Seeding without gardening in Norway

Norway“North-South Educational Partnerships” is the third and last module of my Development Education Master at the Institute of Education in London. I am very sceptical towards “North” and “South” as categories, which reinforce a two-world dichotomy and omit complexity and differences within “North” and “South”, instead of striving for a one-world vision (Helen Young wrote a very good essay on this for the development education review Policy & Practice: “Naming the World: Coming to terms with Complexity“). Nevertheless – or for this very reason – the module led to interesting discussions about power, culture and learning in international educational partnerships. As one assignment, I tried to analyse a Norwegian school linking programme through a reflection on how they treat questions of power and discourse, similarities and differences and joint learning. The conclusion is that the programme contains interesting elements such as a ban of aid and charity, but does not sufficiently systematise follow-up and learning:

Power and domination cannot be deconstructed by simply banning charity. A systematic and proactive approach to these questions would require facilitation and training for the participants in Norway and partner countries, but this is not part of the programme. [..] By limiting the approach to funding mutual visits of a very small and limited number of school members, without embedding these in a boarder and long-term school partnership development, the programme seeds possibilities for something bigger and possibly more meaningful than a two weeks trip South or North, but what emerges from these seed remains random and largely unknown to the institutional agency.

You can download the full essay here: Seeding without gardening – A critical reflection on a Norwegian School exchange programme

When NGDOs say “engaging with the public”, they mean getting their money through marketing & advertisement?


UK civil society recently engaged in remarkable reflections on roles of NGOs in a changing environment (e.g. the Smart CSOs initiative), and particularly on the question of how to engage with the public on issues which go beyond the people’s immediate self-interest. The Common Cause process led to a number of excellent, yet challenging reports, of which “Finding Frames – new ways to engage the UK public in global poverty” is particularly interesting for the development sector (and thus for questions related to global learning).

When I learned that a team of researchers from Polis, the journalism think tank at the LSE, started a reflection on “the relationship between audiences’ knowledge and caring and action” in cooperation with a number of big NGOs such as Plan UK, Oxfam and Save the Children, I was eager to read the first report of this three years research project.

Unfortunately, the findings are disappointing. Based on a round table discussion with high level communication, campaign and advocacy people (no development education people where present – sic!), the reports findings are framed in a logic of marketing, growth and competition. It does not touch on a number of key questions:

  • How can NGOs actually get out of a logic of competion and organisational self-interest in order to serve a common cause towards a systemic transformation of society – together with the UK citizens?
  • How can NGOs overcome the illusion that development aid will actually lead to development, and engage in a honest debate with a ever critical public about this?
  • How can the public actually engage and act – also and especially through NGOs – instead of only giving money or signing petitions?

The paper refers repeatedly to the Finding Frames report, which asks these difficult questions, but the reflection remains strongly in the frames of aid (“getting money to people on the ground” – what about political work in UK and partner countries?), needs and service delivery (what about a human rights based approach to development?) and, when it comes to the UK audience, getting their money through sophisticated marketing and advertisement strategies. It seems that empowerment is a nice buzz word for the “field work” but does not apply to the engagement with the UK citizens. A reflection on how the citizens (here and there!) can be integrated in a meaningful role in the work of the NGOs (including the strategic reflections and decision making processes) is completely missing.

Nevertheless, it is interesting reading, which shows that there’s still a lot of work to do within civil society organisations in order to overcome aid based, salvationist thinking, and to have a real debate on the transformative role (and duty!) of NGOs to work together with citizens to change things here and there.

You can download the report here:

Who Cares? Challenges and Opportunities in Communicating Distant Suffering.

HEADS UP or thumbs down? A postcolonial analysis of the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development

Is it possible to analyse a complex and multi layered initiative as the UN decade on education for sustainable development through Vanessa Andreotti’s postcolonial inspired HEADS UP checklist, which was featured earlier in this blog?

Such undertaking has certainly strong limitations, as the respective hermeneutics of the two approaches – a longterm, multilaterally negotiated UN process, and a short and experimental checklist aiming to stimulate doubt and questioning – are pretty much incompatible. Nevertheless, despite obvious shortcomings, the exercise proved to produce some interesting findings:

“The questions of the HEADS UP checklist provide evidence that there is a general lack of systems thinking in the texts on the decade, omitting, in a almost systematic way, questions of power, ideology and history (colonialism). These are, however, key elements for understanding and eventually achieving sustainable development. It is questionable how the DESD should achieve its objectives and make a meaningful contribution towards a more just and sustainable world without addressing these questions in an open and ambitious way. One could even argue that the absence of these questions reinforces the current unsustainable system, and the evidence that today, in year eight of the decade, the world hasn’t really become more sustainable, might support such an argument. [..] It seems that the decade has provided a powerful framework for a broad range of states and actors to advance the ESD agenda, to put questions of education on the national negotiation tables and to mobilise resources around the topic. However, considering the dramatic situation of the world and the lack of progress in challenging the current, deeply unsustainable system, we have to ask if this is enough, and if the DESD wouldn’t channel energies of well-meaning actors to address questions of sustainability and justice into an institutional setting were they don’t question the system as such.”

