Policy & Practice - A Development Education Review



What is global citizenship?

Global Citizenship
Autumn 2006

Andy Griggs & Sue Christie

Whether as a ‘subject’ to be taught at school, or as a wider philosophical concept, the field of global citizenship is extensive and complex.  The term ‘global citizenship’ can mean different things to different people and can be engaged with in a variety of ways.  For the Environmental Education Forum (EEF), however, the importance of environmental education (EE) as an essential element of global citizenship education cannot be undervalued.
Environmental education and development education
In Northern Ireland, way back in the twentieth century there was EE and there was development education (DE). Neither had a high profile generally or in the curriculum, but both were seen as important - indeed vital - by those promoting them. The trick was how we could get them delivered within the curriculum and not seen as something the teacher did if s/he wanted a field trip or a guest speaker. A huge amount of excellent work in both areas was carried out through the auspices of Education for Mutual Understanding, which provided funding for cross community (i.e. citizenship) work.

            When the new curriculum began to be developed in the late nineties citizenship became a major component.  The goal of both EE and DE practitioners then became to ensure that citizenship included our disciplines, and was not restricted to ‘community relations’ as we euphemistically call it. This seems to have been accomplished, and the resulting new curriculum places significant emphasis on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), which certainly encompasses both EE and DE, and is very much concerned with ensuring that the students of today will become good global citizens of tomorrow.

            The question remains whether this new curricular area will ensure this result and include the vital areas of EE and DE in the education of all young people in Northern Ireland. It offers the opportunity, and with a statutory duty for ESD now enshrined in law and established duties on all departments, including Education, to deliver, we feel that it will. However, there remains a need to train both new and existing teachers in delivery of this complex area and to demonstrate how it can tie in to delivery of existing curricular subjects.

            An example recounted to us by a local primary school teacher again demonstrates the difficulty of engaging everyone as to the importance of teaching ESD in the new curriculum. At a recent training session for in service teachers on the implementation of the revised curriculum, one particularly aware teacher asked the ‘trainers’ to enlarge on the area of ESD.  The reply came back that they themselves were somewhat in the dark and had received little training or direction on the subject.  This clearly shows that there will need to be much more work carried out over the coming months and years by all of us to direct, inform and support teachers, both as trainees and in service, as well as the education establishment itself if the crucial need to deliver ESD across the curriculum is to be realised.  We also remain concerned that ‘if it isn’t examined it won’t be taught’.  We are yet to be convinced that existing subject-specific delivery will ensure effective transfer of the cross-curricular themes fundamental to its understanding. 
A question of expediency?
Certainly the profile of sustainable development has risen greatly in recent years (as well it needs to) and it is therefore convenient to be able to tie the environmental themes into this broader and increasingly high profile agenda. It is increasingly recognised at all levels that problems facing our society and world are complex, integrated and significant and that a piecemeal approach will not suffice. Poverty is indeed a serious social issue, but cannot be disentangled from environmental degradation, health or economic drivers. We are all now aware that these matters are inter-related to such a degree that it is impossible to tackle one without regard to the impacts of and on the others.

            The threats to our communities, our civilization and indeed our planet from a variety of sources are increasingly recognised, not only by the scientists and activists but also by the general public and even politicians. Environmental stories which used to be relegated to either the ‘good news’ slot at the end of local news or horror stories of fish kills are now commonplace; there are probably few people in Northern Ireland who have not heard of climate change and the threats it poses, although fewer will recognise what they need to do about it or their role in bringing it about. Recently the BBC ran a poll on which of four issues was ‘the most serious threat’ - poverty, aids, terrorism or climate change - and climate change ‘won’ by a large margin. There is no better example of the complexity of inter-relationships than the causes of climate change and the steps that need to be taken to address its effects.

            We would thus submit that it is not possible any longer to teach ‘environmental education’ without addressing the social and economic causes and impacts. Certainly children can learn about their environment, but if this is taught without regard to the impacts that people and their activities have upon it, the field becomes sterile. Biological surveys need to be more than cataloguing that which we are losing! 
Can we teach local environmental subjects without addressing global aspects? Can people be good ‘global citizens’ without recognising their environmental impacts? Is it possible to divorce environmental impacts from those of people? No longer; the environment is a crucial factor determining our quality of life, and our every aspect of our lifestyle has impacts upon our environment, locally or globally. To take good care of their environment our young people need to be good ‘global citizens’ and fully realise their impacts and responsibilities, and in order to be good global citizens they must realise that we live on a finite and delicate planet.

            The EEF was formed in 1996 by the Environment and Heritage Service in response to calls from (mostly) environmental NGOs to provide a networking and forum body where ideas could be exchanged and a stronger voice could be articulated to promote the idea of EE to those devising and delivering Northern Ireland’s curriculum. It provides newsletters for members, schools and youth groups, organises conferences and meetings and provides training for future teachers through all the teacher training institutions in Northern Ireland. The EEF comprises nearly 100 members from all sectors.

Griggs, A and Christie, S (2006) 'What is global citizenship?', Policy and Practice: A Development Education Review, Vol. 3, Autumn, pp. 104-107.