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How ‘Global’ Should Education Be?

Saadia Iqbal's picture

I used to work for an organization in London, whose vision was “education for a just and sustainable world.” In simpler terms, they wanted to get issues such as poverty reduction, climate change and fair trade incorporated within national curricula, which they called bringing a “global dimension” to education.

It was something I’d never thought about before; yet it started to seem so obvious. It’s unrealistic in today’s world not to provide a global context to learning. It made me think back to my own schooling and wish that my employers’ visions and goals had somehow reached Pakistan in the 1980s. In my school, memorization was the key to success, we were brainwashed into believing that Pakistan had defeated India in every war the two countries had ever fought, and the global dimension was limited to a once-weekly French class for which we read Astérix comics. (This last bit was great, and one of the few things I actually remember from my primary education.)

After working there, I started asking people whether their education had included a global dimension, if it had addressed issues of sustainable development, poverty, and fair trade, to name a few. Not surprisingly, most said no, because it’s only recently that the world has woken up to globalization, with Internet, satellite television, and mobile phone technology connecting people everywhere and shrinking borders.

Today, an education that ignores the interconnectedness and interdependence of all people would be an incomplete one. Raising development issues in the classroom is so important for increasing awareness and inspiring students to get involved in solving the issues that affect all of us.

Still, those Londoners had a way of complicating things. They painfully deconstructed each and every concept, and spiralled down into endless analysis. What does education for a just and sustainable world look like? What exactly is a “global dimension” to education? Define just. Define development. Who decides what everything means? Who decides how to solve it? How can we impose our opinions on others? Aaaaaaaaaaaargh.

Ultimately, it seemed to me that all the over-introspection led nowhere. I remember reading something a colleague emailed me—an article by a woman who’d just come back from a trip to Ethiopia. She wrote:

“The children in Addis were far from impoverished when it came to imagination, spirit and mind. In this country [UK], people suffer a poverty of the spirit, a poverty of relationships, of opportunity and of access to the support either of their community or families. Comparatively, the majority of Africans are rich….As we were discussing the ‘children at risk’ in Addis, I couldn’t help but look at the pupils in my classes and wonder who the children at greater risk were. Is it our children who are at risk of being brainwashed by the media, of childhood obesity, of being dangerously over-pampered and made vulnerable to risk? How many of our children have basic survival skills? How many lack basic common sense?”

To me, it all started to seem too politically correct and beside the point. After all, poverty is a hard, cold fact. It seemed a bit naïve to talk about richness of spirit, when every year more than 10 million children die of hunger and preventable diseases. With people like Jeffrey Sachs explaining in precise, numeric terms about how exactly we can achieve the MDGs, it starts to seem like a luxury to think of over-pampering and videogame addiction as real problems. After all, if we’re going to accomplish all of this by 2015 isn’t there a lot of real work to do?

What do you think a “global” education should look like? And how can education be designed so as to help combat poverty and disease?

And hey, don’t forget to tell us about which teachers have impacted your lives, and how.