You can download the full essay, submitted as assignment in the “Development Education in the Era of Globalisation” module of the Development Education Master at the Institute of Education in London:

HEADS UP or thumbs down.pdf

Your critical comments are welcome, as always!


Rio+20: The night is darkest before dawn

Sugarloaf in grief

Even the Sugarloaf is veiled in grief after Rio+20 outcomes

The Rio+20 summit is over. What does it mean for development education, global learning, active citizenship, saving the world and the kind of stuff this blog pretends to address?
After one week in Rio, my personal wrap up is, with Antonio Gramsci, pessimistic in intellect, but optimistic in will:

The outcome document is disappointing. While there are important bits and pieces – like affirmation of human rights and particularly the right to food and water, or the emphasis on inclusion of youth and the mentioning of non-formal education, there is a lot of “where appropriate”, “volontary” and other possibility forms. The paramount role of empowering, values based, critical learning to achieve a shift in paradigm how we relate to each other and the planet, emphasised in a number of side events (including by UNESCO secretary general Milena Bukova) is missing completely from the document.

The dark forces are strong. Education for sustainable development is a very big umbrella, under which all kinds of approaches to learning can shelter, even if they are contradictory. Deutsche Bank vice chairman Caio Koch-Weser sees the main focus of education to produce the human capital to assure growth, meeting labour force needs of businesses and emphasising discipline, focus and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) – a very worrying conception of education, certainly not aiming to build whole and happy citizens which actively participate in the transformation of society. For Jeffrey Sachs, broadband for all and other technical fixes are main issues when it comes to education. A representative of the French ministry of education wants “to bring nature in the classroom”. Asked why the students should not rather go out of the classroom, in good Freinet tradition, he replied that in the cities, there is no nature – well, certainly more than in a classroom.
With these people – albeit in very powerful positions – a transformation of the way we learn and relate won’t the possible. How do we deal with this? How long will they maintain us in the night?

Day is coming. The nice thing about the days is Rio was the encouraging and increasingly focussed determination of civil society to shift the paradigm and to create another possible world. In particular the “Widening circle” initiative, which aims to catalyse the creation of a global citizens movement, seems promising: part of the “great transition movement”, a growing group of senior intellectuals and activists wants to connect the various people’s struggles like Arab or Marble Spring, Occupy or Indignados beyond their topical or geographical limitations through a international membership organisation – like a global justice union or party. While the name is maybe a little enigmatic (why not rather something like “citizens without borders”?), this initiative, about to kick off to a new phase in the coming months, certainly merits followup.

The night is still very dark, but dawn will come. The question is when. This depends also on us, I suppose.

PS: Check also out the report “The learning we want” from our Rio People’s Summit round table on “Empowering Future – Education as key for a just and sustainable world”, and a analysis of the Rio+20 outcomes from civil society perspective (with a special focus on education) by CONCORD board member Rilli Lappalainen on YouTube.

Is education a bad thing?

Schooling the WorldI just watched an amazing film, “Schooling the World“, which basically says that school education isn’t an answer to problems of poverty or “development” (whatever this is) but actually is the major problem. Modern school education would disconnect children from sustainable livelihoods and pull them with a false promise of progress and western style careers into misery and isolation. It’s purpose would be to dominate, homogenise culture and people and to serve the interests of a global economy.

Among the inspiring protagonists in the film, there is Manish Jain from Shikshantar – The People’s Institute for Rethinking Education and Development, who says:

“What’s amazing to me is that people who are claiming to be concerned with social justice, don’t see the huge kind of social hierarchy and inequity that is created through modern education.”

Lot’s of things to think about in this film. Is education a bad thing? How can we get back to a system that values learning in all its form over conformist curricula? Shall we send “every child to school” (as claims the Education For All initiative by the UN, strongly criticised in the film) – no matter what are the consequences? What do you think?

(PS: You can download the film – 60 min – from the website)

Can the People write the next Global Development Goals?

