Are we educating ourselves for global citizenship? | Sunday Observer

Are we educating ourselves for global citizenship?

20 June, 2021

“No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a Democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.” - Kofi Annan

It is not easy to avoid the word “global” in everything we experience these days. A family cannot manage or plan for its activities without paying attention mainly to what is happening economically and politically in the country they live in. But a country’s economy and political atmosphere depend strongly on those of other countries around the world. This essentially means that there are always global factors, directly or indirectly, affecting every decision an individual has to make in his or her daily life.

Even school children understand that their right to go to school next day can be taken away by a global condition like a pandemic that has a long-term effect on the global economy. Anyone tuning into any type of media would certainly see or hear something about global warming and its effects on their neighborhood, at least once a day.

A ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal becomes a global event since the cargo movement is disturbed. People are beginning to understand how connected their lives are to all kinds of different activities around the world and how one monopolistic company can literally bring the whole world to a standstill.

Don’t care attitude

The irony is that even the people who understand these connections and dependencies, most of the time, would not see any connection between their lives and a bomb blast, a mass shooting, a kidnapping of hundreds of schoolchildren, a rape and a murder of an innocent child, deaths of humans and animals due to environmental pollution and or starvation, deforestation, polluting of rivers and spraying poisonous chemicals on their foods, as long as they happen in countries other than the one they live in.

There are some who are not at all concerned about any of those even if they take place in their own country as long as it is not in their area. It has come to a point where people are not concerned until something happens to them. If and when they find out that their lives have been affected negatively by some event that they have not been directly involved with, they expect somebody to do something about it. Very rarely we find a person who would say: “Yes, I’m that somebody and I will do everything in my power to do something about it.” More often than not, a majority of the people would feel better saying “I didn’t have anything to do with creating the problem.”

Usually, it ends up being a self-manifested problem and nobody is responsible and therefore nobody will try to solve it either. Recent oil price hike in Sri Lanka is a good example for a self-existing problem like that where the Secretary of the ruling party says it is the Minister, while he is pointing to the Cabinet which apparently had acted on the recommendation of the Cost-of-Living Commission whose members individually says that each one is against the idea of increasing the price.

Since I didn’t do it, the justification is that it is unfair to blame me if I didn’t go out of my way to undo it either. While this phenomenon of “passing the buck” is very common in Sri Lankan culture, it unfortunately is also a global phenomenon. That perhaps is why Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, had a sign that said: “The Buck Stops Here,” on his desk in the Oval office.

Own global goals

What have all these elusive thinking and behavior patterns got to do with global citizenship? Well, if one understands what it means to be a global citizen then, one will never be capable of passing the buck intentionally. In its seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed at the Summit in September 2015, the United Nations (UN) listed “No Poverty” at the top, “No Hunger” at 2, “Good Health” at 3, “Quality Education” at 4, “Reduced Inequalities” at 10, “Responsible Consumption and Production” at 12, “Climate Action” at 13, “Life Below Water” at 14 and “Life Above Land” at 15 with the expectation of achieving these goals by 2030. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has launched its own Global Citizenship Education (GCED) program which plans to empower learners of all ages to assume active roles, both locally and globally, in building more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure societies. Looking at the history of such programs planned and documented by the UN over the years, one will not be convinced that there will be anything different this time either.

There was a comprehensive plan of action to build a global partnership for sustainable development to improve human lives and protect the environment adopted at the UN Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992 and the world has seen how Brazil has been protecting its rain forest especially during this decade. Then there were eight Million Development Goals (MDGs), one of which was “reducing extreme poverty by 2015” declared at the Millennium Summit in New York in the year 2000. After a few more summits the seventeen SDGs we have now, were adopted in 2015. One doesn’t have to be a scientist to have an idea about what to expect in the next ten years if one looks carefully at the progress the world has made in reducing poverty, hunger, environmental pollution, and destruction through the past 28 years from 1992 to 2020.

Each and every one on goals

There is no shortage of summits, conferences, webinars, and workshops with catchy titles such as“: Educating for Global Citizenship”, “Education for a Sustainable Word”, and “Educating for Building an Equitable, Peaceful, and Sustainable World.” One of the important points most of these programs have missed is that peace and sustainability will automatically be created if humans can learn what equitability is and how each and every one of us is responsible in using the resources of the planet in an equitable way.

The most important aspect of education is learning to be brave enough to accept the responsibility of being a part of one’s habitat. Unfortunately, we will never be able to learn that and then teach that within these existing meritocratic systems and market economies where education itself is becoming just another sector in the business world.

One will not be able to understand the concept of global citizenship if one is trained to see the world relative to framed dichotomies such as oneself and the rest, one’s family and the rest, one’s race, religion, language or the nation and the rest. One will not be able to think in terms of equitability and or sustainability as long as one is learning economics within the current framework where the whole world depends on consumerism. An “educated” person should understand that increasing consumerism certainly will deplete the available resources and increase the pollution.

In that context, words such as equitability, sustainability, and environmental protection will only be fashionable and politically correct terms to be used in winning the competition for the resources which will make individuals, companies and countries fight against each other, disturbing world peace. Therefore, education perhaps should be focusing on planting these seeds of thoughts on global citizenship and equitability from the primary level itself, rather than just being factories of supplying human capital to sustain economies around the world fueled by consumerism.

The writer has served the higher education sector as an academic over twenty years in the USA and fourteen years in Sri Lanka and he can be contacted at [email protected] )