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Global Citizenship Education in Practice - Symposium address by Minister of State Ciaran Cannon T.D.

A dhaoine uaisle, a phríomhoidí, a leas-phríomhoidí agus a aíonna eile, tá lúcháir orm fáilte a chur romhaibh chuig an siompóisiam seo de chuid Scoileanna Domhanda WorldWise ‘Global Citizenship Education in Practice’.

 Ladies and gentlemen, Principals, Deputy Principals and other guests, I am delighted to welcome you here today to the WorldWise Global Schools Symposium, ‘Global Citizenship Education in Practice’. I am really encouraged by your attendance in such numbers here today at what I know is such a busy time of year for school management.

 I am not going to focus on policy and curriculum today. We are fortunate to have some highly qualified speakers with us who are experts in that area. As Minister for Development, with responsibility for Irish Aid, I am going to focus on the importance of Global Citizenship Education, which we also call development education, in enabling our young people to become caring and responsible Global Citizens. Development education contributes to the realisation of Irish Aid’s vision for a sustainable and just world, by providing an opportunity for people in Ireland to reflect on their roles and responsibilities as global citizens and by encouraging people to take action for a fairer and more sustainable future for all.

Development education is an educational process aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of the rapidly changing, interdependent and unequal world in which we live. It seeks to engage people in analysis, reflection and action for local and global citizenship.

 With the adoption at the UN in September 2015 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the world renewed its commitment to eradicating global poverty, hunger and inequality. SDG Target 4.7 calls on States to provide education to ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development. Development education strengthens understanding of the global justice dimension of each of the Goals, inspiring and enabling people to take action at local, national and global levels. It is critical to achieving the promise of transformative change that defines the SDGs and that is why here in Irish Aid we are so committed to our development education programmes.

 In the Irish Aid Development Education Strategy 2017 – 2023, which was launched in December 2016, we set out our ambition for development education in Ireland. Through our strategic partners, we support quality development education in primary and post-primary schools, in third level colleges, in teacher training, in community and youth groups and also online.

 In the context of the Irish Aid Development Education Strategy, Global Citizenship Education is an umbrella term which includes both Development Education and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and encompasses the work of various government departments in developing active global citizenship among the Irish public.   A number of government strategies support the principles of Global Citizenship Education. These include the Irish Aid Development Education Strategy which I already mentioned, the National Strategy for Education for Sustainable Development 2014-2020 and the National Youth Strategy 2015-2020. 

 Irish Aid fully supports the implementation of the National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development 2014-2020 and Irish Aid is represented on the Advisory Group for ESD. We believe that strong engagement by and effective collaboration between government departments on a shared Global Citizenship Education agenda is essential in order to maximise the impact and reach of active development education in Ireland. 

 The reason that your presence here today is so important is that strategies can only succeed when engaged and committed individuals put them into practice.

 Development education has been a feature of education in Ireland for over forty years and is evident across the curriculum at both primary and post-primary levels. Yet despite advances in the integration of development education across the curriculum, reports from teachers indicate that it remains a peripheral subject in many schools.

 Research has shown that although development education features in the syllabus of religion, geography and business, the reality is that it might not be touched on at all due to limited class time and the pressures of a full curriculum. WorldWise Global Schools and NGOs like Trócaire and Concern devise programmes and provide workshops for schools but it still often falls to individual teachers to take on the responsibility of teaching development education. It remains the case that development education is largely promoted and supported by individual ‘champions’ or small groups of teachers within a school and there is very little engagement with development education by school staff as a whole. This is not sustainable in the long run as teachers move on or their circumstances change.

 It is also true that in many schools charity is mistaken for development education, thus depriving the students of the opportunity for analysis and questioning the root causes of poverty and inequality. In this way they learn to maintain the status quo instead of working to change it.

 To succeed, change needs to be part of a wider vision or ethos and implemented through strong and committed support from senior leadership within the school. The willingness and capacity of school management to support teachers in development education endeavours is crucial. Yet a study done by Rickard et al. in 2013 found that 87% of school principals in Ireland do not include development education as part of their staff planning days and the idea of introducing development education as part of these days evoked very little interest.

 It may be that demands from parents and even the students themselves mean that the focus has to be on exam preparation to the exclusion of other activities. Research has found that even in examination subjects with development education content such as religion and geography, teachers reveal that they often avoid this content and stick to safe topics where answers can be prepared and which guarantee higher marks.

 Yet the focus of learning perfect answers to satisfy examiners deprives students of the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills. We know that some multinational employers and universities complain that too many school leavers are emerging from an exam-obsessed second level where students are “taught to the test” and are not learning to think for themselves. Unfortunately the highly competitive, points driven nature of our exam system does not reward critical or analytical thinking. We are aware that parents and the media are watching the school’s position on the school league tables. We want our young people to achieve academically but is this all that we want for them?

If we look at their webpages, we see that the stated ethos of many schools is highly compatible with the principles of Global Citizenship Education. In many cases, social justice programmes and working with the disadvantaged are linked to the missionary vision of the founders and they strongly promote the development of their students as fully-rounded and competent people who are responsible members of society and who make a difference.

 An effective Global Citizenship programme, strongly supported by management and implemented right across the curriculum in a whole school approach can ensure that the whole school community can learn how to become good Global Citizens and live out the school ethos without infringing on essential exam preparation.

 This symposium has been organised today for principals and deputy principals of schools who are already actively engaging with WorldWise Global Schools. This means that I am speaking to the converted. You are already playing a vital role by providing a nurturing and enabling environment for Global Citizenship Education in your schools.

 I thank you once again for the time that you have taken to come here today. I encourage you to learn from the wide experience of the excellent WorldWise facilitators and from the education specialists who will speak to you later and I wish you every success in the future.

 Míle buíochas as éisteacht liom inniú agus guím gach rath oraibh sa todhchaí. Go raibh maith agaibh.

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