How to crowd source the sustainable development goals (or whatever post-MDG beyond 2015 development goals will look like) – asks Joe Mitchell in his highly interesting blog on “Global Governance 2.0″.

How can citizens all over the world participate in a meaningful way in global governance processes? Wouldn’t board grassroots participation in the writing of the next MDGs the ultimate demonstration of active global citizenship? How can global learning contribute to facilitate citizen participation in governance processes? How can “Global Civil Society” become more than an anaemic and institutional network of INGOs? Which tools (such as LiquidFeedback – intensively used by the German Pirate Party for grassroots participatory decision making) can be set up to organise such a huge and complex undertaking like crowd sourcing global goals? And, if crowd sourcing is a way to go, how to overcome the digital divide?


PS: These are busy times, and I’m sorry not having kept the enthusiastic publication rhythm on this blog. But there are some interesting ideas in the pipeline, including a critical reflection on the EP campaign, a post-colonial critique of the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development and sone thoughts on our representation of the world. I’ll keep you posted – and thanks to all visitors, commentators and followers!


101 MEPs sign declaration on development education…

… but do they know what they are signing? At DEEEP and CONCORD, I am part of the team that is currently campaigning for a European Parliament “written declaration on development education and active global citizenship“. There is still a long way to go to convince a majority of MEPs (377!) to sign the declaration, which “calls on the Commission and the Council to develop a long-term, cross-sectoral European strategy for development education, awareness-raising and active global citizenship” (see very useful background paper by the EP library here). How to engage with these usually very busy deputies, who deal with a broad range of issues and, in their overwhelming majority, never heard of development education before? We produced a number of postcards in all 23 EU languages, showing a Peters projection of the world, South up, and playing with the aspect of changing perspectives and questioning representation. However, what proved to be more effective, was playing with them: We went from office to office with a Earth balloon and proposed to take pictures. Who doesn’t want to hold the world in the hands? It raised interest, and sometimes even some more substantial exchange with MEPs emerged from this situation. But it is result driven campaigning, not development education what we are doing. Let’s hope it helps, anyway…

MEP Gabriele Zimmer, head of EP GUE group, supports development education

MEP Gabriele Zimmer, head of EP GUE group, supports development education

HEADS UP checklist
By Vanessa de Oliveira (Andreotti)

Vanessa de OliveiraWe proudly present the first guest post on this Blog: Vanessa  de Oliveira, Global Education chair at the University of Oulu, Finland, writes about a new educational tool – HEADS UP – which was created as a response to the Kony2012 discussions (see also previous post “Kony2012: The devil is on YouTube“).
Big thanks to Vanessa for sharing this inspirational text!

HEADS UP checklist
Uncomplicated solutions

by Vanessa de Oliveira (Andreotti)

HEADS UP is an educational tool to help people engage critically with local and global initiatives created to address problems of injustice. It is based on the principles that, if we want to work towards ideals of justice, we need to understand better the social and historical forces that connect us to each other.

For example, if people saw many young children drowning in a river, their first impulse would probably be to try to save them or to search for help. But what if they looked up the river and saw many boats throwing the children in the water and these boats were multiplying by the minute? How many different tasks would be necessary to stop the boats and prevent this from happening again? I suggest there are at least four tasks: rescuing the children in the water, stopping the boats from throwing the children in the water, going to the villages of the boat crew to understand why this is happening in the first place, and collecting the bodies of those who have died – honoring the dead by remembering them and raising awareness of what happened. In deciding what to do, people would need to remember that some rescuing techniques may not work in the conditions of the river, and that some strategies to stop the boats may invite or fuel even more boats to join the fleet – they may even realize that they are actually in one of the boats, throwing children with one hand and trying to rescue them with the other hand. Therefore, I suggest that education, more than the media, should help people in the task of learning to ‘go up the river’ to the roots of the problem so that the emergency strategies down the river can be better informed in the hope that one day no more boats will throw children in the water. Going up the river means asking questions such as: What creates poverty? How come different lives have different value? How are these two things connected? What are the relationships between social groups that are over-exploited and social groups that are over-exploiting? How are these relationships maintained? How do people come to think and relate like this? What are the roles of schooling in the reproduction and contestation of inequalities in society? What possibilities and problems are created by different stories about what is real and ideal in society? When do institutionalized initiatives, such as the human rights declaration or military interventions, become helpful in promoting justice and when do they help reproduce the problems they are trying to address? If people believe in the human rights declaration, does it mean they are good people and not part of the problem? How would people respond if they realized that bringing justice to others meant going against national/local interests? Why and for whose benefit are relationships among people framed through and mediated by the Nation States identified in their passports?

