Changing contexts

I am going to begin this discussion from the basis of a number of premises; firstly, that learning should prepare the learner to survive and thrive in, and contribute to, society; and secondly, that it appears that increasingly the desired societal structure is democratic in one form or another. If we begin from such a starting point, we can move forward to consider what education could or should be like.

However, before that I wish to introduce a third premise and that is that society is becoming increasingly global. I am aware that this is a contested issue, but I do find support in the work of a wide range of commentors; for example, Olssen et al (2004) and, for me, their clear account of economic, cultural and political globalisation and a ‘new world order’; Hartley (2000), who also considers post-Fordism; and Reid and O’Donoghue’s (2006) consideration of what they refer to as "a post-industrial age and a globalising world" (p560).

If one accepts that changes of context are occurring (for example, modifications from what Meighan and Harber (2007:240) refer to as "shallow" towards "deep" democracy, as well as trends of increasing globalisation) then one must question the extent to which the learning experienced by the majority of our young people being grounded is fit for purpose in 2007 – let alone 2057. Reid and O’Donoghue (2006:565) argue that recent changes in young people’s capacity to manage, process and interpret information alone demands a reassessment of the nature of education and refer to Kress’s call for ‘education for instability’ in an "age of uncertainty" in which;

"… education for the stabilities of well-defined citizenship or participation in stable economies must be replaced by education for creativity, innovativeness, adaptability, ease with difference and comfortableness with change."  (Kress cited in Reid and O’Donoghue, 2006:560)

I wish to conclude these opening comments about the implication of current developments by referring to an unpublished paper by Scott Sinclair (2007) who offers an interesting and useful framework within which to consider factors that might influence the design of a curriculum that is fit for purpose. Sinclair argues that what is required is a structure that provides both learners and teachers with the coherence and confidence to explore key concepts relating to the complexity of change. Further, he argues that both learners and teachers need to understand the nature of commonality that exists between individuals and groups in different locations and situations, and that they also need to be honest about their (our) uncertainty, even confusion, about what they are learning and teaching about. These are Sinclair’s Seven Cs and resonate very much with Kress’s comments above and to challenge we as educators face as summed up by DfID (as quoted in Tide~’s Report to the AGM, May 2007).

"For the next sixty, seventy or eighty years young people in UK schools will influence and be influenced by the way in which their local societies and globalised world are organised … a world that is likely to be very different."


Before proceeding I wish to clarify the term 'fit for purpose'. By 'fit for purpose' I mean that such an educational experience will contribute towards developing learners that are able to survive and thrive in, as well as contribute to, their society. The use of the term ‘learning experience’ is useful here in that it allows one to accept fully Dewey’s argument that not all experiences are "genuinely or equally educative" (1938, 25). The key questions are what sort of ‘learning experience’ is fit for purpose? In the current context, what could/should a global learning experience entail?

The basic skills for surviving and thriving in, whilst contributing to, society (specifically those relating to literacy, numeracy and IT) may appear rather prosaic. However, they must not be undervalued. These, together with those that may be termed social skills, are essential if one is to survive, thrive and contribute. It is clear that for some such competences hold the key to being a successful individual in a successful society in a successful economy. Nevertheless, there may be a very real danger that these essential elements of global learning will come to dominate (or may even already be dominating) the learning experienced by the majority of learners in our schools.

So it is important to focus on other essential elements of global learning that may be in danger of being overlooked.

Firstly, all elements of a fit for purpose curriculum must have a global dimension i.e. what learners learn about is informed by global and international matters and that learners are supported to link local and global issues. For example, that they are able to see how events in their local area are influenced by global processes. In learning about the changing industrial base of the West Midlands, for instance, learners should come to understand how Olssen, et al’s (2004) economic and political globalisation brought about the closure of Rover’s Longbridge plant in Birmingham and its ‘movement’ to Shanghai. Further, they should develop an understanding of how the choices they make impact on other people’s ‘local’; for example, how the rapid increase in palm oil production for, say, the learners’ everyday household goods is affecting drastically farming practices in Borneo.

