I’ve long had a fascination with maps and I’ve hoarded them all my life. I keep scrappy tourist maps of distant cities, walking maps, and, best of all, ordnance survey maps of large swathes of our Island. Their precision and detail makes me wonder at the ingenuity of humanity every time I use them. Please may the SatNav, GPS or smart phone never replace them entirely.
Perhaps the most interesting things about maps, however, is what is absent on them. When thinking about global learning, I find maps a useful metaphor for terrain and representation: for so many people, and schools, the map of the world is a starting point to think about global issues, and we all map the world mentally from our own country and context.
See an enterprising Oxfordshire secondary teacher’s shower-curtain world map with myself in the foreground, and the original image on their fb page here. She claims it cost £11.99 on amazon and it was among her top resources.
The government has recently changed the landscape of global learning by allocating funding to embed it in schools, purportedly 50% of English state schools over the next 5 years. A worthy ambition, and apparently it’s going well, several months in. The GLP offers cash and expertise support for schools to form local learning networks to enhance global learning in a whole-school way. More about the global learning programme here.
A key aim of the GLP is to take learners beyond a simplistic understanding of developing countries as poor and deserving of pity and charity, implying that we in this country are lucky and superior. This is a worthy aim, but I feel that in some ways the current ‘terrain’ of global learning stops short of addressing the increasing number of children learning in incredibly global and diverse contexts in our cities and what this means for them.
What I frequently see is suburban, provincial or rural contexts mapping global learning as teaching white British children to see outside their own environments and learn empathy with and understanding of the rest of the world. It’s seen as a revelation that other cultures have similarities with ours and that communication and common humanity can win out. It’s exemplified by this Connecting Classrooms film here.
I work in London where, according to the last census, 1 in 3 of us were born outside the UK, and according to the BBC 300 different languages are spoken in London schools, suggesting large numbers of children don’t speak much English at home. Here is a fascinating interactive map provided by data.london.gov, which does not do anything so crass as to provide a blunt number of languages spoken overall by London school pupils, suffice to say a large number of London’s children speak English at school and other languages at home. Mulgrave primary, which is hosting the fantastic ‘Global Voices’ event in June, please forgive the plug, represents 46 language speakers among its pupil body.
These children probably know more about different parts of the world than most of the teachers do, and are well beyond the concept that some countries are ‘poor’ and need pity and charity. For them, global learning is probably a daily experience of integrating school and home, travelling between two worlds and two cultures every day. For white British children, the experience of learning alongside children who bring such difference into the classroom must be equally engaging, or perhaps strange.
I wonder if a possible key to global learning in a highly diverse context is addressing difference and different ways of seeing and thinking. I can think of some ideas which are outside the usual canon:
1. Discussing how the way you speak channels and influences the way we think, or what we can say; discussing how gender is treated in different languages and how English is a relatively genderless language. Does this mean that we have a more gender-neutral society? Colours in different languages can be different, as are ideas about love and life.
2. Mapping family relationships as they really are in your own country, rather than in the euro-centric ‘Mummy-Daddy-baby’ nuclear family model. Many African cultures barely distinguish between siblings and cousins, for example, and in Asia it may be common to be largely brought up by grandparents if parents are both working.
3. Discussing different physical behaviour in different cultures, which can be a great way to link with other important discussions about appropriate touching, etc. In southern Europe, children are treated physically like babies until a later age: they are picked up, tickled, pinched, cuddled and will sit on adults’ laps until they are at least 8 or 9, while in the UK children have much more physical autonomy at a younger age, and no-one would cuddle a child they didn’t know well over the age of about four. If children discuss how their friends and family members behave with them in a safe discussion context, it may also flag up where culturally-appropriate treatment of children may cross the line into something social services may need to know about.
4. Being explicit about how living in different cultures can be difficult, can stress children more than their indigenous classmates, and can indeed change who they are. Children who are bi-lingual might like to talk about whether they have different personalities in their two languages, or if they think their family-members do.
5. When I worked in China I addressed the concept of culture and nation in family terms with my highly brainwashed and nationalistic students. You love your parents, but you may also see their faults and you don’t expect others to love them. The love is personal, individual and unconditional. It does not mean, however, that you can’t see your parents’ faults, and they yours. If we treat our cultures and our diverse cultural allegiances in the same critical way, can we become better citizens or sit easier as someone belonging to more than one culture?
6. David Selby was a fantastic global educator back in the days when multiculturalism was less prevalent and our education system was less chaotic. Unfortunately for us, he emigrated to Canada, but here is a downloadable piece of his work with lots of diversity-relevant, anti-discriminatory, ground-breaking tolerance and anti-racism activities which could be used with a wide age-range. Some of them are truly risky activities for today’s climate, if you try them in your class please share experiences! Promise to put all responses on my blog and Facebook page.
Global learning can in these various ways flow into every area of both the curriculum, and a ‘broad and balanced’ learning experience generally, taking the global into the personal and showing pupils in fact how very global they are. In fact, if we are to educate children for the future, one of the things that we can probably be almost certain of is that global interrelationships and globalisation are going to intensify and increase over time, not lessen: could it be said that global learning is very very far beyond a charity mentality and in fact encompasses all areas of good education practice.
In some ways I’ve developed these ideas through the very global life I’ve lived. I spent two years in Papua Guinea as a toddler: monsoons, rainforests and people dressed in mud were among my first memories. As an adult I sometimes managed to ‘pass’ as an Italian such was my integration into Northern Italian culture: probably the closest I came to the immigrant experience. On VSO in China I lived with enormous cultural differences every day, and never ‘passed’ for a moment: those differences still shocked me on a regular basis, but they were always rich stimulus for working with my Chinese students, to whom cultural diversity was almost unknown.
These global experiences have made me happy to settle and put down roots in South East London, and to love the ground I walk on and plant my vegetables in, for I have seen how much the whole world is reflected in a raindrop and how deeply interconnected the people and our beautiful planet are. Making a map of this kind of learning would make a mockery of it.
footnote: information on London’s ethnic landscape accessed on the ONS website here