HEADS UP was designed as a possible entry point to these types of questions. It proposes that if education is to prepare people to engage with the complexity, plurality, inequality and uncertainty of our inter-dependent lives in a finite planet, we need to ‘raise our game’ and expand the legacy of possibilities that we have inherited:
– we need to understand and learn from repeated historical patterns of mistakes, in order to open the possibilities for new mistakes to be made
– we need more complex social analyses acknowledging that if we understand the problems and the reasons behind them in simplistic ways, we may do more harm than good
– we need to recognize how we are implicated or complicit in the problems we are trying to address: how we are all both part of the problem and the solution (in different ways)
– we need to learn to enlarge our referents for reality and knowledge, acknowledging the gifts and limitations of every knowledge system and moving beyond ‘either ors’ towards ‘both and mores’
– we need to remember that the paralysis and guilt we may feel when we start to engage with the complexity of issues of inequality are just temporary as they may come from our own education/socialization in protected/sheltered environments, which create the desire for things to be simple, easy, happy, ordered and under control

HEADS UP aims to support people in moving from naive hope towards skeptical optimism and ethical solidarities where we learn to face humanity, the world and our place in it without fear and with courage and strength to go through the difficulties and discomforts of confronting our past legacies and current inequalities in order to pluralize the possibilities for living together in the present and the future. Ultimately, this is about remembering how to love, to be open, and to be taught in a plural world where justice starts with the forms of relationships we are able to create.

HEADS UP is a checklist that can be used to start conversations about local/global initiatives (documentaries, campaigns, articles, teaching resources, etc) that may inadvertently reproduce seven problematic historical patterns of thinking and relationships:

HEGEMONY (justifying superiority and supporting domination): 1a)does this initiative promote the idea that one group of people could design and implement solutions for everyone? 1b) does this initiative invite people to think about its own limitations and insufficiencies?

ETHNOCENTRISM (projecting one view as universal): 2a) does this initiative imply that anyone who disagrees with what is proposed is immoral or ignorant? 2b) does this initiative acknowledge that there are other logical ways of looking at the same issue?

AHISTORICISM (forgetting historical legacies and complicities): 3a) does this initiative introduce a problem in the present without reference to why it is like that and how ‘we’ are connected to that? 3b) does this initiative offer a complex historical analysis of the issue?

DEPOLITICIZATION (disregarding power inequalities and ideological roots of analyses and proposals): 4a) does this initiative present the problem/solution as disconnected from power and ideology? 4b) does this initiative acknowledge its own ideological location and offer a robust analysis of power relations?

SALVATIONISM (framing help as the burden of the fittest): 5a) does this initiative present people ‘in need’ as helpless victims of local violence or misfortunes and helpers or adopters as the chosen ‘global’ people capable of leading humanity towards its destiny of order, progress and harmony? 5b) does this initiative acknowledge that the desire to be better than/superior to others and the imposition of aspirations for singular ideas of progress and development have historically been part of the problem?

UN-COMPLICATED SOLUTIONS (offering easy solutions that do not require systemic change): 6a) does this initiative offer simplistic analyses and answers that do not invite people to engage with complexity or think more deeply? 6b)does this initiative offer a complex analysis of the problem acknowledging the possible adverse effects of proposed solutions?

PATERNALISM (seeking affirmation of superiority through the provision of help): 7a) does this initiative portray people in need as people who lack education, resources, civilization and who would and should be very grateful for your help? 7b)does this initiative portray people in need as people who are entitled to disagree with their saviours and to legitimately want to implement different solutions to what their helpers have in mind?

Questions type ‘a’ aim to identify the reproduction of the patterns in the checklist, questions type ‘b’ aim to identify awareness of and challenges to those patterns. It is important to acknowledge that many initiatives may do both at the same time (in different ways). It is also important to recognize that in any initiative/resource it will be very difficult to move completely beyond those patters – and this is due to our historical conditioning, specially when it comes to mass communication or institutional politics. For example, if a media campaign was to break with these patterns all at once, it will probably become un-intelligible for most people, and therefore it would be an ineffective campaign. The aim of HEADS UP is not to find a perfect ultimate solution for engaging with global issues, but to support people with the on-going wrestling with concepts and contexts, choices and implications, that we face every day as teachers and learners working towards deeper and more ethical ways of relating to others and to the world.

