Part 1: Living in a Development Education Land

It doesn’t imply Either/Or scenarios. Like many others we have used the terms interchangeably over the years. One shouldn’t be pitted against the other. It just looks better to keep the debate fresh in our minds…!  For us, global education has been a more user-friendly term to promote within the schools we work in. Most teachers and students are still unfamiliar with the term “Development Education”. We still have our quiet moments with supportive teachers who refer to our programme as Developmental Education or Development Studies…

In Ireland, Development Education is the dominant term in the NGO sector. It has come quite a distance since the 1990s when Development Education was in the hands of returned development workers who wanted to raise the debate on development issues.

Since 2002, with the drive from the grassroots DE NGOs and practitioners, the assistance of the Irish platform of Development Organisations (Dochas) and the support of the Irish government aid agency (now Irish Aid), the Irish Development Education Association is on a solid footing of its own with a healthy membership base.

The challenge was and still is to ensure that DE is integrated and given greater profile within the different educational sectors in Ireland. For us at Schools Across Borders our main focus is on the formal education curriculum. In Ireland, the Department of Education still does not take the lead on integrating DE within the formal education sector.

Initial Teacher Education in DE is provided by independent organisations that are funded by Irish Aid: in the primary sector by the Development & Intercultural Project (DICE); in the post-primary and 3rd level sectors by the Ubuntu Network. Both highly innovative and able.

Since 2006 Irish Aid has also funded a Programme of Strategic Cooperation with Higher Educations & Research Institutes which has ensured a steady flow of valuable research in some institutes and provided an element of collaboration with academic institutions in the Global South.

Again, the lead comes from the state aid agency. The debate has been raised since. We need to establish a sound theoretical basis for DE and GE. A bit of attrition between the two terms may even help to concentrate minds.

On a sad note : In Ireland, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) seems to have been formally subsumed into submission. We have not heard any government policy statements since promises made by the Dept. of Education & Skills to publish a strategy in 2009.

In January 2012, the national Sustainable Development Council (SDC), was integrated into the work of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC).

A terse statement on their website reads:  “ NESC will now develop its work in a way that integrates sustainable development issues into its analysis of significant national challenges.

I wouldn’t hold my breath.

All we know is that ECO-UNESCO is still alive and well and has been busy recently recruiting!

Maybe it’s the case that ESD is integrated into the school curricula and doing its job to engage with Millenium Development Goal No.7 and the Decade of Sustainable Development. Maybe teachers are discussing Agenda 21 and Rio +20 etc. What about the wider campaign?

If I don’t refer to ESD as a separate entity henceforth, it is because we see it as being an integral part of DE and GE. Different emphasis, same agenda, same challenges and in need of support.

First, let me tell you our story…

Back in 2001 when Schools Across Borders started taking shape, our main focus was on how to integrate into the curriculum. We didn’t beat ourselves up about it: just as each school was different from the next, so each classroom programme was a work in progress.

When we looked around us to find models to look up to, it was only natural for us to look at the NGO sector: Amnesty, Christian Aid, Oxfam, Save the Children, Trocaire. There was, in varying degrees, a campaigning human rights focus that kept the candle alive for social justice. We just didn’t do the campaigning part.

In our own backyard, Cooperation Ireland too seemed to have a model for cross-border schools programmes that worked nicely. Glencree and Corrymeala were the pioneers in expanding the field and also seemed to be peering over at Israel and Palestine. Of course on the ground in the north of /Northern Ireland, it was still the biggest show from out of town: Palestinian and Israeli flags multiplied along traditional lines, with added grist from the murals.

Back then the buzz was Intercultural Education or Human Rights Education.

We all saw the opportunities in the formal education sector. We developed learning models that integrated national education policies on key skills (structured according to knowledge, attitudes and behavioural transformation). We integrated into the subjects according to the different jurisdictions. They ranged from Civic/Citizenship Education to Social Education to Religious Education to dedicated modules for our programme. The values and rights basis for what we were doing was maintained.

