By Eleanor Nesbitt*
COVENTRY, England - The online resources provided by the Education for Global Citizenship media project will be invaluable for both teachers and students of citizenship education. The remits of the two collaborating organisations, the Inter Press Service and the lay Buddhist network, Soka Gakkai International, are well attuned to the needs of good citizenship education, concerned as they are with ‘giving a voice to the voiceless’ – linking North and South, lifting communities out of poverty and marginalisation, and promoting the rights of women, as well as ways of achieving sustainable development, and affirming the value of inter-faith dialogue, and much, much more.
Citizenship education in one form or another is integral to education in many countries, and it caters for pupils of both primary and secondary school age. The Education for Global Citizenship’s provision fits well with (for example) the UK’s Citizenship Foundation rationale for teaching citizenship, and its lists of the essential elements in any programme of citizenship education.
The Citizenship Foundation emphasises that the most effective form of learning will be a mix of styles of learning: active (learning through doing), interactive, relevant, critical, collaborative and participative, and its aim is to equip new generations of citizens, in a changing world, with skills and values that will enhance democratic life for everyone. Through its coverage of individual and collaborative resistance to injustice and socially beneficial initiatives here is a media project that can inspire emergent citizens worldwide.
Individuals’ voices and stories, like Nnenna Agba’s, sharing the harsh experience of so many Nigerian girls, communicate most memorably with students and teachers alike, and their photographs give even more impact to the reporting of their courageous responses to inequalities. Stories like this illustrate the values and qualities that citizenship teaching tends to promote. Another striking example is the bravery of a few indigenous New Zealand women living with HIV/AIDS and daring to speak out about it, despite the social stigma.
One of my personal areas of interest is interaction between people of different faiths.Here the Education for Global Citizenship project looks set to provide plenty of resource material. Two items especially resonated: one is Francesca Dziadek’s piece on Berlin’s House of Hope: local Muslims, Christians and Jews are sharing in creating a new place of worship. Another is Baher Kamal’s ‘Faith can Move Mountains’. We all need to hear how Egyptian Christians shielded Muslims and Egyptian Muslims protected Christians as well as how (in Dzaidek’s article) a rabbi, an imam and a priest gave out life vests together in 1943.
Generally the project’s material is more appropriate to senior classes, although teachers may be able to summarise and extract items relevant to primary school children. It will be good if more material for younger pupils can be included. The story from Kampala, Uganda ‘If you cut one, plant two’ is a good example, quoting and showing pictures of primary school pupils who are putting an environmental principle into practice. Children can identify with eleven-year-old Olga Mugisa, standing at the microphone to give her message. While older students can relate to Shelley Kittleson’s account of the political challenges to education in Lebanon’s refugee camps, young children can be helped to imagine the life of a refugee child.
Already the website offers materials relevant to women’s rights, education, conflict resolution, and the United Nations, and it provides reflective reports by journalists of many backgrounds on initiatives in different continents. As it has only been up and running since April 2014 I look forward to ongoing development of the site.
The current provision, mainly in English and Japanese, looks set to expand into more languages, including Arabic and Turkish, with a translation facility also available.
Certainly the existing material provides a basis for far-reaching discussions, especially if teachers help sharpen students’ critical engagement. For instance, when students read Kalinga Seneviratne’s statement ‘All religions basically have the same goals when it comes to concepts like social justice, self-reliance and compassion’, my hope is that they will be asking ‘Is this really, always the case?’ and debating vigorously. This presupposes that students have access to a solid grounding in religious education. In the case of other articles, students’ engagement will benefit from being informed by history, economics, politics and so on.
Like all the best material, Education for Global Citizenship will need to be used in combination with wider, deeper research. Here the site itself is a great help, as the many embedded links take the user to rich seams of information – one linked site that I explored was International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
A site like that may well inspire students to their own action, now or later in life. Again, assisted by teachers’ facilitation, use of this online resource may lead to active learning through joining local protests and initiatives – or planting some trees.
So, clearly, this joint initiative by IPS and SGI needs to be drawn to the attention of educationists, and especially those involved in citizenship education. Here classes can find constantly updated material with information about the social and political world and plenty to inspire them towards responsible action as the citizens of the future.
Importantly, Education for Global Citizenship also has a rather wider appeal. In a world of overwhelmingly troubling news, much of it morally disturbing, this project is to be welcomed as a counterbalance, offering consistently positive news of ethically driven protest and creative response to local, national and international issues. May it soon expand into many more languages and become known to many more teachers!At the same time, let’s hope that a much wider public discovers it too.
* Eleanor Nesbitt is Professor Emeritus, Centre for Education Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom. (EGC. August 19, 2014)
Photo credit: University of Warwick