Global Citizenship Education
Re-envisioning multicultural education in a time of globalization
I recently had a conversation with a prominent international educationalist who remarked to me on the continued hegemony of ‘Britishness’ in international schooling.
Not being British himself, he was rather stumped by the fact that (despite Covid) British curriculum international schools, many of them in the self-proclaimed ‘elite’ bracket regarding fees and facilities, were continuing to expand in some number across East and South East Asia. He asked:
“Why is British education (and culture) so popular?”
I do have some answers though you’ll have to wait to read them in another EDDi edition.
But the question raises more issues than simply ‘why British?’. It touches deeper concerns concerning ‘internationalisation’, diversity, inclusion, and social justice.
Put another way, are we international educationalists complicit in perpetuating global social injustice simply by being part of a concept and system of multicultural education which is anything but multicultural?
Have we been co-opted into the lie that British (and Western) education equates to multicultural values?
I hope not but I fear we might.
This article by Akkari and Maleq makes salutary reading for anyone who imagines globalisation has brought with it multiculturalism. Or indeed, who believes ‘global citizenship education’ is the powerful counter to nationalism and colonialism which we educationalists all trust (and hope) it to be.
‘As societies face unprecedented challenges that are global in scope, educational policy makers emphasize the importance of fostering active citizens capable of resolving complex global issues. In this paper, we explore how Global Citizenship Education (GCE) could open up new perspectives to rethink dominant approaches to multicultural education by expanding pupils’ understanding of cultural and ecological relationships. Furthermore, we argue that while dominant approaches to multicultural education are well-intentioned, they are often limited to essentialist visions of cultures and therefore fail to develop a critical understanding of inequality and power relations.’ (p. 15)
Just what those ‘essential visions’ are, and the consequences of following them uncritically and unreflectively, is discussed in this article:
‘…the aim of developing a global form of citizenship contrasts with the realities of vast numbers of marginalised citizens across the globe, to the extent that marginality appears to be the ‘”hidden other” of global citizenship’. (Balarin, 2011) (p. 18)
‘One of the challenges associated with global citizenship is the possibility that, like globalization, it would mostly benefit members of elite groups, thereby deepening societal inequality’ (Gardner-McTaggart, 2016). (p. 18)
As far as international schools are concerned, the concept of ‘global citizenship’ is a compelling attraction if not a ‘unique selling point’ for any school which seeks to market itself as international. The very vagueness of the concept means that parents and students (and teachers) can create their own vision and form their own relationship to global citizenship education. For some it will mean being able to study at a Western university. For others it will be determined by speaking English fluently. For a few it will be seen as a ‘passport’ to global employment opportunities and significant prosperity. For the vast majority, it will be undertaken for individualistic personal, professional, social and material improvement rather than for embracing ‘a universal humanist global connection’.
This is why the parents pay the high fees - for the privileges subsequently acquired.
Which brings me back to my original point, how does global citizenship equate with Britishness? Can one become a global citizen by virtue of having undertaken a British education, and in schools which enthusiastically model themselves on the elite British public schools of Eton, Harrow, Dulwich, Westminster, Wellington and the rest (e.g. uniforms, house systems, even the school architecture)?
The British public-school system was never designed for inclusivity, it was designed for exclusivity. It was designed to separate the privileged from the masses. '
A job it did very well indeed.
Is this what we are now seeing emerge in China, the Middle East, and across South East Asia: not a global citizen who embraces a ‘moral global citizenship’ but one who seeks indeed expects, individual competitive advantage?
If so, one is compelled to ask what problems are British international schools building up for the future within their students and within the countries they are located? Seems to me there is a risk in having international school students who have studied only a Western curriculum and in a British/Western school culture, become a distinct global social class. Like the alumni of the British independent schools, they’ll have more in common with each other than with the ‘masses’ beneath them even where they hold the same passport.
‘Global citizenship could also become an instrument of oppression whenever it turns into a normative ideal in opposition to ‘backward’ forms of national or regional belonging and more ‘traditional’ communities. In other words, there is a pressing need to enhance understanding of local perspectives, ideologies, conceptions, and issues related to citizenship education on a local, national and global level in order to open global citizenship agendas to diversity and indigeneity. This may, however, only be achieved by rethinking the Eurocentric paradigm of modernity reflected in conceptualizations of global citizenship and promoting national, cultural, and local ownership (Akkari & Maleq, 2020b). In the global South, the possible relevance of GCE is thus linked to its openness to a non-Western view of global citizenship.’ (Quaynor, 2018). (p. 19)
As this article so expertly elaborates, these are moral dilemmas which cannot be ignored and nor should they. It is not enough for an international school to claim it is creating global citizens through an internationalised education. Not when all the teachers and managers are of one nationality and that nationality isn’t reflected, for the most part, in the student body. Not when the whole feel and vision of the school is designed to replicate (white) British values, British independent school systems, Westernism.
The relationship between Britishness and the continuing growth of international schools, notably in Asia, is contained in the promise of advantage, privilege, elitism and individual prosperity; social exclusivity. This may not be exemplified with every parent and every student, but this is the sell. This is the pitch. And everyone involved in delivering such an education knows it.
To pretend otherwise is at best disingenuous.
In such a setting, the term ‘global citizen’ ends up meaning something rather different to the humanistic, multicultural, internationalist image many educationalists would like it to mean. It becomes just another brick in the wall separating a small privileged global class from the rest.
This is an important article raising a great many important questions for anyone remotely involved in selling the concept of ‘global citizenship’ through elite British/Western education. And like all good research it concludes with recommendations:
Open new perspectives and provide a definition of culture that transcends national, ethnic and religious boundaries.
Seek to go beyond the demographics of cultural diversity and a display of how many minority groups are represented in schools.
Value hybrid, cross-border and fluid forms of cultural identity.
Consider tolerance to ambiguity and the ability to cross cultural boundaries as key aspects of multi/intercultural education.
Develop a critical understanding of global power dynamics and roots of global inequality resulting from colonialism, neo-imperialism and neoliberalism.
Teaching global citizenship within this ‘Community of Inquiry’ seems to me a great way forward. Though it remains to be seen whether or not purposefully designed elite, privileged, exclusive and expensive British international schools can ever achieve it – even if their owners, leaders and indeed their paying parents wanted them to.
Akkari, A. & Maleq, K. (2021) Global Citizenship Education: re-envisioning multicultural education in a time ofglobalization, Ecolint Institute RIPE Research Journal, Journal de Recherches, Vol. 7, Spring/Printemps 2021
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