Problems With and Barriers To Global Education

Responses to the question about problems and barriers were grouped into eight broad categories. The barrier identified by the largest number of respondents, eighteen, was “lack of teacher skills, training, interest.” Most responses simply said that there was a lack of adequate teacher training. A few said that teachers did not know how to use teaching strategies that were most appropriate to global education. One respondent said, “Too many teachers simply don’t care enough about global issues to be bothered.

Fifteen respondents said that the greatest barrier to global education in their countries was the fact that it was not an acknowledged curriculum area. A few indicated that any global perspectives which are included in the curriculum must fit into existing courses such as history, geography, social studies, literature, foreign language, the arts, and so forth. Some others felt that because their educational systems were examination driven, it was difficult for teachers to alter the day-to-day curriculum to include global perspectives because that took time away from teaching topics and skills that would be tested. A couple of the answers pointed out that schools were reluctant to add a new curriculum area because community members were used to what was currently there and might be uncomfortable with something new. In a slightly different vein, a few responses suggested that the curricula in their countries overwhelmingly had a western orientation that, at least partially, precluded a more global one.

Lack of resources was identified by thirteen people as a major barrier to global education in their countries. Most, but not all, were lesser developed countries (LDCs). Most respondents spoke of the lack of money. A few talked about teaching materials. None mentioned a lack of technology. As was shown in Chapter Eight of the report, technology was present in schools and classrooms in the more developed countries (MDCs) of the world, but in some LDCs the concern was for very basic written materials. A global education problem of some magnitude is the growing gap in education between the wealthier and poorer peoples of the world that was spoken of by don Oscar Arias in the Foreword of the book.

Twelve individuals cited national politics in some way or another as a problem or barrier to the implementation of global education. There were those responses from nations formerly dominated by Soviet style communism wherein there was some kind of transition to a more democratic form of government. Uncertainty and changing structures were identified as problems in these cases. A second group of responses, coming from MDCs, had to do with objections to global education by members of the political right and/or religious fundamentalists. Generally, such individuals and groups mistakenly fear that global education promotes some kind of “one world” philosophy in opposition to more nationalistic dogma, or some kind of humanism that was in opposition to religious values. Two respondents thought that general political strife in their countries disrupted any kind of educational development.

Ten responses pointed to nationalism, religion, or cultural isolation as a major barrier to the development of global education. The respondent from one country, in answering this question, simply said, “religion.” Five other responses talked of nationalism. A somewhat different and interesting set of responses came from three countries where various forms of cultural isolation were seen as problems. The tenth respondent, from a country with a large immigrant population, spoke of prejudice and the lack of a desire to celebrate diversity as barriers to global education.

Six persons said that bureaucratic structures in education were a major barrier to the development of global education programs. The following responses were examples:

The creativity and spontaneity of teachers is being stifled by excessive and restrictive demands from central government. Global education does not really flourish in such an atmosphere.

A possible difficulty could be found in the existence of uniform—-and compulsory—- national curricula, very slow in incorporating changes of overall perspective; or rather symmetrically, the scarce leeway left to individual schools in setting up and managing and implementing innovative curricula.

Six responses showed that in some countries global education was not really understood well enough to be promoted as part of the curriculum or that its definition was not clear. Interestingly, in three of these countries there were reported to be programs of intercultural education, peace studies, environmental studies, international education, and/or development education. We shall return to this issue shortly.

The final category included four responses that had to do with the desirability of creating or becoming part of networks, or of somehow institutionalizing the flow of information about global education.

In the normative section of the chapter, a number of ideas were examined that had the potential to lessen the impact of the barriers cited above. One of the most important was the professionalization of teaching through increased and improved training. For example, the content-pedagogy dichotomy that has existed between primary and secondary teacher education where primary teachers supposedly learn how to teach and secondary teachers learn what to teach needs to be overcome. All teachers need to learn what content is important and how to teach it. In addition, it was suggested that greater remuneration and respect for the work of teachers were important. Finally, the regulation of teaching by the profession itself instead of by various kinds of external examination systems imposed by politicians and/or the educational bureaucracy was called for.

Providing the necessary resources for education was seen as a second major means of removing barriers to global education. The most comprehensive proposal called for shifting monies from the expenditure of enormous sums on arms throughout the world to education and other social services. Other ideas included (1) helping the LDCs through direct aid from MDCs, (2) excusing LDCs some or most of their foreign debt, and (3) developing better methods of self-help based upon ideas such as those of Paulo Freire.8 This meant giving people the tools to solve those problems that they perceived as real to their own lives rather than presuming that those who were helping knew what was best for those being helped.

The third major theme of this section, not unrelated to the previous one, had to do with moving the locus of educational decision-making to the school site level where the local teachers, administrators, students and community could determine what their needs are and how best to meet them through their schools. This implied changing the role of the educational bureaucracy from one of directing through a hierarchy with the school at the bottom to one of helping with the school as the central focus. In this section, the characteristics of bureaucracies were examined. It was determined that such characteristics tended to fit the needs of those at the upper ends of the bureaucratic hierarchy, but not those at the school level. Since these characteristics did seem to work for those at the higher end, they wrongly have tended to believe they have worked for everyone. The use of NGOs and various kinds of networks for the gaining and sharing of information was recommended as one means of counteracting bureaucratic restriction.

