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[APCEIU Insights] (No.2) Reflecting on Global Citizenship Education in the Era of the Pandemic
  • 27/05/20
Reflecting on Global Citizenship Education in the Era of the Pandemic
PAK Soon-Yong (Professor, Department of Education, Yonsei University)
With the World Health Organization's official declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic on March 12, 2020, the scope and speed of the formidable virus have brought about a halt in the daily life of the global village amidst lingering fear in an unprecedented scale. 
Compared to the recent past experiences of the Zika (2014) and Ebola (2014-2016) viruses, which were also very infectious but regional as they affected mostly Latin America and West Africa and thus did not call for the declaration of a pandemic, the far-reaching case of COVID-19 has brought about an entirely different situation characteristic of a true pandemic. 
We are indeed witnessing a real and ongoing global crisis as of May 2020. Moreover, a true cause for concern is at hand if we are to take heed of the warnings from the medical community that COVID-19 may be but one of a series of outbreaks of highly infectious collective contamination cases reaching a pandemic scale to follow in the near future. Because the impact of the pandemic is not confined to health issues but causes ramifications in all spheres - including economy, society, politics, and culture - the global community is at a critical juncture where accelerated changes in social and organizational paradigms are called for in the coming months and years. 
Relevance of GCED
With regard to Global Citizenship Education (GCED), the timeliness of the pandemic has made it all the more relevant despite the closing down of borders and a shift toward parochial tendencies. Upon first glance, GCED may sound ironic given the present situation where schools delay the start of a new semester and rely on untact online classes even when they are open. 
However, if we recall that GCED has emerged in recent years amid the growing need for a conceptual framework for educational practices that address the global concerns on the future of humanity, the discussion on how to converge educational values with global circumstances has become necessary more than ever before. This may actually be an opportune time to reflect on the meaning implicated in the term "global citizenship" and ponder the possibilities of GCED, which aims to nurture global citizenship based on school education. 
As is widely known, GCED began to draw the attention of the international community as the main discourse in education following United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon's Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) proclaimed in September 2012, which set forth "fostering global citizenship" as one of its three main priorities. Furthermore, international cooperation and commitment to action for realizing the initiative have been widely diffused with the inclusion of GCED as a key target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proclaimed at the UN Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2015 and subsequently in the UNESCO Education 2030 Agenda adopted at the UNESCO General Conference in November of the same year. 
GCED Vision
Ultimately, UNESCO aims to create a universal, global educational paradigm that is suitable for the "age of the global village" by helping countries integrate GCED into their educational policies and embrace it as an educational mandate of the global community. Core values that run through the definition and role of GCED can be found in "Learning to Live Together" and "Teaching Respect for All," which are emphasized by UNESCO. 
According to UNESCO, GCED is "a framing paradigm that encapsulates how education can develop the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes learners need for securing a world which is more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable. It also acknowledges the role of education in moving beyond the development of knowledge and cognitive skills to build values, soft skills, and attitudes among learners that can facilitate international cooperation and promote social transformation." 
Nevertheless, GCED is not an entirely new creation that came into being all of a sudden under the above-mentioned international initiatives. 
In the Republic of Korea, the term "global citizenship" began to appear in the 7th National Curriculum adopted in 1997 to nurture the desirable orientation of the educated person. In addition, a large share of major topics and contents of the learning objectives of GCED had already been covered in depth in the form of peace education, multicultural education, environmental education, and human rights education for quite a long time in Korea. Such learning contents and activities could be found not only within the schools but also in lifelong education institutions, NGOs, and civil society organizations. 
In this respect, GCED should be regarded less as a means to deliver packaged information, but rather be taken as a series of processes that bring together dispersed efforts by multiple parties in different regions and at different levels so as to address concerns on the future of the earth and humanity. Such an approach may allow more effective and coordinated responses to various forms of global crises. In short, the ultimate vision for GCED is to converge parochial efforts to this end so that the global community can search for a common path that will allow educational solutions to emerge. 
To this day, there have been ongoing debates among various actors in academia and civil society concerning the plausibility of the "global citizen" concept. It is commonly understood that the concept of global citizenship was conceived from an imaginary sense of solidarity, which transcends spacial, racial, ideological, and linguistic boundaries across regions and states. However, contradictions harboured in the concept of the "global citizen" have been pointed out more often than not. 