Developing the global dimension in the school curriculum (DfES, 2005:1) outlines how the global dimension "can enrich much of what already happens in schools, improving standards and increasing teachers’, children’s and young people’s motivation". However, whilst supporting this and recognising the importance of the eight concepts* that the document identifies as underlying the global dimension, I can not help but see in this statement an element of ‘what the global dimension’ adds to what is otherwise the basic, ‘OK’ curriculum. As stated above, the global dimension is, for me, not a bolt on, but an essential input to a fit for purpose learning experience. If the global dimension is missing, then the learning experienced will not be ‘OK’.

* The eight concepts suggested are: Global citizenship;
Conflict resolution; Social justice; Values and perceptions; Sustainable development; Interdependence; Human rights; Diversity. [DfES, 2005:12/13]

In a results-driven, target-centred environment it is worth considering what the outcomes of a fit for purpose learning experience would be. More precise outcomes are identified below, but in general I will consider two.

1. The learner will have a global perspective; that is one who appreciates that issues, events, trends, etc must be viewed from a wide range of different view points (Hicks, 2003). Such viewpoints reflect an individual’s culture, religion, social (local and global) status, wealth, past-life experiences, futures hopes and aspirations, current employment status, etc, etc. A global perspective affords one the advantages of recognising and appreciating, for example, the possible responses of a member of the Dalit caste compared to those of the Tata Chairman, Ratan Tata, to the rapid developments of the Indian economy.

2. The learner will appreciate that they have some responsibility to others – be the others residing in their local community or another community on a different continent; that they also have an obligation to tackle injustice and inequality; and that they have the desire and ability to work actively to address such injustice and inequality. This is what some may see as global citizenship (Oxfam, 2002), perhaps pithily summed up as "the relationship between people and the structures that govern them, at whatever scale" (Tide~, 2002).

In planning to provide experiences that enable learners to survive, thrive and contribute, I would offer a series of core ideas or principles that might be borne in mind. Learners should be encouraged to enjoy and value diversity and to appreciate that ‘everyone, everywhere is of equal worth’. I would argue that this can only be achieved if the learners have a positive sense of personal identity and are confident in their own social and cultural context. This is a prerequisite of being able and willing to express their own feelings and values on a wide range of issues, including those relating to justice and equality.

Learners should understand that people everywhere have similar needs, but that they may meet those needs in different ways; further they will understand that there is inter-connectedness of people and environments, both local and global. Finally, learners should understand that human relationships and how we negotiate them are of central significance and that there are inappropriate and appropriate actions and behaviours for individual and group interactions – be those interactions face-to-face or mediated by a third party, such as a commercial organisation, a community group or a government.


Working on such core ideas or principles would result in an experience that would enable learners to survive, thrive and contribute. This would mean a curriculum entitlement for learners much more appropriate for life in England in 2007 and beyond than what is provided currently for many of our children and young people. Obviously at present schools are operating in a climate of change as they respond to a lengthy agenda of ‘initiatives’ including Every Child Matters, the National Primary Strategy, QCA’s Key Stage 3 Review, the Race Relations Amendment Act, Inclusion and the 14-19 Diploma – to name, but a few. However, the entitlement outlined in Figure 1 (below) is not offered as an alternative to what school are currently working towards. I would argue that there is no conflict between, say, working to improve SATS scores and providing a fit for purpose learning experience. Global learning, as suggested in Figure 1, has an integral and valuable part to play in developing learners’ basic competences, as well as in contributing to polices and practices designed to address specific priorities of an individual school.


In this discussion I have focused on those elements of Global Learning that may not have featured as highly in discussions as others – but that is not to devalue or ignore those that may have had more airtime. This is merely an attempt to highlight some that are in danger of falling into the background – although that implies that they were once in the foreground.