One particular network that has as its specific focus the promotion of international dialog about global education was described in Chapter Seven. That is the International Network for Global Education (INGE) sponsored by the American Forum for Global Education. It was established in Berlin in 1985 and has sponsored a number of international conferences since that time. The aims of the Network are:

  1. To conduct and support activities including conferences, seminars, study visits and opportunities for information exchange.
  2. To promote the development of different forms of information exchange, consisting of newsletters and bulletins, computer linkages, research exchanges and course syllabi.
  3. To promote joint projects between two or more institutions for such purposes as textbook analysis, curriculum development and teacher education.

Currently, in collaboration with the National Commission for UNESCO of Korea, the American Forum for Global Education is seeking support for an INGE conference in Seoul in 2000 or 2001.

The role of the so-called knowledge industry that was seen as controlling the production of textbooks, standardized tests, and other instructional materials was examined for the ways in which it limits what can be done in schools with respect to global education. The chapter called for much more site-based freedom in the selection and production of educational materials. It also was pointed out that these same concerns needed to be directed at the growing role of technology in education. That is, it would be just as limiting for teachers if a few, quite large producers gained control of the educational multimedia market and, thus, for the sake of profit determined what materials would be used in schools. It also was suggested that site-based decision-making served as a means of involving more people in grass roots democratic problem solving.

This chapter did not take the position that great amounts of time should be spent on attempting to arrive at definitions for global education. On the contrary, it supported the notions that (1) people behaved toward things on the basis of the meanings those things had for them, (2) meanings were derived from activity and the social interactions that people had with others, and (3) meanings were continually modified through an interpretive process.9 Thus, it was suggested that educators and other interested persons should be simultaneously involved in global education activity and in dialog about that activity, and that locally appropriate definitions would emerge as a result.

In the first part of Chapter Eight, data about new global education initiatives were examined. On the low end, there were reports of programs in related movements that had a more or less national focus such as intercultural education and environmental education, and there were reports of comprehensive national curriculum revisions that contained some elements of global education. Somewhere in the middle were some SOCRATES programs of the European Union that included schools from several nations and that focused upon one global issue or problem. On the high end, there were a few reports of official government support for global education and a number of related activities—-e.g., curriculum development, instructional materials production, teacher training.

One theme that emerged from these data was that in countries where historically there has been considerable global education activity (regardless of its label) and conservative governments have been elected, the expansion of global education activities has been slowed. At the same time, in these same countries, the movement has been kept alive by individual teachers, schools, and NGOs. In the United States, some state departments of education have continued to be supportive, also.

With reference to technology in global education, several generalizations emerged from the data. First, there was a large (and growing) gap in who had access to technology for educational purposes, and that gap was strongly correlated with soci-economic status. Poorer countries and poorer populations within wealthy countries were far less likely to have computers at all; and, even if they did, they were more likely to have older equipment that limited them to out-of-date forms of instructional technology. Second, in a number of the more advanced countries where access to computers in schools came early in the 80s, much of the equipment had become outdated and was seen as standing in the way of the development and use of newer multimedia technology. Third, most computer use around the world was still in rooms set aside for computers and with special teachers who had a vested interest in keeping the status quo. The integration of computers into the various curricula was seen as coming about very slowly. Fourth, and because of the lack of adaptation of the computer as an integrated instructional tool and because of cost, the introduction of newer multimedia systems was seen as occurring slowly, also. On the bright side, social studies teachers were found to be leading the way in utilizing multimedia systems in schools around the world.10

There was evidence of a growth, albeit very little, in the use of evaluation procedures referred to as performance assessment, appropriate assessment and/or authentic assessment. Such procedures were examined in this chapter. In addition, several kinds of research that were thought to be important to global education were discussed, including, but not limited to, such things as action research, studies of educational change (particularly when global education was introduced into the curriculum), teacher reflection, and studies of the history of the movement and its current status.

Chapter Eight concluded with descriptions of movements related to global education: environmental education, intercultural education, peace and conflict studies, development education, human rights education, education for democracy, human geography, world studies. While each of these movements was seen as having its own goals, content, and constituencies, in the final analysis they were all seen as inextricably intertwined with global education and its goals. Dialog among the members of these movements and global educators was strongly urged.

In Chapter Nine, the final chapter of the report, themes explored in earlier chapter were brought together and fourteen recommendations for future actions directed at stimulating an international dialog about global education were set forth. Many of them are controversial—-e.g., reducing and changing the roles of educational bureaucracies. Some of the recommendations made would be simple to put into practice, others would be difficult or even impossible to implement right now in some places. They were offered as beginning places for dialog, not as things that had to be done. After all, the position of this report is that people behave toward things on the basis of the meanings those things have for them. Further, such meanings are derived from interactions with other people. Now is the time for such interactions to intensify. Let the conversations begin and/or expand!