Bringing the north of / Northern Ireland into our equation, we were keen to know more about Education for Reconciliation, a joint project run by the Irish Curriculum Development Unit and the Centre for Cross Border Studies. Although in favour of the term, we quickly noticed that the schools we worked with in Belfast were neither familiar nor comfortable with it. Our methods were similar, we debated terms with the students, learned lessons in sensitivities and moved on.

We thought we would have fitted in with the ethos of the new Citizenship subject for Northern Ireland: Education for Mutual Understanding and Cultural Heritage. Norman Richardson’s textbooks were our references. But the reality on the ground was more about celebrating cultural differences and stating the obvious about terms like citizenship. Social Religious Education was a safe haven to be in the Catholic-Maintained schools.

From 2006 there were welcome new changes in the NI curriculum: Local & Global Citizenship, Personal Development and the Certificate of Personal Effectiveness.

Peace Education R.I.P.  When we started off,  it was a similar story with Peace Education. The fact that there were few schools resources for it was indicative in itself.  We expected difficult moments in our programme and they happened, either because the live events outside the classroom or telling your story to us outsiders influences proceedings. We respected that our target groups should set the tone of the debate … and in return we didn’t get the “peacenik” tag stuck on us.

As we worked with the different types of schools in Belfast – Protestant schools, Catholic schools and Integrated schools (composed of students from both main communities) – each group was encouraged to speak freely and to decide how far they wanted to go in the programme with us the nice outsiders.

It was already enough for us to hear from our Israeli and Palestinian partners that, of course everybody wants peace!  – Shalom/ Salaam…hey, we say it every day! – just that there are different ways of how you get there. Or that whenever we did our initial research to elicit the dominant national discourses, on one side the key term was Security and on the other it was Freedom. Add in Defence and/or Resistance to explain actions. There were enough interdependent values to work with and we took it further to bring in the many ways of how young people deal with conflict in their everyday lives.

In other words, we did Peace Education, just never mentioned its name.

And transformed it into Conflict Transformation. We couldn’t help ourselves: being aware of the goodwill factors behind the peace process in the north of /Northern Ireland, leading a programme that had at least four axes in a good year (north-south in Ireland; cross-community in Belfast; Israel and Palestine -Republic of Ireland; Israel and Palestine- north/ Northern Ireland; Israel-Palestine) and being programmed for programmes, we wanted to bring that added value.

It went a bit like this: Conflict Resolution was worthy but old-school. Conflict Transformation builds on it by focusing on process and building relations with the people on the ground. It was pitched more as long-term facilitation and less about finding those “Win-Win” formulas.

We chose our moments and tried it in Dublin and Belfast, with workshops during the visits of Israeli and Palestinian students, then locally with cross-border encounters between Dublin students and Belfast students from the nationalist and unionist communities, and finally in our 2009 Summer Camp with students from all geographical locations.

It was worth the effort: we applied our methods, learned what worked and what didn’t, worked and shared with other practitioners, encouraged teamwork and ensured there was back-up support for the difficult moments.

But Conflict Transformation, or even mediation, were more about method and pedagogy.

So we contented ourselves with the notion that we were about Human Rights Education…which also included Intercultural Education. That suited our Israeli and Palestinian partners on both sides of the Wall/Fence.

About the same period, there was a growing concertation for DE in Ireland, promoted by the Irish government development aid agency. DE had come quite a distance since the 1990s when Development Education was in the hands of returned development workers who wanted to raise the debate on development issues. The Irish Development Education Association (IDEA) was in the making.

Meanwhile, the UK was going “Global”. The Global Dimension was being piloted in the curriculum. Global school-linking was boomed out across the waves by the British Council flagship. The English DE Association’s website became Think Global. The network of regional DE Centres in the UK did not follow suit. Somewhere along the line, Oxfam started promoting Education for Global Citizenship.

In Scotland, they stuck with their original ideas: International Development Education Association of Scotland (IDEAS). In Wales…respect guys…it’s Cyfanfyd: promoting ESD and global citizenship.

