Getting it right – towards a rights based approach to education

Children are citizens, with specific characteristics and a potential to contribute to the collective like any other social group. This is not the credo of an obscure child-power movement, but international law of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which has been ratified by all UN member states but USA and Somalia. I learned this in my Development Education Master at the IOE/University of London, where I’m following Hugh Starkey’s module on citizenship, children’s rights and identities in this autumn term (see short youtube clip above).

If applied consequently, the effects of the Child Rights Convention on education would be massive: Schooling would need to put the child’s rights at the very centre of learning, and not presumed needs, which are often the needs of the institution or the economy. The essay below examines how the right to education, rights in education and rights through education can be applied in schools. The article concludes:

A qualitative shift towards a truly human rights based education has to be based on a broad public debate. This would include a shift in the collective mindset of seeing schools mainly as training camps for labour markets and social requirements towards a concept of social orchards stimulating the flourishing of varieties of humans which all play crucial roles in the social system. Schools can stimulate this process, but all of us have to embrace it in order to become meaningful.

Enjoy the reading!

Getting it right: Towards a rights based approach to education, based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

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

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.”

“Through other Eyes” – questioning or reproducing binaries?

The development education online resource “Through other Eyes”, designed by global education Professor Vanessa Andreotti and critical literacy Professor Lynn Mario de Souza, aims to help “learning to read the world”. The authors’ conception of global education is based on post-colonial theory, which questions interiorized ways of seeing the world in order to learn to live with uncertainty, complexity and multiple perspectives. However, there is the danger that the underlying colonial binary between “western” oppressors and “indigenous” oppressed perpetuates through the learning process in a reversed sense: The critical deconstruction of a normative progress based “western” worldview, might lead – though not being intended – to a normative elevation of “indigenous” knowledge.

The attached paper, submitted in the frame of the “Principles and Practices of Development Education” module in the DE Master at the Institute of Education/University of London, takes a closer look on the conflict between the supposed deconstruction and, in my view, the de facto reconstruction of cultural and moral binaries, and the possible fault lines that lead to this impression, despite the stated opposite intention of the authors. It uses a discussion paper on “Quality criteria in Development Education” by the German NGDO platform VENRO as analytical framework:

Through other Eyes – questioning or reproducing binaries

Enjoy the reading! As always, critical comments and feedback are appreciated.