Beth Button, current MSc. Education (Education Policy and International Development) student, reports on participating in the recent SDG4 and Education 2030 regional consultation meeting. Beth is an executive committee member for the European Students’ Union, responsible for representing students studying in higher education across Europe and campaigning and lobbying on educational issues within Europe and internationally.
The regional consultation meeting for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) and the Education 2030 agenda took place on the 24th and 25th of October at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Attended by government representatives from Europe and North America, NGOs, and foundations’ representatives, the meeting assessed governmental progress on SDG4 and proposed recommendations to strengthen regional cooperation and monitoring of the targets.
As a representative of the European Students’ Union (ESU), I was present to offer student input, host a discussion on our work on national student movement engagement, and contribute to the discussions that took place regarding the region’s priority areas for the coming year, such as quality of education, skills and competencies, and education for refugees and migrants.
One of the thematic areas within SDG4 the European and North American regions have chosen to focus on this year is global citizenship education (GCED)– as a means for achieving target 4.7, specifically “promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence.” GCED aims to “empower learners to assume active roles to face and resolve global challenges and to become proactive contributors to a more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure world” (UNESCO).
Strategies for approaching GCED within the SDGs vary from country to country. Some, like Norway, are focusing very much on human rights education, whilst others such as Albania, have developed specific targeted points in the curriculum to develop intercultural or interfaith understanding. Meanwhile, France has developed specific citizenship education which seeks to develop a sense of belonging- recognising that when people are afraid they tend to fall back on issues of identity. We at ESU strongly lobbied for an approach to GCED that was embedded holistically throughout the educational system- both formal and informal, and not approached as a singular thread in the delivery of a specific module.
In our engagement with the topic, ESU also argued that promoting peace and active citizenship through education has to be approached with a focus on embedding students as central partners in any process that takes place. Whether that’s in ensuring students are active in democratic structures, or through taking a student centered approach to redesigning the curriculum to make it more inclusive and diverse, if a learner can see their lived experience reflected in the content they’re delivered, they’re less likely to feel alienated within their education. This student centered approach will also develop leadership and critical thinking in learners through the process- by empowering students to be part of building inclusive and tolerant schools, education can be a tool to creating more inclusive and tolerant societies, promoting peace and preventing violence.
However, what struck me during all the discussions at the conference was how ‘preventing violent extremism’ (PVE) has become a dominant focus for the region within this thematic area. The continued threat of terrorist attacks has altered the way governments perceive the role and responsibilities of education- with a renewed focus on preparing learners to be resilient to violent extremism and preventing radicalisation. We, as ESU, along with other NGOs raised our concerns during the debates that this approach misses the opportunity to present education’s role in positively developing citizenship and promoting peace- and therefore preventing violence.
Whilst GCED has historically been about promoting positive values, the shift to focus on PVE has changed the language and terminology used, and therefore the implicit and explicit meaning of the policy focus. This change in language, from the positive role of education in the promotion of citizenship development and peace (for example through human rights education) to negative and even violent language about stopping radicalisation and extremism through preventative measures will undoubtedly have implications for the way member states approach educational policy on the matter in the months to come.
Another striking observation during the meeting, was the subtle removal of education for sustainable development from the first draft of this year’s policy recommendations. After years of debate within the group about the subject, for it to suddenly disappear from the agenda was striking. I was rapporteur for the thematic discussion on GCED, a platform which I also used to raise the concerns held by ESU and other groups such as open society foundations as to the lack of inclusion of education for sustainable development. Thankfully, it was reinstated in the final recommendations document, which can be found online here.
Post author Beth Button (left) with Arleen Michelle, a representative from the European Federation of Intercultural Learning (EFIL)