Global Citizenship Education: a New Ethics for the World System?

Special Focus : Educating Global Citizens for the 21st Century
Learning Ecosystems and Leadership July 14, 2017

Putting every child in school, improving the quality of learning and fostering global citizenship are the three principles of the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) launched by the United Nations in 2012. The three principles are intimately interrelated, and a cornerstone of the post-2015 development model advocated by the United Nations and its specialized agencies, particularly UNESCO, to be implemented until 2030. 

Global Citizenship Education (GCE), in the words of UNESCO “… aims to equip learners of all ages with those values, knowledge and skills that are based on and instill respect for sustainability and that empower learners to be responsible global citizens. GCE gives learners the competencies and opportunity to realize their rights and obligations to promote a better world and future for all. GCE builds on many related fields such as human rights education, peace education, education for international understanding and is aligned with the objectives of education for sustainable development (ESD).” The realpolitik of the term refers to a sense of belonging to a broader community and a common humanity, emphasizing the interdependency and interconnectedness between the local, the national and the global.

Despite some agreements, many questions remain: What exactly is global citizenship? How could it be implemented? What are the pro and cons of global citizenship education? How different is this model of citizenship building from national citizenship that emerged with the constitution of the nation-states in the last two centuries? What is the role of the UN as a kind of supra-national state in achieving this trilogy of goals that seemed so interconnected in the GEFI? Is this global citizenship a kind of civic education for the 21st century? Further, how is it connected with global citizenship, peace education, and education for sustainable development?
From a political philosophical perspective, three categories are associated with citizenship building: civic knowledge, which in the context of constitutional democracy entails the knowledge of basic concepts informing the practice of democracy such as public elections, majority rule, citizenship rights and obligations, constitutional separation of power, and the placement of democracy in a market economy. The second category associated with citizenship building is civic skills, which usually mean the intellectual and participatory skills that facilitate citizenship’s judgment and actions. The last category is civic virtues, usually defined around liberal principles such as self-discipline, compassion, civility, tolerance and respect.

The growing technocratic policy environments usually focus on competencies to be evaluated for functional life and work. Fortunately, there are other alternatives such as the Capability Approach which emphasizes individual capabilities to achieve a life they value, and the ethical and moral choices embedded in that concept of life. The capability approach was developed in the early eighties by Nobel Prize economist and philosopher Amartya Sen and has been implemented in the United Nations Development Program, as an alternative to narrow econometrics to measure poverty or development. This could be done particularly through new models of leadership and youth movements. For instance, the World Bank Young Professional Programs could be remodeled to become more inclusive of global citizenship education and education for sustainable development, and the important projects of UN Youth Leadership Program (UNOSDP), and UNESCO Youth Program, could be scaled up. Through a capability approach we may be able to model global citizenship education as an answer to our troubled times, a new ethics for the global system, and a tool to interrupt inequality. 
The central question for us is the creation of a global democratic multicultural citizenship that facilitates an education for democracy. How to build better schools, intellectually richer schools, particularly for those who are in the bottom of society? How to build a global democratic multicultural citizenship curriculum where everybody learns from the rich diversity of society and where the trends toward balkanization and separatism in modern societies can be prevented and even reversed. We can do a better job in preparing teachers who are capable of working in school settings that become the center of collective experience and solidarity.
Democracy is a messy system, but it has survived because there is a sphere for debates and a set of rules that people follow even if they do not benefit from them. Let us build global citizenship education, even if it seems beyond our control and an impossible dream. Only the search for what seems utopian will make the possible a reality in our lives. The struggle for citizenship has been marked by revolutions and war, but also peaceful marches of non-violence side by side with bloodshed. Let us launch the silent revolution for global citizenship education.