Why do we need global education?

Why do we need global education?

How can companies, think-tanks and municipalities contribute to a more secure, sustainable and equal world? One of the obvious answers is to take a more global perspective in education and let children and adults, including employees, explore the world and its interconnectedness practically and from various angles and critical perspectives.

This form of learning is sometimes called Global Citizenship Education or Global Development Education or just Global Education, a broader term that acknowledges the need to add a global perspective to learning, teacher training and curricula – by including the whole world, or future generations and natural ecosystems into the picture. This means that education curricula should go beyond their national perspectives. Also they need to embrace online and offline cooperation of students with their peers all around the world.

It doesn’t mean that national perspectives should be abandoned or diminished, but there is a need to enrich them by a global perspective that can help citizens, including corporate citizens, to better ground their role and search for meaning within a broader context and a more definite vision of the sustainable and prosperous future.

How to measure progress

This vision was encapsulated in the Millennium Development Goals that represented a promise of richer countries to help poorer countries develop quicker. Since 2015 international community introduced Sustainable Development Goals that operate in a more universal logic – even the rich countries need to develop further and the developed/developing dichotomy is a bit simplistic. The entrepreneur Peter Thiel provocatively asks: “Who will develop the developed countries?” Because the idea of a “developed country” indirectly implies some kind of “end of history” for that country and stagnation with not much expected progress.

But “developing a country” doesn’t mean just growing the economy without innovating it or making it more sustainable. Growth can be understood as an increase in one dimension (e.g. GDP) and development as a more qualitative and rounded growth in multiple dimensions. These can be captured by indexes such as Social Progress Index, Good Country Index and SDG Index.

Especially the Good Country Index can serve as a proxy of global education quality and a globally altruistic perspective of a certain country. It was produced by Simon Anholt, the founding figure of nation branding. GCI aims to promote a greater cooperation among countries and the idea that a no country is a completely isolated island, and therefore we all need to play an active role in solving global challenges, such as climate change.   

Any active citizen or CSR practitioner can search these indexes for clues where his or her country underperforms, and for inspiration for future projects that would fit the sector he or she operates in. For example, in SDG Index Slovakia underperforms in funding research and development, in Good Country Index Slovakia underperforms among others in humanitarian aid, development cooperation and charitable giving or accepting students from poorer countries. Similarly, according to Social Progress Index, Slovakia underperforms in quality education, globally ranked universities, secondary school completion and religious freedom.

Going beyond environmental education

UNESCO in their Global Education Monitor Report 2016 provides data on SDG 4 seven targets focused on education towards sustainable development. This target has 5 elements: human rights, gender equality, culture of peace, non-violence and knowledge and skills to promote sustainable development lifestyles. The report for example mentions progress in human rights – 100 years ago only 5% of national curricula mentioned human rights as a topic, now it is 50%. But in Northern Africa or Western Asia the topic of women rights appeared in the last decade in just 10% of countries surveyed. Similarly, the topic and terms connected to gender equality appeared only in 15% of textbooks of countries surveyed.  Only 8% of countries train their teachers on topics of sustainable development.

According to a recent mapping of global education in Slovakia, teachers in kindergartens focus mostly on environmental issues and see global education mostly as an environmental education. The topics of global interconnectedness or migration take currently a back seat and are rarely mentioned. At the same time our schools and teachers must grapple with the topic of fake news, hoaxes and online disinformation campaigns. But mostly the discussion just acknowledges that global interconnectedness exists and we share some responsibility for global problems.

For example, buying sea food contributes to old fishing nets dumping into the see that forms the majority of plastic waste in oceans. Our phones and laptops contain minerals such as coltan that are sourced from countries in distress and civil wars like Congo. Weapons exports from rich countries and tax havens in rich countries fuel conflict and inequality and provide shelter to various kleptocrats, oligarchs and organized crime.

Global interdependence is real. But what to do about it?

First of all, we need to set the expectations straight – progress is slow and painful, with lots of twists and setbacks. For example, the global tax justice campaigns and efforts to fight tax havens and money laundering exist for decades. And the momentum is still being build.

We need to acknowledge the complexity of the world. It means having a sense of a right measure and timing is necessary. Complex systems are more like gardens and less like machines – too much water or too little water can both harm the plants.

In the same way a discussion about global complex issues needs to get more nuanced and sophisticated. Each country should have a discussion about its place and “mission” in the world and how much to contribute to global wellbeing. But the bare minimum should be to obey some rules of thumbs also called heuristics – at least pay the dues – the internationally agreed targets like donating 0.7% of GNI towards official development cooperation. Again Slovakia, that switched from a recipient into a donor less than 15 years ago, has a smaller target of 0.33% of GNI. But we give almost 3x less. Some countries, like the UK, Denmark or United Arab Emirates give more than 1% of their GNI into development aid.

We need to look for simple and actionable solutions and engage in “solution journalism”. Let us not just describe the problems, find connections and moralize about e.g. our part as richer countries in fueling those. Yes, these connections exist and we are partially responsible for global problems. But we need to go beyond stating those facts into proposing some positive, innovative and practical solutions.

For example, the NGO GiveDirectly is testing universal basic income in Kenya and Rwanda. They provide an opportunity for anyone to donate e.g. $25 a month that will be directly sent through mobile banking to a family in extreme and generational poverty. It means that for a price of a dinner out, you can double an income of a family in extreme poverty. GiveDirectly thus present a benchmark for intervention that is direct, simple and can be done for a long time, if people don’t have better opportunities for social investment.

Another example is Lincoln Quirk, a cofounder of a startup called Wave that lets people send remittances more cheaply from Western countries to their home countries. His company saves people 70% of the remittances costs, compared to competitors. And remittances are 3x bigger than the whole global development aid – so it is a large pie, and ripe field for disruption and innovation.

Both of these innovations are made possible because of the invention of mobile banking in Kenya by M-Pesa service in 2007, that spread thanks to a CSR project of Vodafone UK and Safaricom, supported by DFID, A British agency for development cooperation.

Companies can “pick the low hanging fruits” and explore opportunities in areas where their countries underperform. Including global education and cooperation between richer and poorer countries.  

They can also dedicate a certain percentage of their philanthropic activities to underserved topics of global education – and continually invest into their employees’ ability to work in international and intercultural teams.

Companies can also support the innovations in infrastructure and invest into research and development that can be later used for social and philanthropic needs. For example, Kenyan mobile banking revolution allowed not just remittances to get cheaper but also a new sector of off-grid prepaid solar energy for poor rural populations and services like M-Kopa Solar.

Global Education means combining very local and national perspectives with a more global perspective in coherent way. Stressing the need to reconcile interests and wellbeing of citizens with the need to take on active global citizenship responsibilities and reduce suffering and risks of current and future generations.  


Author: Jakub Šimek / Pontis Foundation

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