I hope HEADS UP can be useful in your context and I look forward for your comments. Vanessa de Oliveira

Kony2012: The devil is on YouTube

You might have heard the buzz: An American NGO, “Invisible Children”, wants to make Joseph Kony famous is order to arrest him. Joseph Kony is an Ugandan war criminal charged in particular for kidnapping children and abusing them as child soldiers in his “Lord’s Resistance Army”. The young activists get George Cloney, George W. Bush and other celebrities on board, they make this highly emotional viral video, watched by millions on youtube, they mobilise young people to demonstrate, wear bracelets, talk to friends and family and write to politicians. Millions of young people in US and elsewhere get interested in an issue far away, and they feel they have a responsibility and power to act. Impressive.
From a development education point of view, this should be rejoicing. Is this finally an approach to have real impact, to link values, awareness, knowledge and skills to actually empower people to change something? Unfortunately, not really. There is something very weird about the movie, the campaign and the people behind it – the NGO “Invisible Children”.
The founders of Invisible Children posing with guns alongside members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army  (c) Glenna Gordon

The founders of Invisible Children posing with guns alongside members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army for fun, bored during 2008 peace talks (c) Glenna Gordon

Look at the picture of the three brave justice fighters, and you’ll know what I mean. The movie, using the directors infant son as main character, is highly “emotionally manipulative”, as puts it Glenna Gordon, who took the gun picture. And there’s growing criticism about the film in Uganda, where screenings inflame the audiences, tells the Wall Street Journal, because of its black and white narrative, portraying Kony as the ultimate evil, neglecting the complexity and causes of the conflict as well as its victims, and calling for an American military intervention. An isolated issue, the detention of a war criminal, is elevated to a paradigm shift: “If we succeed, we change the course of human history.” Unfortunately, this won’t be the case: While it would be certainly a good thing that Kony faces justice, this won’t change the underlying causes of conflict, and numerous other wars would continue, including the ones conducted by the US. But millions of supporters would have the impression that they have done their share, and the substantial systemic causes of exploitation, conflict and growing global injustice and inequalities will persist.
Development education is something else: Confronting complexity, empower people to ask questions, to question assumptions, to take action and responsibility in their own societies, conscious about global interdependencies, and aware that there are no simple solutions. The feeling to contribute to hunting down a presumed devil far away in Africa will not change the course of human history.
See also a great article on on how to use the Kony2012 buzz “to teach our youth about real global solidarity”:
“There is no doubt that Kony and people like him are war criminals and deserve to be captured. But it is wrong to mislead our kids who sincerely desire global justice to believe that this campaign to capture Joseph Kony is doing the right thing.”

Global Skills – for what?

Which skills are needed for living and working in a global economy? Since some years, the discussion on skills and competences penetrates education (see, for example, European Commissions reference framework “Key competences for livelong learning” or the most recently renewed “European agenda for adult learning”) – and with globalisation came “global skills”.

However, the skills agenda, including the discussion on „global skills“ seems to be highly dominated by economic, and in particular neo-liberal thinking based on notions such as growth, competition and employability. From this viewpoint, education is regarded mainly as (collective or individual) investment, which is “lost” without any measurable return on investment, such as employment with highest possible pay. So states a UNESCO/British Council seminar report on “Skills for Work, Growth and Poverty Reduction” (sic!) already in the second paragraph of the foreword that “if young people cannot acquire the skills they need for the labour market when they finish school, the investment in primary education may be wasted”. To my opinion, this is a very dangerous view: It reduces education and the acquisition of skills to the requirements of the market (no matter if the learner actually wants to be part of this market) and leaves alone the aspect of personal (and collective) development as purpose of education. The school education of people outside the formal labour market (such as housewives, open source IT developers, volunteers etc) would be useless according to this view, as they are not seeking market based pay for their work.

Furthermore, it seems that the global skills agenda is “hijacked” by actors who’s main motivation is certainly not the transformation of the current exploitative system, but profit and economic competitiveness. So expects the German Employers Association its employees to have “integrated thinking and knowledge about world economics and ecology, as well as [..] a stable set of values, feel empathy and be interculturally competent.”. PriceWaterhouseCoopers claims that people should “be socially aware, possess intercultural communication skills, be thoughtful, committed to accountability and above all compassionate” (quoted by Doug Bourn in a report on “Global Skills”).

What Global Skills are these, that are so appreciated by German employers and a multinational company that has as one of three main activities “tax advisory” (a nice euphemism for tax evasion)? Can you feel empathy, be socially aware, compassionate etc while doing big business as usual?