Seeking Ubuntu was a project that sought to challenge a group of UK teacher educators to reflect on their own practice, and that of others, by exposing them to a range of experiences during a study visit to South Africa. This took place within an explicit framework which suggests that teacher education does not on the whole provide student teachers with a political analysis of education, does not equip teachers to handle controversial political issues (local or global) in the classroom and which does not use comparative or international examples to learn about the nature of education. In the life of any project there are events, incidents and comments that, at the time, register a permanent place in the collective memory and with hindsight give an indication of how well the project is progressing. One such moment came when Lebo Moletsane spoke to the group of the 'silences and taboos' that exist in South African education. If learners are to be prepared for life in a democratic society – and prepared they must be because democracy is not genetic, it is learned behaviour – such silences must be broken, such taboos addressed. There is nothing in our genes to programme us as democrats or dictators at birth. Education must have a clear idea of the sort of democratic person it hopes to cultivate and teachers must have clear strategies for the development of such people and, therefore, teacher educators need to be sure that their interactions with their students are conducive to education for democratic citizenship.

Breaking the silence about those taboos

Powerful forces are operating within the English education system that favour some sort of ‘globalising of the curriculum’. However, we would argue that relatively little thought has been given to the characteristics of ‘good’ or ‘effective’ global education. For example, international links between learners, teachers, schools and other educational institutions are championed as valuable and desirable, but such links can not be divorced from the wider context within which they function. ‘Educational tourism’ (or even worse, ‘educational voyeurism’) by which teachers, pupils, principals and academics – in fact, anyone involved in the English education system – are jetted thousands of miles to experience education elsewhere in the world runs the risk of developing rather skewed views of what is to be seen and experienced. How can one begin to appreciate the demands placed on South African educators without an understanding of South African history? The country’s constitution, with its clear statements on human rights and democratic participation, is a response to the injustices of Apartheid and is one of the most progressive in the world. The constitution permeates through educational policy and documentation, providing a clear vision of the democratic society that its people deserve, and whilst some South African educators express dissatisfaction about the implementation of education policies, there is strong admiration for the goals of those policies and the government’s intentions.

If one needs a grasp of the macro-context of South Africa (i.e. how and why the state is ‘behaving’) to begin to understand its education system and the impact on the individuals involved within it, one also needs at least an awareness of the micro-context – how and why individuals are ‘behaving’. The spectre of HIV/AIDS, traditional gender roles, masculinity and gender violence, inequitable access to resources and the professionalism of the professionals are all amongst the ‘personal’ factors that need to be considered and could all too easily be missed or avoided on a whistle-stop tour of South African schools.

The study group found that the project stimulated their thinking, not only about the South African context(s), but also about their own milieu. Each of the previous chapters contains what individuals saw as major points of learning, and these are presented as Key Points. Some of the Key Points relate to teaching methodology – for example, that teaching about HIV/AIDS is not easy or that teachers and schools can choose to be either passive or active in their approach to education for sustainable development. However, there is clear evidence that some student teachers are not being prepared to deal with controversial issues in their classrooms and this is a major omission because these issues cannot be kept outside the classroom. Neither are they being prepared to choose appropriate curriculum content or question externally imposed practices. South African educators criticise the manner in which they have been prepared to implement recent educational reforms, but the group concluded that the teachers they met felt they were part of the educational reform process and generally welcomed the changes. This, the group noted, contrasted with what they felt was a common opinion in England and Northern Ireland, that educational reform is imposed from above and thus is not received with such positive attitude.

Other Key Points consider organisational structures, and there would appear to be not a little evidence of the ‘myth of the liberal college’ referred to in the opening chapter. We have, we hope, come some way from the days when values were seen as having no place in education. However, we have yet to reach the situation, essential if education for democratic citizenship is to be truly effective, when the key values and aims underpinning the education system in general and individual schools in particular are open for debate, negotiation and clarification. Teachers need to be able to engage in such discussions with others involved in the education enterprise.

So what was learned?

Seeking Ubuntu provided a structured experience for a group of teacher educators to reflect upon their own education systems and the role they play in preparing student teachers to engage in education for democratic citizenship. The group identified clear similarities between their own situation and that of fellow South African educators. For example, there can be little doubt that Moletsane’s ‘silences and taboos’ exist in England and Northern Ireland. In this book’s preface, the following questions are posed as to what constitutes quality global learning:

  • What do we want this 'global society' to look like?
  • What does this 'work' involve?
  • Who are our 'international partners'?
  • What 'goals' do we have in common? Do we have some different, even conflicting, goals?
  • Are we striving for global learning? Or should we be striving for Quality Global Learning? And if, so, what are the characteristics of Quality Global Learning?

Seeking Ubuntu has, hopefully, begun to provide some possible answers. It provides significant evidence of the value of ‘globalising the curriculum’ that is offered to learners in schools and in our teacher training institutions; of the value of supporting educators to gain a broad and varied view of education; of the value of using a comparative experience to identify similarities and differences, explore options and different strategies; and of the value of providing educators with the space – physical, intellectual and temporal – in which to gain new knowledge, understanding and skills, explore what this enhancement means for their own practice.

Finally, what can Seeking Ubuntu offer in response to the last of the questions posed in the preface of this book? What role does schooling and teacher education play in achieving these goals and providing Quality Global Learning? The need is for teacher educators who are able to see the need to challenge the myth of the liberal college and respond to that challenge; who will ensure that new teachers can contribute to the education of democratic citizens; who are able and willing to open the minds of their learners; and that resist the temptation to service a system that closes down the options of those in formal education. Teacher educators need to address complex and controversial issues with their students so as to help build confidence so that they may, in turn, support learners in schools in exploring these issues. There are models of good practice, both in England and in South Africa, but there is an urgent need for effective CPD for teacher educators, teachers in school and teachers in training. Democratic practices are not incompatible with teacher education – in fact, they are essential if educators are to provide learners with the necessary knowledge, skills and experiences so they can become citizens in a democratic and increasingly globalised society.

Some challenges for thinking about global learning in England

One of the more challenging ways of learning about our own society and its education system is to compare it with others. How do we move away from the complacency of seeing ours as best?

Many teachers have not developed the skills to enable learners to engage with controversial issues. What are the implications for ITE, CPD and creative curriculum planning?

Citizenship education is itself a contested area? Do we offer learners the opportunity to understand this?

The potential purposes and goals of education are many … and are themselves controversial. What purpose is proposed for global learning?

All education is political. Is global learning fit for purpose?

Education can be used … for both ‘good’ and ‘evil’. How do we know what we are doing if we do not consider such questions?

What are our 'silences and taboos'? Are there unquestioned assumptions about the ‘global dimensions’ agenda in England?