Cerith Rhys-Jones says that the new body which will oversee all post-16 education across Wales is the perfect vehicle through which to implement a coherent strategy for the lifelong learning of global citizenship in Wales
In spring 2024, the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research will start its work as the planner, funder, and regulator of all post-16 education across Wales. Bringing together sixth forms, colleges, universities, work-based learning and adult community learning under one body is a significant change, and a golden opportunity to bring coherence to the way global citizenship education is delivered at all stages of life.
Indeed, the legislation which creates the Commission sets a number of statutory duties to guide the Commission in its work. Among them is a duty to promote a global outlook, a duty to promote a civic mission, and a duty due to promote lifelong learning. These duties, together with the Commission’s many other duties and functions, give us the platform we need to develop a joined-up approach to citizenship education for everyone in Wales.
Part of achieving that goal must surely be about shaking up the funding system. CTER, as it is known, will have one of the largest budgets in the entire Welsh public sector, second only to the NHS. If it is prepared to think radically about how its money gets used, there is a real opportunity to do things differently. Presently, our funding system focuses on, and cements the dominance of, full-time undergraduate education for three of four years, usually at ages 18-21 the start of life. Naturally, this funding environment drives and influences the behaviour of providers.
What needs improving?
Imagine, though, what could be achieved by shifting our thinking so that we no longer attempt to frontload all the skills and knowledge a person could possibly need for the rest of their life into a concentrated period in young adulthood between the ages of 18 and 21, but rather recognise that people already – and will continue, more and more – need to be able to develop, refine, and update their skills and knowledge all the way throughout life.
We can’t predict what the jobs of the future will be. We can’t predict what our society will look like, or what challenges the world – and our communities – will face. So, we need a lifelong learning system which ensures people can top up their knowledge at any age, in a multitude of settings, and at different speeds and intensities.
By using new methods, it will be possible to reach yet more learners and to promote an approach to citizenship education that goes beyond one location or specific geographical area, and instead allows learners to take a more global outlook and to hear from people from different backgrounds to themselves.
Practicing global citizenship education
It is also important that people are given the space to practise global citizenship. Practise, in this case, is meant in both senses of the words – to engage in it, and to keep trying to get it right. Creating that space means people need time and flexibility, and our education system should encourage people to take up opportunities that develop their capacity to think critically about key global issues and challenges and to share and receive knowledge. Put simply, it requires that flexibility be built into the system.
Equally important is the need to ensure that practitioners in post-16 settings are themselves equipped with the knowledge, skills, and, crucially, confidence to be able properly to deliver citizenship education to the education the learners in their settings. Doing this must surely include embedding relevant knowledge in initial training programmes as well as through flexible continuous professional development and through peer support.
The post-16 space is just one part of the equation, however. Achieving the goal of a truly lifelong framework for global citizenship education means we also need to create harmony and progression throughout a learner’s lifelong learning journey: throughout compulsory education and beyond into adulthood, on a pathway to ever improved global citizenship literacy and competence.
Implementing new methods
Harnessing the potential of online and flexible learning and teaching is an opportunity to do this. By using new methods, it will be possible to reach yet more learners and to promote an approach to citizenship education that goes beyond one location or specific geographical area, and instead allows learners to take a more global outlook and to hear from people from different backgrounds to themselves.
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Global citizenship should also be embedded as an Essential Skill, much like literacy and numeracy, and as a basic qualification for to learners on other adult learning and work-based learning programmes.
Further, in the spirit of social partnership and collaboration, those learning providers who are delivering citizenship education should be supported and encouraged to engage with a wide variety of bodies and organisations who have touch points in the lives of citizens. Think of housing associations, health and care providers, and many others: these kinds of bodies are the ideal places to provide routes into global citizenship.
People should have the opportunity to come together with other people, both in their own locality and further afield, to learn, discuss, and receive other perspectives.
Similarly, people should have the opportunity to come together with other people, both in their own locality and further afield, to learn, discuss, and receive other perspectives. These opportunities should be available in physical and online or other distance settings and should be freely available, and these should be supported and facilitated so that people are empowered to discuss change and their role in achieving it in a practical way.
With the creation of CTER, the commitment of the Welsh Government to education providers’ civic mission and the dual notion of ‘students as citizens’ and ‘citizens as students’, and the potential of the Curriculum for Wales, the ground is ripe to make real change possible.
By bringing together the right people and organisations, by being prepared to think creatively and boldly, and by harnessing our resources in an effective and efficient way, global citizenship education can become a reality for everyone in Wales.