Transformative global citizenship education: theory in practice

By Dr Phil Bamber, Associate Director of the Teacher Education for Equity and Sustainability Network


This blog provides a summary of published research available HERE or HERE.

Great expectations!

There are great expectations for Global Citizenship Education (GCE)! According to UNESCO, GCE is pivotal not only for meeting Target 4.7 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but also for ensuring quality education that promotes the knowledge, skills and values to meet the challenges identified across the SDGs. We increasingly hear calls for ‘transformative approaches’ to education (for instance within the 2015 Incheon Declaration) and manifestos have emerged for ‘transformative pedagogy for global citizenship’.  Examples of the latter include UNESCO’s 2014 publication ‘GCE: Preparing learners for the challenges of the 21st century’ and DEEEPs work on ‘Monitoring Education for Global Citizenship’ published in 2015. However, limited attention has been paid to the theoretical foundations underpinning transformative pedagogy for global citizenship, and there remains limited evidence of what this looks like in practice.

The research project

Given this renewed interest in GCE, it is important to develop theoretically informed and practically proven approaches for what we call ‘transformative GCE.’ This blog outlines a research project that attempted to do just that. It investigated the activities and experiences of a group of higher education tutors and students as they undertook a curriculum development project titled ‘International Experience for Engaged Global Citizens in Education’. Our starting point was that international travel was not required to nurture global citizenship (see my previous research on this available HERE or HERE). The initial phase of the project sought to develop understanding of the value of international experience in relation to notions of global citizenship, as experienced by undergraduates. This led to the development of a ‘framework for engaged global citizens in education’ and the subsequent development of interventions to internationalize the curriculum for all students at home.

Students as ‘co-producers’

The project brought together 8 academics from a range of disciplines and cultural backgrounds. They were joined by 11 undergraduate students to form a ‘conceptual steering group’ (CSG) for the project. The marketization of higher education has encouraged us to simply view the student as consumer: this project instead involved students as ‘co-producers’, with a particular focus on how relational aspects of learning among staff and students can help develop curricula that re-orientates higher education towards a public good. The student involvement in the project went way beyond simplistic notions of student voice. Students were included as co-inquirers through an innovative model of staff-student partnership. The CSG underwent a process of constructing and reviewing conceptual frameworks and curriculum interventions as a committed community of practice.

Theory in practice

Following the review of data analysis completed in phase 1, the CSG agreed that values and attitudes must lie at the heart of our framework for engaged global citizenship. Furthermore, we agreed that these values necessarily emerge through lived experience.  The values that we found to be significant in our phase 1 research included openness (to difference, the other, diversity), self-respect, an ease with uncertainty and a commitment to social change. Our understanding of how these values were nurtured drew upon theoretical notions of disorienting dilemmas/perspective transformation (Mezirow), distanciation (Gadamer/Ricoeur), existential homelessness (Heidegger) and liminality/threshold concepts (Meyer and Land). Our framework for engaged global citizenship is shared in the diagram below.

Framework for engaged global citizenship



The poverty of pre-specifying learning objectives

It is our view that this framework can only be fully appreciated when instantiated in specific learning contexts. At the heart of this approach to GCE are processes such as shared reflection, immersion, deliberation and exchange.  Nurturing values requires a learning process that interrupts conventional educational processes that are overly staged or structured. This can be contrasted with pedagogy and curriculum that pre-specify learning outcomes. For example, the curriculum objective of encountering the other may predispose the learner to simply confirm previously held suppositions.

The problem with educational frameworks

Our research highlights the problematic nature of educational frameworks (such as the Teaching Excellence Framework in the UK and the framework for ‘global competence’ in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment). Educational phenomena and processes (such as particular knowledge, skills and values) that are made explicit in such frameworks can easily become perverse ends in themselves.

Locating the transformative dimension of GCE

The main output of our project was supposed to be a framework for engaged global citizenship. However, we found that the transformative dimension of GCE was in fact located within the ongoing conversations between staff and students on the nature of GCE itself. Developing this framework enabled the project team (tutors and students) to consider their own relation to such frameworks. A process of doing and undoing; learning and unlearning was in fact the very process of learning that the framework sought to capture. Our experience on this project illustrates how education in general, and GCE in particular, must keep enquiry alive and remain open to new perspectives.


The full article ‘(Dis-) Locating the transformative dimension of global citizenship education’ is published in the Journal of Curriculum Studies and is available HERE or HERE.

This report was initially published on the #TeachSDGs blog.

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