Eleanor Dillon: We must be taught to be better global citizens so we can build back better

Our world is interconnected and interdependent. Never has that been clearer than during the coronavirus global pandemic.
A common sense of purpose  is need to protect the environmentA common sense of purpose  is need to protect the environment
A common sense of purpose is need to protect the environment

We are undeniably linked to other people and places across the world – socially, culturally, environmentally, economically and politically, yet our individual and collective behaviour often fails to reflect that reality.

How often do we think about where the ingredients in our dinner tonight have come from? Do we think twice about taking the car somewhere we could easily walk to? Do we understand the impacts our actions have on less-advantaged communities, in faraway places or closer to home?

If we’ve never considered these questions before, it’s time to start now. The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted that the way we currently live our lives is neither fair nor sustainable.

Young people have been at the forefront of demanding this change; leading protests against climate change and racial injustice around the world. It’s inspiring to see so many people becoming active, global citizens, and it is our job to ensure that our Scottish education system adequately equips people with the skills and knowledge they need to make positive change.

Global citizenship education is the tool people need to help them critically examine our shared world. It enables us to explore the impact of our own actions and attitudes, both locally and globally, by encouraging us to challenge our own assumptions and question the systems we live in. Through a focus on global issues – such as human rights, equality and diversity – global citizenship education can help shift individual world views and empower us to act in support of fairer and more sustainable societies. People must understand the complexities of the challenges we face in order to have the power to engage with them or take meaningful action.

In Scotland, there is support for global citizenship education in schools through the development education network, IDEAS, which is made up of regional development education centres across Scotland and supported by larger development charities. The classroom has been a focal point for discussing and analysing the impact of the Covid-19 crisis and it has become clear that now, more than ever, young people need to be equipped with the skills and values to negotiate the uncertainties we face.

But we never stop needing to learn about the world around us or how to be an active citizen. Old and young; we all have a role to play in building a better world. Lifelong learning is part of the focus of the EU-funded Bridge 47 project. In Scotland, the project has partnered with organisations like the NHS.

The principles of global citizenship apply to governments as well as people. This was echoed by Scotland’s International Development Alliance in an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson regarding the announcement earlier in June that the Department for International Development (DfID) will merge with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). With bases in both East Kilbride and London, DfID has built over 20 years of experience in administering overseas UK Aid to promote sustainable development and eliminate poverty. The concerns raised by the IDEAS network and Scotland’s International Development Alliance are that the crucial aims of DfID could be diminished if combined with the political and strategic aspirations of the FCO. Members of the Alliance called for the UK government to endorse four key pledges to ensure a commitment to the eradication of poverty and aid effectiveness, accountability, and support for the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

The issues we collectively face with climate change have not gone away. The current pandemic has thrown our tangled global connections into sharper focus and the need to act now for our shared planet is clearer than ever before. There is increasing momentum for us to build back better, through a just recovery that puts people and planet first and education has a key role to play in delivering that vision.

Through education, both in and out of the classroom, we have the chance to write a new narrative that puts sustainable development and active global citizenship at the heart of Scotland’s future.

Eleanor Dillon is Scottish lead at the Bridge 47 project