What suited us with DE in Ireland was the fresh impetus it gave to the concepts of global citizenship and interdependence.It was a call to engage in critical thinking on poverty, development, globalisation, inequalities and justice issues. It was values-based, highlighting equality, solidarity, cooperation. It encouraged empowerment for action.

We liked the rights-based approach. We tuned into the drive for a more critical pedagogy: encouraging multiple perspectives, peer-to-peer learning, reciprocal exchanges.

Working together and combatting the mainstream quick-fix charity approaches to the issues, we would create durable relationships through our schools network that fostered dialogue and reflection on an equal footing.

We were anti Live Aid, just liked Bob Geldof’s big mouth attitude. The Making Poverty History campaign in 2005 was a welcome chance to debate awareness and action. We had to go easy on the teenagers about the wristbands.

We were uneasy with the close linkage of DE and GE to national aid programmes.

In Ireland, there was a concerted national strategy to support the MDGs campaign and to progressively contribute the 0.7% of GNP to ODA by 2012. Development Education was now firmly positioned with a dedicated Development Education Unit attached to the development aid agency under the tutelage of the Development Minister subsumed within the Irish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

There were mutterings in the sector about whether the radical agenda would become softened by state-led policy. We listened as the big Development NGOs talked …and talked to them and other small and medium fish about it all.

The world doesn’t wait: there was the school curricula to fit into. There was a pioneering spirit and funding to fight for. Yes, we were in a DE/GE framework. We took our guidance from The National Council for Curriculum & Assessment (NCCA) and other subject authorities, the schools in Israel, Palestine and Ireland, north and south and our partner NGO in Hebron: The International Palestinian Youth League (IPYL).

We chose our moments to try and open the learning space: Paolo Freire was guiding us. Pike & Selby. Norman Richardson. Augusto Boal. John-Paul Lederach for special occasions. We nurtured collaborative projects with Amnesty, Trocaire, Cooperation Ireland, Poetry Ireland and other precious cross-community organisations and active-learning practitioners in Belfast.

Debating aid and development was also central station in our debate. How Ireland, the EU, the Global North, the Diasporas, the Arab League, the UN all contribute to or work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian refugees further afield. Special status, special considerations, special affinities: religious, cultural, historical, political and …yes, economic too.

Inequalities, injustice…the conflict in all its complexity. Is what we’re doing part of the problem or the solution?

We were conscious however that Israel & Palestine, and the Middle East in general, was for most not on the Development Education agenda, or considered a special case. It was good enough to be at the table.

Anyone south of the border who remembers the Troubles might recall how the nationalist communities accused us of abandoning them. Except in 1974 when it hit us directly. Or maybe how often people used to refer to them all, nationalist and unionist, as being tarred with the same brush? Or how they’ll never learn, it’s all tit for tat, eye for an eye.

There were those turning points though when we all shed tears: name your bombing and I’ll tell you your age. But peace did come dropping slow…and we’re still not singing about it.

What encouraged us and still does is the ever-growing general lack of awareness of conflicts and the stereotypes that matched it. Standing up for the misrepresented and misunderstood doesn’t get much of a mention when both sides seem to be shouting or shooting each other down.  From our point of entry in 2002, it has always surprised our Israeli and Palestinian friends that the students in Dublin haven’t a clue about what the conflict in the north of/Northern Ireland was all about. The incessant politicking has turned off most. But there are still precious myths about the peace process that motivate them to engage more with it. Nothing like pure curiosity and the chance of human contact to motivate learning.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict as we all know stirs up many a mind and emotions. Sometimes to the detriment of debate of others. Our job is to bring in the young people’s voices, try to widen the debate and when we can, expand the field. Everyone brings their own focus, sees the issues through the lens of others and gains from the global dimension.

Back to the wider debate: We were kept busy with our exceptionality and took up the challenge/opportunity to dig in for the deeper debate about the root causes of the issues raised.

In Part 2, we look at how the DE/GE message was being massaged in the EU parlours.