Global Citizenship Education in Asia-Pacific: Diverse Interpretations in a Dynamic Region

Global Citizenship Education in Asia-Pacific: Diverse Interpretations in a Dynamic Region

Asia-Pacific learners face an increasingly interconnected – yet highly fragmented – world, one where multiculturalism is vibrant, while nationalistic fervor is often stoked to destructive ends, and where only urgent action for to address the complex issues of today can ensure a sustainable and peaceful tomorrow.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers a transformative vision of how we can overcome these challenges, with education playing a crucial role in preparing learners to be proactive agents for change.

Global Citizenship Education (GCED) answers that call. It aims to, “empower learners to assume active roles to face and resolve global challenges and to become proactive contributors to a more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure world.”

UNESCO Bangkok is actively involved in advancing GCED in education systems throughout Asia-Pacific. Recently experts and education professionals from across the region participated in a meeting on embedding GCED into curricula, supported by Korean Funds-in-Trust. They shared the approaches they have taken to integrate GCED in teaching and learning and the challenges they have faced in doing so. It should come as no surprise that in Asia-Pacific, countries are implementing GCED in ways that are just as diverse and dynamic as the region itself.
 

STRENGTH IN DIVERSITY

17Global-citizenship_Shutterstock-Intellistudies.jpg
Children celebrate the Holi spring festival in India. Photo: Intellistudies/Shutterstock.com

Asia-Pacific’s cultural diversity is one of the region’s greatest strengths; however, these differences can also fuel tension and conflict.

Celebrating diversity, then, is a key focus of GCED in the region. In the Philippines’ Mindanao region, for example, teacher training institutions charged with implementing GCED focus on peace education, according to a study by Serafin Arviola Jr, a professor at Philippine Normal University. Building peace is a priority in the region given longstanding conflicts there between Muslims, Christians and Lumads.

In the Republic of Korea, Francis Daehoon Lee, professor at SungKongHoe University, also underlines the importance of the concept of peace in teaching and learning, placing the emphasis on a “critique of violence and militarisation”, as well as “social and political issues.”

The rich diversity of India is reflected in the country’s approach taken to GCED, says Bhujendra Nath Panda, of Bhubanesar’s Regional Institute of Education in India.

“Since India is a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-religious and multi-regional [country], we generally focus on respecting diversity, universal brotherhood, peace and tolerance in our [institution’s] style of functioning, and see that [the] whole humanity should live in peace and prosperity,” he says.

In Japan, GCED’s aims to promote tolerance and inclusion are reflected in efforts to educate immigrant children as well as education for international understanding, among other initiatives, says Prof Tomonori Ichinose, from the Miyagi University of Education.

 

SEEDS OF CHANGE FOR SUSTAINABILITY

17Global-citizenship_Shutterstock_Somsak-Suwanput.jpgA tree planting effort to reduce global warming in Suratthani,Thailand. Somsak Suwanput/Shutterstock

Responding to environmental challenges and promoting greener, more sustainable futures is also a key priority in many Asia-Pacific countries.

In Thailand, Saengchan Hemchua, from Sirnakharinwirot University’s Faculty of Education, wants students to “think about society, not only themselves and their benefits.” He sees GCED as an effective tool to introduce future generations to social responsibility and to promote social enterprises among them.

Time is an unaffordable luxury when it comes to the challenges facing the planet, says professor Soon Yong Pak from Yonsei University’s Department of Education. “At our university, the subject matter of GCED at the undergraduate level focuses on the global sense of urgency with regard to the sustainability of human kind as well as the planet,” he says. “Global Citizenship is an overarching ethos that forces us to reflect on the path we are taking, and allows us to realize that measures need to be taken to correct our mistakes before it is too late.”

 

GLOBAL-TO-LOCAL CHALLENGES

17Global-citizenship_Shutterstock_Alexander-Mazurkevich.jpgA classroom in rural Hampi, Karnataka. Alexander Mazurkevich/Shutterstock

While remarkable strides are being made to embed GCED in countries throughout Asia-Pacific, implementation challenges remain at the national and sub-national levels.

In Thailand, for example, Ms. Saengchan Hemchua says there is no plan to make GCED compulsory in the national curriculum. Therefore, global citizenship can only be taught if students chose elective courses such as “Active Citizens,” “Human and Peace,” or “Human in a Multicultural Society” at the university level.

GCED, however, does not have to be meted out into individual course offerings. UNESCO believes that since GCED, with its multidisciplinary nature, encompasses all areas of sustainable development, it can and should be embedded in any subject. The focus is on learning how individuals relate to other people as well as to the natural world, underpinned by a sense of shared humanity and a respect for diversity. GCED aims to develop competencies such as understanding of global challenges as well as critical thinking, creativity, empathy and the ability to see things from multiple perspectives when taking action at the local level. 

“Global citizenship education is not an add-on or a supplement to the existing national curriculum,” says Prof Pak, “but an ethos that should permeate the learning experience regardless of subject.”

Prof Ichinose agrees that GCED should not be left to a single subject, but says that more needs to be done to show teachers and teacher training institutions how the concept can be better integrated throughout education systems. The notions of the whole school approach and community-based learning are important in this regard.

There is also a risk of the value of GCED being compromised by governments who get caught up in a “diplomatic euphoria”, but end up being “all talk and no walk” when it comes to implementing concrete measures on the ground to make it a reality, says Prof Pak. There is a need, he says, to keep GCED from seeming like an idea that is “too big” and “too foreign” and to instead promote it as a concept that permeates the whole curriculum with a culture of peace, tolerance and sustainability. Prof Arviola’s research in the Philippines also points to the need to connect with and inspire young people for whom “global issues” might seem remote or be eclipsed by other challenges.  

Flexibility is key to effectively implementing GCED – with priorities shifting depending on the individual needs and priority areas within countries. India may offer an instructive example in this regard. Thanks to the country’s federal structure, each of its states is “free to modify some of the aspects [of GCED] as per their need or add some of the new concept in the curriculum for the benefit for the state,” says Prof Panda.

UNESCO is committed to working with member states to discuss how GCED can be more responsive to such needs, ensuring that its vital lessons reach as far as possible, helping to lay the foundation for the more equitable sustainable world we all desire.

GCED is one of the core elements of SDG 4.7. Mainstreaming SDG4.7 in Asia-Pacific is the focus of the Third Asia-Pacific Meeting on Education 2030 organized by UNESCO Bangkok, the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) and UNICEF. 

By Alexandra Stenbock-Fermor

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