Sunday, August 30, 2009

We Now Need Opportunities To Think

Some of you will be aware that I've been working my way through the new CIE IGCSE course on Global Perspectives, preparing resources for teaching it. It's a pretty interesting syllabus, and it's spiced up with material that looks like it's been taken directly from the IB. For example, on page 5 of the 2010 syllabus guide, you'll find this:


Young people in countries across the world face unprecedented challenges in the 21st century – not least in how they will come to terms with accelerating changes in that world, that will impact on their life chances and life choices.

The rationale behind this syllabus is to provide opportunities for enquiry into, and reflection on, those changes. A prime emphasis will be on developing the sorts of skills and dispositions of thinking that active citizens of the future will need.

This rationale accords not only with the international ethos that underpins all of the IGCSE syllabuses but also with the thinking expressed by UNESCO in its seminal reports on education:

Education must include activities and processes that encourage awareness of, and commitment to, the solutions of global problems. This should be done in such ways that people learn solutions are possible through cooperation at all levels – at the levels of individuals, organisations and nations.
— UNESCO (cited by Walker, 2002)

It should be particularly noted that developing awareness of this sort is not a question of how to get everybody to think identically. On the contrary, it is a matter of opening minds to the great complexity of the world and of human thought, and opening hearts to the diversity of human experience and feeling.

Students undertaking this course must consider the themes and issues from local, national and global angles whilst developing their own personal perspective.


It's obvious to me that this is nothing more than what internationalists have been saying all along, their voices now made more urgently commanding (some say 'shrill') by the weight of that huge and badly-defined phenomenon known as 'globalisation'. If the rationale behind this syllabus is indeed to provide opportunities for "enquiry into, and reflection on, these changes", then I can only mourn the fact that we live in an age when people need pre-packaged opportunities to think about life and the world around them.

Do we really need to have this syllabus? Or is it just a great sales opportunity thought up by the clever people who toil in that glass-fronted building along Hills Road in Cambridge? I used to pass by that building every day on the way to school, and wonder what these people did. I wonder no more.

It was at the last paragraph quoted, though, that I really began again to wonder about something. What are 'angles' and what is a 'perspective' in this context? If you consider all these "themes and issues from local, national and global angles", you are obviously considering them from someone else's perspective. This implies, therefore, that the students doing this subject have to learn how to synthesize their own point of view after examining other people's points of views.

And yet, here I am, synthesizing material from many different points of view so that people teaching this course will have a place on which to stand while shoehorning students into an acceptable frame of mind. It's one of life's little ironies, I suppose.

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