Reflections on the Paris Conference on Global Education

About the Paris Conference on Global Education: Towards a World of Solidarity

The Paris Conference on Global Education: Towards a World of Solidarity was held on November 28, 2016, in Paris, France. Taking place one year after the Paris terrorist attacks, this event was organized by the Global Education Network Europe (GENE) with the support of the European Commission and brought together over 180 key people working within the field of global education from across Europe and beyond. My Global Education Conference co-chair, Steve Hargadon and I were invited to attend by GENE. Brandon Wiley, Chief Program Officer for the Buck Institute for Education and a long-time friend of the GEC, also was in attendance.

Via our Global Education Conference Network and associated events, Steve and I have leveraged technology to virtually convene audiences from all over the world for connecting, fostering meaningful connections, and sharing ideas related to global education. While we are deeply rooted in the field of educational technology and believe in the transformational power of technology, we also realize that nothing replaces the power of meeting people face-to-face to build working relationships. Also, while we have made efforts to spread the word about our conference around the world, we still are somewhat of a US-centric community (54% of our community members hail from the US). It has been difficult for us to engage global educators and organizations in some regions, including Western Europe, in our conference. It is important that we continue to do outreach by traveling to events. Thus, we were very grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference and meet others working in this space.

The Paris Conference on Global Education served a networking hub for the various global education “actors” such as international organizations, ministries and agencies, civil society organizations (basically NGOs), local and regional authorities (including town-twinning initiatives, green cities, and other global citizenship activities), and academic institutions. Given that our world is experiencing more complex and challenging realities, the conference conveners hoped to inspire and foster creative and innovative solutions. Its main objectives were as follows:

  • Build on the bases developed in Global Education in Europe over the past 15 years.
  • Reflect on the broader global challenges considering transformative change through education.
  • Share and facilitate policy learning through successful strategies and practice of growth and integration within and between particular stakeholder groups, and inspiring stories from other fields.
  • Explore new visions and strategies, for Global Education in Europe, inspired by emerging actors and existing French and international practice.

In the conference program, GENE noted, “The SDGs and COP 21 suggest growing political consensus and commitment to creating a greater balance. But how to facilitate a shift in the understanding of democracy, leadership, and participation at all levels to make transformative change possible?”. Growing Nationalism movements and xenophobia are growing concerns in Europe, as evidenced by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (Brexit). Other political headlines in recent months should produce concern as well. The timeliness of this meeting could not have been better given the state of our planet.

The convening began with welcoming remarks from the following dignitaries.

Attendees at this conference included those working for human rights and youth NGOs, education ministries, development agencies, and research institutions. Organizations you might recognize of the attendees include Ashoka, OECD, Oxfam, and UNESCO. The opening remarks encouraged us to think about the solidarity as an international value.

Kumi Naidoo of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity

Mr. Kumi Naidoo gave the opening keynote address. He is a human rights activist who is the former International Executive Director of Greenpeace and current Launch Director for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace, and Dignity. Kumi started his talk by noting the scale of problems facing humanity and he posed a few important questions given the recent geopolitical changes and shifts, “How do we speak to power? How do we do it in a way that doesn’t make people feel like it is useless? According to Kumi, those with power control citizens with repressive state operators (police, etc). A more insidious form of control is ideology perpetuated by social norms, media, and other vehicles. Global education today is critical.

Kumi noted that we are/were shellshocked by recent world events, and at the same time, it is essential that we educators recognize that we shoulder some of the responsibility for all that has happened. He went on to say that, “people with a progressive orientation should not blame “the deplorables” [and other similarly minded people]. We need to understand these people are our brothers and sisters. Otherwise we do not stand a chance.”

Kumi added that the challenge for those working in the global education movement is to have the courage to ask the bold and difficult questions. We have a choice to make; either we maintain business as usual, or we can say enough and “rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic”. In conclusion, Kumi said that there are days where the challenges seem to be too much but to keep in mind that the world would be a significantly more pessimistic place without the individuals who work in the fields that we do. The struggle for all kinds of justice are marathons, not sprints and the best thing we can do is not to allow hopelessness to dominate. It will take tremendous courage and perseverance for the world to survive.

