept of development education is difficult to pin down. The range of meanings attached to the term is well illustrated by these books.

The magisterial Global Environment Outlook surveys environmental change on a regional basis. Current data is provided on, for instance, the poverty which is "a major cause and consequence of environmental degradation and resource depletion" in Africa.

Achievements are also recorded, such as the increasing effectiveness of environmental groups in south Asia and more ruthless policing of wildlife trafficking in north America.

Many of the book's 200 tables and diagrams have an arresting quality - the steady fall in global military expenditure (declining by 4.5 per cent a year since 1988) is not perhaps part of most people's world-view.

The book is not designed primarily for teachers or students, although it should be a key reference text for school and college libraries. Teachers, or "development education practitioners" as the DEA likes to call them, should certainly have access to it, as it conveniently covers what most observers would consider the principal themes of development education - global and regional disparities in human well-being, their environmental causes and consequences, and associated social and economic changes.

Recognising an educational responsibility, Pachamama (an Inca term for Mother Earth) is a parallel United Nations Environment Programme publication, designed for - and largely written by - young people. Its hectic, colourful, in-your-face visual and literary style is calculated to grab the attention of 10 to 14-year-olds. The young contributors from more than 30 countries are often succinct. "When poverty overrides everything else, people forget about the environment."

These two books might be said to represent the cognitive dimension of development education, with their emphasis on learning about the world and how it is changing.

In the Global Classroom, the first of two handbooks for teachers, belongs to another tradition in development education. Its emphasis is on "personal development, which goes hand-in-hand with planetary awareness". Rooted in a critique of formal education, which foolishly fails to recognise "that the most profound, the most exciting learning is that which is unpredictable", the authors seek to establish "a democratic, equitable and humane classroom environment in which students deepen their understanding of local and global issues through collaborative and participatory learning processes".

In the Global Classroom presents around 90 activities, supported by 50 copiable worksheets and distributed across the six to 17 age range and across six themes - interconnections, environmentsustainability, health, perceptionperspectives cross-cultural encounters, technology and futures. The authors insist we should regard the quality of the classroom process as all-important.

Curriculum content appears to have lower priority - many of the UNEP themes are almost or completely invisible. Similarly, "in all cases, outcomes are neither guaranteed, nor predictable, nor - in one sense - important".

Development education on the PikeSelby model could thus have real problems with assessment and accountability.

Most of the activities encourage pupils to analyse their own personalities, preferences and lifestyles. Occasionally students are invited to consider data or literary extracts, but "inner journeys" tend to dominate.

Eloquent evangelists for child-centredness, the authors recently moved from York to Toronto, and might conceivably be heading for California, the inner-space state.

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