Reconciling the Conflicted
The concept of the "global citizen" presupposes "globalization," a term which manifests both universality and fragmentalization. Such an inherent contradiction within the concept is therefore an unavoidable feature as it encompasses both widespread expansion of, and resistance toward, globalization across far-reaching regions. Furthermore, the most frequently raised issue about the conceptualization of global citizenship is whether the identity of the "global citizen" among individuals could be possible in the absence of a globally governing political structure in the form of a substantive entity. This is also directly related to the problem of how to compromise the cultivation of national citizenship - which is considered as a primary goal in state-led school education - with global citizenship in a post-state, trans-boundary context. 
It should be pointed out, however, that oversimplifying the usage of the term "global" forces us to think in a manner based on the binary opposition of "nation" vs. "world," which may only incite further misunderstanding of the concept. Conversely, the term calls for our attention to a need to establish a coherent concept by reconciling the seemingly conflicting combination of the "global," a trans-boundary concept, and "citizenship," which is based on a bounded exclusive collective identity. 
To this end, we need to treat the concept "citizenship" not at the dimension of national identity anchored on an exclusive membership, but with a focus on the sense of responsibility and duty that lead to proper action. In other words, if people conceive the meaning of citizenship around the notion of civic duty instead of civic identity, the term "global citizen" will not appear as disjointed. 
Civic duty, which is usually mentioned at the national level, means that individuals extend voluntary commitments and perform duties for the greater cause of the collective they belong to. In this regard, it represents the code of action that puts the community first before individuals, and others before one's own self. 
To apply civic duty to the wider concept of global citizen, we can posit individuals who empathize with global challenges and fulfil duties for the greater cause of humanity as members of the global community. Therefore, global citizenship signifies the ethos embraced by individuals who do not cling to the exclusive collective identity and are willing to extend their boundary of relevance in order to respond to the conditions facing the global village. 
Global Paradigm Shift
Entering the 21st century, globalization has led to deepening regional interdependence and interconnectedness; an example is the operating principle of a Global Value Chain (GVC). It refers to the mode of global-level cooperation involved in the whole process of value chains from a product's design to production to promotion for sales. But, if a pandemic such as the COVID-19 crisis or a return to nationalism causes border closures, the connecting chains can crumble instantly, putting the whole sequence in a precarious condition. While GVC represents a material link among global actors, global citizenship represents a mental connection. In this context, global citizenship can be regarded as a product of globalization and, simultaneously, a mental mechanism in response to it. 
The post-COVID-19 world will be a new challenge, as we may witness a new global paradigm to emerge in terms of how we connect with one another. In this respect, GCED, as a conscious effort to exercise the duties of education in helping people attain multifaceted understandings and critical reflections on the conditions confronting humanity in the 21st century, has become all the more relevant. GCED can present significant educational implications for what should have priority, when we are pressed to select a path to secure human sustainability in times of urgent need for international cooperation, such as a pandemic. That is because GCED is oriented to respond to the contemporary era's call to fulfil the duties as members of the global village, and as global citizens, moving beyond immediate national and regional interests. 
Ultimately, GCED, as an umbrella concept, can shine by integrating diverse educational efforts to achieve a proper understanding of the conditions of humanity and to reflect on the limitations of the current educational terrain that is dominated by statism or nationalism. If it falls short in addressing these issues, it can quickly become relegated to superficial education propaganda, which produces an illusion of pursuing global common good, while still dwelling on the statist paradigm of thinking.
In the end, meaningful practice of GCED lies in mapping out a blueprint in the field of education that allows us to advance the awareness of the global community for collaborative responses to global challenges facing the world today and to realize common prosperity based on sustainability and righteousness. GCED forces us to rethink our priorities as it promotes educational values leading to conscious choices that forsake narrow-minded thinking and parochial selfishness centred on one's own culture. 
Finally, if GCED is to fulfil its manifested role to the fullest extent, it needs to expose the global community to the realities facing our times rather than resorting to simple idealism or imagined solidarity. The value of an abstract concept such as "global citizenship" can only become meaningful when it is followed by practices that GCED undergird. Only then will humanity have a fighting chance against global crises that threaten our very survival for decades to come. 
Professor PAK Soon-Yong teaches anthropology and education at Yonsei University. He also serves as the President of the Korean Society of Education for International Understanding (KOSEIU), the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Multicultural Education, and a member of the Governing Board of UNESCO-APCEIU.