This keynote was followed by a panel discussion which echoed some of the themes addressed by Kumi Naidoo. The panelists included Ms. Monique Borsenberger from the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research, Ms. Naima Azough, a journalist and policy advisor, Ms. Marie-Heléne Nedelec of Platforma and Ms. Elisabeth van der Steenhoven, Director of Karama Europe. Monique Borsenberger noted that social cohesion is a bit like glue; it needs to bring people together, but not too closely. The right amount of social cohesion is important, and too much can create an exclusionary group. Regarding the concept of solidarity, she noted that social bonds are strongly developed in times of change, and this idea has repeated itself throughout history. Democracy and citizenship require everyone to have the same ability to take part in decisions that affect their futures. Conflicts are also part of the democratic process. Marie-Helène Nedelec noted partnerships are important and that social dialogue helps develop policies. She gave a few examples of such partnerships. Elisabeth van der Steenhoven shared that young, illiterate people are gathering to have important conversations similar to those we were having at the Paris conference. She said that war torn countries are struggling with how to deal with migrant populations and most notably, that global education was considered dangerous by groups such as ISIS because it encourages people to think for themselves. Elisabeth also referenced the hashtag #JusticeForSalwa and this story should be compelling to those interested in global education.

Liam Wegimont of GENE and Dr. Douglas Bourn of the Development Education Research Center at UCL-IOE added remarks to this panel discussion. Doug wondered, “Is much of what we are discussing relevant to people? How is this impacting those who are feeling alienated?How do we engage people in a dialogue?”. Others responded by noting that compulsory education and policies will not solve much, and we need to make sure that there is understanding around our values, rights, and duties as citizens. Additionally, those involved in global education need to be in the business of listening. Liam concluded this part of the program by noting that we should meet people at where they are at regarding education and forge a common language around all of these issues.

Participants then broke into various streams addressing what works in responding to the current realities. Steve, Brandon and I were part of the CSOS (civil society organizations) and New Actors stream. The following questions were discussed in these streams:

  • What are the key contemporary challenges which Global Education must address? To what extent is Global Education related to current contemporary challenges? How does Global Education and learning work proximity these challenges?
  • What inspiring solutions in policy and practice works well within our stakeholder stream?
  • What resources and strategies are required to enable Global Education to make a more significant contribution?
  • How can we work together towards transformative change? What new partnerships, new visions, and new strategies are needed?

We took a lunch break following the morning’s streams and at my table, we somehow started discussing the fact that starting in 2018, the PISA test will include a measurement of global skills. A woman from Finland noted that her country has been busy preparing for this. This made me wonder to myself if any work is going on in light of this; it still seems that anything related to global competencies, skills, and mindsets is a hard sell in most US schools.

Following lunch during the afternoon of this conference, workshops took place and focused on the following topics:

  • From Global Challenges Towards Social Cohesion — What is the Stake of Education?
  • Implementing SDG4 in Policy and Practice
  • Policy Learning for DEAR (Development Education and Awareness Raising) Strategies in Practice
  • Instruments to Enhance Quality Global Education

I was assigned to Workshop 1 on Global Challenges Towards Social Cohesion which was facilitated by Monique Borsenberger and Adeline Mazier, Coordinator of Forim, Network of Migrations and Development in France. The facilitators started out with engaging activities to encourage movement and thought around these questions: “To what extent can education inspire inclusion/produce exclusion? In what ways can Global Education be a means to a better “vivre ensemble”?. Afterward, small groups formed and each came up with a few ideas around social cohesion. Group 1 noted: “We are going backward. We need to change public opinion. It’s about civic education. Public opinion is influencing schools. The schools have a hidden curriculum that does not support inclusion. Group 2 summarized their discussions: At a political level, it is harder to justify and fund global education because politicians do not want to be challenged. At an institutional level, how can we as actors advance policies that will promote global education? Actors are fragmented and competing with each other. We need to develop methods of networking and countering the lack of diversity in the global education community as seen at this conference. We need to create and provide experiences to help teachers and students meet challenges. Group 3 wondered if living together is something that we need to expand on and teach while Group 4 stated that these are really big questions and touch upon all aspects of humanity. This group felt that there needed to be more of a focus on awareness building that addresses differences and a common framework. Group 4 also discussed how global education can connect us to our common humanity and the topics that bind us such as religion and migration. Group 4 was interested in reviving the common understanding that elevates humanity.

After these workshops, the entire group reconvened for a plenary session focused on reports from the all workshops mentioned earlier and a facilitated discussion on the challenge of integration and cohesion on local, national and global levels by GENE’s Ditta Trindade and Liam Wegimont.

