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D.E. or not D.E.: that is the question

Nigel Rayment from Think Global’s Advisory Council blogs about Doug Bourn’s ‘The Theory and Practice of Development Education: a pedagogy for global social justice’. D.E. or not D.E.: that is the question.

Within Development Education [D.E.] Doug Bourn’s contributions to policy and thinking are widely known and respected. This rich and readable volume has its roots in Bourn’s background in the voluntary youth sector and his experience over the last twenty-odd years, as, first, director of the DEA and subsequently of the Development Education Research Centre at the Institute of Education.

His ambition here is to “give a rationale for [D.E.’s] existence, to set out its strengths and weaknesses, and to outline a new pedagogical framework.” Bourn is candid about some of the perceived weaknesses, devoting a chapter to impact and evaluation and touching on D.E.’s susceptibility to de-radicalising dilution.

To arrive at his pedagogical framework Bourn marshals his material into four parts. Parts one to three guide us through his version of the history, developing terminology and structures of D.E.; D.E. theory; and D.E. practice. Part four seeks to distil what has gone before into a coherent, distinctive pedagogy for “global learning.” Along the way, Bourn invites us to consider complementary and contending approaches to D.E., including Richardson’s World Studies, the critical pedagogies of Freire and Giroux, the campaign oriented NGO model, Andreotti’s post-colonial inflection and Scheunpflug’s global competencies formulation. For D.E. this diversity is both a strength and a challenge, sowing seeds for the fertile discourse and critical reflection central to its method, while laying potential thickets of confusion for those attempting to look in. Several times Bourn alludes to D.E.’s struggle to talk to and impress itself on education theory and practice more widely. If occasionally his narrative seems reluctant to hack through to a definitive DE pedagogy, perhaps it’s because he senses the paradox of nailing a pedagogy so invested in provisionality, ambiguity and contestability, and so resistant to the universalising impulse. Notwithstanding Chapter 12’s prescription of themes, topic, skills and values, this is, fittingly, a book that asks more questions than it answers.

It’s a familiar risk that in striving for distinctiveness we tend to overstate otherness. There’s a hint of this in Bourn’s handling of ESD. Scott and Vare’s contribution surely warrants more than being circumscribed as having “regard to the environment”; the influential Sterling and Huckle get space, but not much. ESD can and sometimes does share a critical concern with power, as we see, for instance, in the critical social theory application of U.S. theorist and practitioner Tina Lynn Evans, and the work of Ros Wade and colleagues on LSBU’s Education for Sustainability programme. These people all share D.E.’s faith in critical thinking, participative approaches, values and social justice. Theirs too are pedagogies for global social justice.

If, then, D.E. has a unique rationale it can be located in Bourn’s misgiving that the term “global learning” finds favour over “DE” in schools is. He might have added that this renaming can be read as part of the de-radicalisation, a means of detracting from the problematisation of development and of shifting the focus to something with a less controversial ring. In the final analysis, it’s D.E.’s critical gaze on development and aid and the structural causes of poverty that distinguish it. The Theory and Practice of Development Education: a pedagogy for global social justice is a title well chosen.

By Nigel Rayment, Think Global Advisory Council member and Director of Magnified Learning.

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