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Global Learning and Brexit

A year on from the referendum in the UK on leaving the European Union, the impact and challenges this has created for proponents of global learning are stark.

Global learning in the UK has, like in many other European countries, been primarily led by civil society organisations with funding coming from either EuropeAid or national governments. Brexit, alongside the recent re-election of a Conservative government, albeit a minority one, suggests a bleak picture for global learning and development education. Around the UK, organisations who have supported these areas are either closing, like many Development Education Centres, or are re-focusing their priorities like many international development agencies.

Brexit also poses major questions about the role of education in terms of responding to some of the social and cultural consequences of the referendum, particularly the rise of racism and xenophobia and retreats to a narrow form of nationalism and patriotism. What is evident is that Brexit and other political changes elsewhere in the world have been linked to the direct impact of globalisation and neo-liberal policies on many communities.

Young people in countries such as the UK are at the forefront of the impact of globalisation through the opportunities it creates in term of access to new forms of technology and challenges with insecure job opportunities.

The Global Learning Programme in the UK has done a great deal in the last couple of years to encourage linkages between learning about global themes and the rise of racism and xenophobia. This can be seen particularly through a range of briefing documents on British Values (See Bowden, 2016).

To say that more needs to be done in education to broaden a learners’ horizons is perhaps not enough. Too often NGOs have tended to respond to the challenges of globalisation by encouraging action against the influences of multi-national companies and global forces.  What this has done is to ignore the complex influences of globalisation and the conflating of globalisation with neoliberal forces.  Within formal education, much more attention needs to be given  to demonstrating that globalisation is a complex force and that it can lead to many contradictory features such as opening up communities to a broader range of cultural influences and at the same time resulting in rise of xenophobia and de-skilling of many people.

One of the ways of addressing the challenge of potential cuts in funding to global learning is to identify ways in which it can contribute to current social, political and educational priorities. We live in a global society but many young people do not feel equipped to actively participate within it.  The political support from many young people for Jeremy Corbyn in the recent General Election showed that there is an appetite to learn and engage with political and social issues. Formal education should aim to build on this growing engagement and give greater recognition not only to learning more about the wider world, but giving children and young people the skills to actively engage within it. Formal education should also encourage the promotion of a values base of social justice, cultural understanding and a sense of social responsibility.

By Professor Douglas Bourn, Director of the Development Education Research Centre at UCL-IOE and author of The Theory and Practice of Development Education (2015). Doug has also written numerous articles on global learning, global skills and global citizenship within education.

This blog is a summary of Bourn, D (2016) ‘Global Learning and Brexit’, Policy and Practice: A Development Education Review, Vol. 23, Autumn, pp. 188-199.


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