Posted by: lidcblog | October 24, 2011

Development education – what does it mean in 2011?

The beginning of a new academic year and the UN Development Information Day on 24 October offer a good opportunity to talk about development education – what we mean under this term, what value it carries, how it has evolved over the years, and, finally, what it means in the second decade of the 21st century.


Development education emerged in the 1960s and 1970s in response to the need to secure public legitimacy and support for aid and development. Since then in many European countries and beyond governments, NGOs and educational bodies have provided funding and developed resources for educational environments, particularly schools, on development and global issues.

However, despite the 2005 creation of the EU-supported document Consensus on Development Education, development education has been subject to political controversy. In the UK, the coalition government, despite its continued commitment to the 0.7% target on aid, has questioned the value of development education.

Behind these controversies are some difficult questions that all concerned with aid and development need to consider:
– How important is that the public needs to not only be aware and supportive of aid budgets, but also understand what is meant by those terms?
–  If there is an agreement that we need to eradicate global poverty, then surely we need to understand why it exists and why there are such inequalities in the world.
– Learning and understanding about development  is likely to raise questions about the role of aid, questions around social justice and how to secure global change.

This is where development education can come in. A criticism often made about initiatives such as ‘Make Poverty History’ in 2005 was that it may have raised awareness of global poverty, but it was ‘a mile wide but only an inch deep’ (see ‘Funding Frames – New Ways to Engage the UK Public in Global Poverty’ by Darnton and Kirk, published by BOND in 2011). Development education may have many interpretations, from Oxfam’s promotion of global citizenship to CAFOD’s education for global justice or English curriculum materials around the ‘Global Dimension’. Behind them all is a recognition of the need to demonstrate the connections between people’s lives in the UK with those in the global South, that it is more than merely gathering information about the MDGs for example.

At the Development Education Research Centre within the Institute of Education (IOE) and as partners within LIDC, we are committed to raising the debates about the value and contribution of development education to broader development questions and policies. To this end we are planning a conference on this theme in January 2012 (for further information please visit our website).

One example of our work in this area has been the publication of a major research report on ‘Geography and Development, the Contribution of Development Education to the Teaching of Geography in the School Classroom’. Written by Professor David Lambert and Dr. John Morgan from the Institute of Education, this publication suggests that geography can play a major role in learning about development, but that all too often it is taught as a topic in a neutral and economic form, and not addressing ideological questions about the purpose and value of aid and viewpoints of people from the South.

To me development education should be first and foremost an approach to learning about global and development issues. This can and should have many interpretations which in themselves are likely to be value-laden and related to wider political and organisational agendas.

With support for aid and development being questioned by aspects of the right-wing media, it could be argued that now is not the time to pose difficult questions. I would argue the opposite in fact, because without deeper understanding and opportunity to engage in debates around development, it is impossible for people come to their own conclusions.

This is why the Centre is currently engaged in a range of projects covering all sectors of education on bringing learning and understanding about development and global issues into the mainstream of learning, be it in the school classroom, the further education college or the university. For example, the Centre is currently running projects on embedding the Global Dimension within the training of all teachers at the Institute, encouraging further education colleges to include development issues within courses, and working with medics, vets and pharmacists within Bloomsbury Colleges and UCL on bringing global issues into the training of these professions, as part of the Students as Global Citizens project.

Learning and understanding about development and global issues should not be just the concern of development professionals with only a superficial covering elsewhere in society via media campaigns and fundraising. It is only through an informed and engaged citizenry that the role and purpose of development can be supported within the UK society. This is where development education comes in.

Contributed by Dr. Doug Bourn, Director of Development Education Research Centre; Editor of the International Journal for Development Education and Global Learning, Institute of Education


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