'World view needs tighter focus'

28th August 2009 at 01:00
Specialists say bland language and political correctness prevent young people from grasping truth about rich and poor countries

Specialists in global citizenship education say that bland language and an obsession with political correctness are preventing young people from grasping hard truths about rich and poor countries

Global citizenship education shies away from hard truths and gives a skewed picture of the world, according to a leading expert. Another suggests there is "an obsession with political correctness".

Colm Regan told an influential gathering of Scottish educators that depoliticised approaches and bland language, increasingly distanced from its original meaning, are producing young people who are ignorant about the imbalance of wealth between rich and poor countries.

Dr Regan, co-ordinator of the charity 80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World, spoke at a conference in Stirling last week aimed at getting the messages across to the initial teacher education sector. He railed against the impression that money always flowed in one direction, from rich countries to poor countries in need of aid. "The dominant view coming out of universities is that we transfer to them, rather than the reality that they transfer to us," he said.

Young people were also being fed a myth of universal progress and a "global village" of communications. Yet in Zambia - where his charity is based (as well as in Ireland) - 46 per cent of people were conservatively estimated to be under-nourished and 0.4 per cent had access to the internet.

Dr Regan uses the unfashionable term "Third World" instead of "developing world", which he believes obscures such facts. "We have to make sure that the language we use does not shirk away from injustice and obscenity," he said.

He was dismayed that the language of self-interested big business had become adopted by the mainstream: "progress and development" had come to mean deregulation; "freedom" meant consumer choice more than anything to do with the human spirit.

Countervailing viewpoints on global issues from provocative thinkers such as Indian author Arundhati Roy and Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano had become sidelined, he argued, as the educational landscape became increasingly depoliticised.

David Cameron, Stirling Council's former children's services director, weighed in behind Dr Regan. He told the conference, organised by the International Development Education Association Scotland (Ideas), that young people should learn about "the world as it is, not as it's defined by one particular perspective" and that "we need to get away from the obsession with political correctness".

l A Dundee University study has found that global citizenship can have many benefits in primary schools but that these may not be built on in secondaries.

Initial findings, based on the views of teachers at five Dundee and Angus schools with good reputations for global citizenship, pointed to improved self-esteem, social skills and motivation among pupils. They had a greater general interest in world affairs, not only in the countries studied, and an understanding of how children lived in other countries.

Global citizenship projects worked best if they involved the whole school. The teachers believed that, while there might be hurdles to global citizenship projects, these were worth overcoming because pupils became "completely involved".

There were concerns, however, about whether secondary schools would make the most of the global citizenship work done in primaries. Some children, for example, were not able to carry on the Spanish they had started as part of a global citizenship project.

Teachers were worried about "red tape" getting in the way, with some pupils not allowed to have pen-pals in Peru (although the researchers did not find out why this restriction was imposed). They also reported being unable to use many good resources because protective software had denied access to websites.

The findings were collected by Dundee University's pedagogy research group.

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