Key findings from workshops included the following:

  • Actors need to dialogue with each other.
  • It’s a great experience to share information. This is a big step in dealing with multiple actors in this space. We want to learn and continue to learn. We need to have an active pedagogy, to possibly re-invent pedagogy.
  • It is essential to reverse this frightening political change and regain political and public support for global education.
  • There is a need to develop stronger and agiler networks and by democratic learning experiences that bring in new and different stakeholders.
  • The SDGs are powerful tools for lobbying. It is a framework for putting the local into global. European policies need to be developed to include the SDGs. There needs to be a multidimensional approach to implementing the SDGs.
  • Schools need to be redefined and reimagined. The roles of teachers as facilitators of learning needs to be reinforced.
Mr. Edgar Morin, a renown French sociologist and philosopher

The renown French sociologist and philosopher, Mr. Edgar Morin, gave the concluding keynote. It was an honor to be in his presence.

My key takeaways? First, there are indeed global education efforts underway in Europe and at a policy level, efforts may exceed what’s going on in the US. A mentor once told me that there wasn’t anything in Europe similar to what we call global education here in the US; maybe policies have not translated to action in classrooms. At any rate, there needs to be more communication between US-based NGOs and agencies and their European counterparts. In terms of the GEC, we need to work on being more inclusive of other languages in order to make this happen within our events.

Secondly, extremism is on the rise globally, and there are people and organizations, including the GEC, who believe that our work can make the difference by producing informed, action-oriented students and educators. American should be paying more attention to what’s going on in the rest of the world, because clearly, we are not immune from this trend. Europeans are just as worried as Americans about our incoming presidential administration as the implications of ignoring climate change etc. impact everyone on this planet.

Another key takeaway is that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals framework is one tool at our disposal in which we can reach common understandings. At this year’s global education conference, we also saw more classroom teachers and NGOs adopting this framework and creating lessons and activities around the SDGs.

There is a different vocabulary used within global education in Europe, and I’m not sure I clearly understand the underpinnings of this. For instance, the words solidarity and social inclusion are often used and described as goals; I’m not sure one would use those words here in similar contexts in the US. Take a look at this information from the Academy of Central Europe Schools for more on this. In the US, we are increasingly discussing how to develop global competence in students and teachers which I would define as skills and mindsets for active global citizens. It doesn’t seem as if global competence is widely used in Europe; one is more likely to hear references to global citizenship.

Recent (within the last ten years) global education efforts in the US have included language around competition and our students standing in the world. The message has been (and I hope abating to some degree) that we have to prepare our students to compete with others around the world due to globalization. The messaging coming from Europe seems to be that globalization has produced unintended consequences (migration, climate change, etc.) that should be addressed to ensure equality, peace, and justice. Perhaps this is because the US has tended to be isolated from the rest of the world and European countries are in proximity with one another and are experiencing the brunt of many contemporary issues. For more on this, check out the Global Education Network of Young Europeans (GLEN) and their definitions surrounding global education. Clearly, I need read more about the history of global education and the efforts that have been going on in Europe. This publication from GENE on the state of global education in Europe may be useful in that regard.

While Steve Hargadon and I are not policymakers nor researchers, we are passionate about connecting students, educators and organizations to learn from one another through our Global Education Conference Network. Authentic societal change comes from the bottom up, although there are times when leadership can set the right course for this shift. In the case of addressing the many global challenges facing our planet, students, teachers, and education systems are important players who can inform and encourage action.

In conclusion, many thanks to all organizers and GENE for including us in this event and inspiring us to further action. We are excited about the connections made at your convening and are eager to brainstorm ways to more inclusive of European perspectives in our work. Together, we can do more. I am inspired by GENE’s proposed statement on global education to 2030 and in particular, this reaffirmation, “The role of Global Education in opening people’s eyes and minds to the reality of the world, and awakening in them the desire to bring about a world of greater justice, equity, and human rights for all; in enabling and empowering people to learn about the causes of inequalities; in strengthening visions of a world where justice, equity and respect for human rights prevail. Global Education includes education for citizenship and international solidarity, which proposes that citizens participate through their involvement and mobilization in the construction of this world of greater solidarity.” This full statement is not available publicly yet, but take a look at the definition of global education that drives GENE’s work.

Below you will find my photos from the Paris conference. Please make sure to follow GENE on Twitter and Facebook if you would like additional information about the event and their work.