Schools should teach global rather than national values – yes or no?

14 Mar 2017 |

Welcome to the Global Education & Skills Forum 2017 Debate Chamber. This debate will see both sides argue the importance of global and national values in education. But what case might each side make at Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai? 

Is national identity an accident of birth or a fundamental part of who we are? Is global citizenship just propaganda pedalled by globalisation advocates, or a genuine way of increasing self-awareness and engagement on critical issues?

With the potential for heated debates over which set of values brings the most benefit to children and young people’s lives, two sides will argue the below viewpoints at the Global Education & Skills Forum 2017 in the hope of coming up with a real answer.

The case for teaching national values

  1. The need for a local identity in an increasingly global world

Many supporters of populist of movements such as the election of Donald Trump and Brexit express concerns over mass migration’s effect on their national identity.

While opponents might regard this as putting up barriers against other cultures – literally in the case of US president Donald Trump and his mission to build a wall along his country’s southern border with Mexico – the teaching of national values isn’t necessarily isolationist or a rejection of other cultures.

Instead, national values can root people in their local communities and help them understand where they stand in an increasingly global world.

  1. In education, national values highlight what is best about a country

In Australia, for example, the Government has identified Nine Values for Australian Schooling (PDF document), which include values such as Care and Compassion, Integrity, and Understanding, Tolerance and Inclusion.

Likewise in the UK the Department for Education in 2014 introduced rules making the promotion of British values in schools mandatory. The fundamental British values are defined as: democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty; mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.

There are few who would argue that the promotion of such values are a bad thing, and it is clear that teaching these values wouldn’t lead to the rejection of other cultures.

However, for some, in practice taking a national values approach can lead to the rejection of other cultures, and a diminishing of their value to society.

For example, the UK government’s promotion of British values in the English Literature syllabus has meant more British authors being taught at the expense of teaching classic novels such as John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Harper Lee’s To Kill and Mockingbird – attracting criticism from teachers and authors alike.

A similar approach to the teaching of History in UK schools, focussing mainly on English history, was rejected after sustained opposition from teachers and academics, forcing a redrafting of the curriculum to include more world history.

The case for teaching global values

  1. It is the best way of tackling global issues

Recent global events such as the election of Donald Trump and the UK Brexit vote to leave the European Union have been regarded by many as a reaction against globalisation.

However, for supporters of global values they represent the surest way of overcoming many of the world’s problems, including those experienced by those who apparently voted against globalisation in the US and UK.

In a 5,700 word letter passionately supporting global values, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg describes 2017 as significant moment in history, saying that the past teaches us that we must “come together to solve our challenges and accomplish greater things than we could alone”.

For supporters of global values, this coming together begins in the classroom.

  1. It increases self-awareness among students

Teaching global values promotes greater self-awareness and awareness of others among students. As this post on the GlobalHigherEd blog points out, self-awareness “enables students to identify with the universalities of the human experience, thus increasing their identification with fellow human beings and their sense of responsibility toward them”.

A global values approach to education helps challenge stereotypes and give learning “meaning” by grounding lessons in “real life” scenarios, according to international relief agency Oxfam.

A good example of this is Global Teacher Prize 2016 top 10 finalist Michael Soskil. He believes students need meaningful emotional connections to learn, and uses the internet to help connect his pupils in the US with other students around the world.

For example, in one project Michael’s pupils created videos to teach mathematics to Kenyan children who, in return, taught them Swahili.

His students connected with over 70 countries (plus the International Space Station) in one year, and in every year that he has been head teacher his school has exceeded state test averages, despite being located in a deprived area.

The answer is…

For those at the extreme ends of the debate, national values and global values are diametrically opposed. We must be raising either global citizens or national ones, but never both.

However, it does seem that there is a middle ground up for grabs.

In his rallying cry for globalisation, Zuckerburg points out that building a global community requires “millions of smaller communities”.

Rather than erasing national identity, global values should support local and national values.

To help young people best understand their place in the world, they need to understand both the values of the communities and nations they find themselves in, and the global context of those values.

Which side will prevail? Find out by attending the Debate Chamber at the Global Education and Skills Forum 2017, taking place in Dubai on 18th and 19th March. Find out more here.