Graham Frost, a headteacher at Robert Ferguson Primary School in Cumbria, blogs about the importance of school children engaging in real world issues.
More than at any time in history the problems facing humanity are increasingly ones which are shared by every nation around the world: concerns about the environment, diminishing natural resources, inter-linked economies, displaced populations due to warfare and natural disasters, poverty and human trafficking, equality of opportunity, etc. These challenges are growing at the same time that some nations, previously champions of international cooperation, appear to be moving towards a more inward-looking, protectionist attitude. Those children who already have a strong awareness of the world’s greatest challenges are right to demand that older generations work together to address them, and those children who are not aware have a right to know how the world they will inherit is currently shaping up and rising to its greatest challenges.
It is right that schools are tasked with delivering learning about the social, moral, spiritual and cultural aspects of life alongside all the traditional school subjects. However, the importance afforded these aspects varies from school to school, some placing substantially more importance on them than others. The pressure on schools to achieve good test results to ward off an unfavourable school inspection judgement is a strong influence, in some cases squeezing out opportunities to discover, discuss and debate the full range of issues that form the Sustainable Development Goals.
Most teachers will tell you that they entered the profession with a strong sense of moral purpose; a moral purpose to educate in its broadest sense, ensuring that children are well equipped for every aspect of the world they live in, and not only those aspects measured through statutory testing. However, the idea that the two are incompatible is a false one – many schools with a commitment to global learning find that integrating it into literacy and mathematical learning is not only achievable, but motivational.
By contrast, a curriculum which is excessively narrow and devoid of the real-world engagement which global learning provides is like unseasoned food, lacking in flavour and unappetising for learners.
It is quite possible that a narrow curriculum may prove similarly unsatisfying to principled teachers; teachers experiencing a curriculum in which the primary moral purpose has been reduced to the pursuit of greatness in exams or SATs may decide that teaching no longer satisfies the moral purpose which characterised their entry to the profession.
On 5 March, over 50 teachers from 35 schools and over 40 children from across Cumbria gathered for a global learning conference, united in a conviction that children have a right to global learning, and with confidence that when taught well, global learning provides essential seasoning of the school curriculum which pupils find enlightening, stimulating and empowering. Children and teachers shared their enthusiasm for social action, such as efforts to reduce plastic waste, support the local food bank, promote fair trade or sponsor efforts to provide schools or clean water in other parts of the world.
OECD PISA sees the importance of young people developing global competences as they are worried that schools are not engaging with real world issues. Meanwhile, the UK government has decided we will not take part in the tests this year, prompting the question “In our new ‘global Britain’ is there a danger in being exposed as globally incompetent?”. Scotland Teaching standards, however, do include a commitment to Learning for Sustainability.
As an indication of the strength of commitment to Global Learning among Cumbria’s schools, headteacher representatives attended an international conference in Italy, 11 to 13 March, entitled “Perspectives on Global Citizenship: A Shared Commitment”. The conference brought together education professionals from across Europe, and marked the end of a three year project which has sought to integrate Global Citizenship Education into the educational policies and primary schools in 10 EU countries. Those who attended will be hoping that 2018 does not mark an end of efforts to establish global learning at the core of education, but a fresh impetus at the beginning of a new chapter.
Blog by Graham Frost