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Global Schmobal – It’s the thought that counts

Recently, I was describing my work here at Think Global to a friend. She listened attentively, and nodded along, and I thought all my enthusiastic extolling of ‘intercultural awareness’, ‘critical thinking’ and ‘social justice’ was going down a treat. Suddenly she stopped me and said “Ok, hang on. I’m really sorry but I actually have no idea what you’re talking about. What do you mean by ‘globalisation’?”

As well as putting me right back in my place, her question highlighted one of the challenges that those of us working in global learning face regularly – how to cut through the jargon. Conversations, writings, reports and other texts (the ‘discourse’, as jargon has it) about international affairs are full of terms which have obvious meanings to those of us in the know, but which are more or less impenetrable to others.

This helps no one, least of all the teachers (and students) who are at the frontline of global learning. One of our Think Global research reports highlighted that teachers sometimes lack confidence teaching about particular global issues such as emerging economies. I’m sure a lot of the specialist terms that pop up in relation to such issues, like ‘carbon pricing’, ‘FDI’ (foreign direct investment), ‘import/export substitution’ and ‘pre-industrial atmospheric density’ aren’t helping the cause.

I’m not saying there’s no place for those terms, or that they should be abolished – they exist because often they express concepts and situations with a subtlety and precision that less specialist language can’t achieve. And that’s important, especially for those working in the fields in question, whose ability to communicate and develop ideas is immeasurably improved by having a bespoke professional vocabulary. Also, I use those terms myself sometimes, so it would be hypocritical!

But I do think we’d do well to stop every now and then and think about the language we use as advocates, teachers, trainers and general global learning enthusiasts to talk about one of our favourite subjects. Indeed, good global learning requires that we do just that – think critically, consciously and carefully about how we communicate. What messages and sub-messages should we give and receive and how we should be alert to the different needs, perceptions and understandings of those we work with and for.

To make a start, I conducted a quick (very subjective, very unscientific) straw-poll of those of us here at Think Global, to find out which global jargon terms we struggle with the most.

High up on the list were:

  • interdependence
  • global citizenship
  • globally-connected school
  • critical thinking/questioning
  • embedded global learning
  • participatory approach
  • developing country
  • creative learning
  • global learning pedagogy.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a series of short blogs, each focused on one of these terms, finding out where it causes problems in global learning, questioning why, and suggesting ideas for how we could explain these ideas more clearly, accurately, easily, and critically – in and out of the classroom.

How about you? Are there particular examples of global learning jargon that get under your skin, leave you cold, or just leave you confused? Let me know in a comment here, and let’s clear up the confusion together!

image of Monika Kruesmann

By Monika Kruesmann, Head of Programmes, Think Global

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