Although writing about teacher education institutions in the USA, Delandshere and Petrosky’s comments are equally applicable to many schools in that they "run the risk of becoming a repository for static collections of knowledge … (prescribing) how students should be taught and what the outcomes of this teaching should be, no matter what the contexts might be" (2004:138). Global Learning offers a fit for purpose experience in terms of identify skills, opinions/values/dispositions and understanding that may stop schools suffering a similar fate. By building on the core values and dispositions associated with Global Learning it is possible for educational establishments to respond to the changes that are shaping their learners’ lives, and to ensure that learners engage in the ideas and understanding, skills and capacities which underpin life-long learning. Learners will be involved in experiences that motivate enquiry, stimulate creativity and provide a context for meaningful and appropriate action.

Such a path will move us away from the notion of using the education system to ‘manufacture’ pre-determined attitudes (DEC, 1999) and into an educational system which is much more dynamic, more inclusive and fit for purpose. Global learning provides a very real opportunity for learners to survive, thrive and contribute.

Global Learning is about meeting the educational needs of children and young people growing up in an increasingly globalised society; for example, helping them see themselves as global citizens, helping them to have a deeper knowledge and understanding of inter-dependence and to have opportunities to participate in their education – such as shaping the curriculum they experience and the world they live in.

Global learning means that children and young people are entitled to ...

  • have a sense of their connections to the wider world
  • be encouraged to be open-minded and have a questioning approach to the world around them
  • be confident in themselves and their right to speak out for justice, equality and the dignity of all others
  • develop as individuals, with their own identities, languages, cultures and life-styles
  • learn from others and value alternative viewpoints and perspectives
  • be able to employ the skills of
  • communicating – listening, discussing, expressing their ideas and opinions
  • critical reasoning, thinking and using/evaluating evidence
  • identifying prejudice, bias and discrimination
  • recognising their own values and what influences them
  • taking responsibility for their actions and the consequences
  • evaluating the actions of others
  • empathising with others
  • know about …
  • the centrality of human relationships
  • common human experiences, needs and rights to dignity, justice and life
  • disparities in human living conditions
  • the importance of change – technological, economic, social, political and environmental
  • concepts of democracy, governance and citizenship
  • cultural and social identities, conflict and conciliation
  • sustainable development and conservation
  • rules, rights and responsibilities
  • their own worth and the worth of other people

Delandshere, G. & Petrosky, A. (2004) Political rationales and ideological stances of the standards-based reform of teacher education in the US. Teacher and Teacher Education, 20(1), pp1-15.

Department for Education and Skills (2005) Developing the global dimension in the school curriculum. Ref: DfES 140902005DOC-EN.

DEC (Development Education Commission) (1999) Essential Learning for Everyone. Birmingham (England) & Bray (Ireland): Development Education Centre (Birmingham) and 80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World (Ireland).

Dewey, J. (938) Experience and education. New York: Macmillan.

Hartley, D. (2000) Shoring up the pillars of modernity: teacher education and the quest for certainty. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 10(2), pp113-131.

Hicks, D. (2003) Thirty years of global education; a reminder of key principles and precedents. Educational Review, 55(3).

Kress, G. (2000) A curriculum for the future. Cambridge Journal of Education, 30(1), pp133-145.

Meighan, R. & Harber, C. (2007) A Sociology of Educating. London: Continuum Books.

Reid, A. & O'Donoghure, M. (2004) Revising enquiry-based teacher education in neo-liberal times. Teacher and Teacher Education, 20(6), pp559-570.

Olssen, M., Codd, J. & O'Neill, A. (2004) Education Policy Ð Globalisation, Citizenship & Democracy. London: SAGE.

Oxfam (2002) Curriculum for global citizenship. Oxford: Oxfam Education.

Sinclair, S. (2007) Citizenship on the seven seas (7 Cs), but without a compass. Unpublished paper.

Tide~ (Teachers in Development Education) (2002) Whose Citizenship? Exploring identity, democracy and participation in a global context. Birmingham: Teachers in Development Education.