Should schools teach national over global values?

19 Mar 2017 |

Globalisation has made the world a smaller place and given us something of an emerging global identity.

While its achievements are widely acknowledged – not least lifting millions of people out of poverty – globalization is increasingly under fire for creating new economic inequalities which are leaving large swathes of the world’s population disenfranchised.

We have seen populist movements riding on the coat-tails of public discontent, re-introducing a greater focus on national values and a strong national identify.

The perception that there is a need to reinforce what’s best about a country has been reflected in initiatives such as the UK Department of Education’s mandatory promotion of British values in schools, or the Australian government’s introduction of fundamental values to govern schooling down-under.

The question is if this reversal in approach – from teaching global to national values – will be better in terms of creating the global citizens of the future.

These were the arguments made during this Debate Chamber at the Global Education & Skills Forum 2017:

For: Schools should teach national values over global values

1. There’s no such thing as universally accepted values

Lutfey Siddiqi, visiting Professor at London School of Economics, said values vary widely across the globe and depend on a broad range of circumstantial factors. Capital punishment, liberal democracy, racial housing quotas in Singapore and banning hijabs are all examples, he said, of values which work in some cultural contexts but not in others.

For a period of time, globalization advocates have strongly imposed the notion of global values over national ones, and although well-meaning, Professor Siddiqi believes this thrust has led to polarization.

Those who have sided with populist movements and choices – from Brexiteers to those who voted for Donald Trump – are not a marginal group but a growing segment of society which has been neglected.

“We have created a slither of ‘uber elite’ who thrive on exclusivity, who keep on fighting global agenda issues, and forgetting things in our own backyard,” Siddiqi summarized. “That needs to be reset, which is why we need to reinforce national values.”

2. The nation state actually helps people from different backgrounds work together

Former UK education minister Michael Gove further built the case by stating that the best way to ensure that people from different backgrounds can work together is the nation state.
Advocating national values in education, he said, is not about being about celebrating the nation state and what is best about a country values.

But this should not be at the detriment of international cooperation: “Of course we want good relations horizontally across nations, but also need to build good horizontal relations at home,” Gove stressed.
Achieving this is not simply a matter of reinforcing a sense of rootedness. With growing inequality a source of the populist backlash, Gove said: “We need to shift the balance back to making nation states accountable.”

Against: Schools should not teach national values over global values

1. Universal global values clearly do exist

Arguing the case for global values in education, former Australian education and prime minister Julia Gillard – now chair of the Global Partnership for Education – and, Emiliana Vegas, Chief of Education Division at the Inter-American Development Bank, maintained that were a number of undeniable global values.

For example, peace, freedom and democracy, amongst others, were universally aspired to, and they should therefore have a place in education.

They argued that there is an underlying, common sense which enables people to value each other as human beings, and this is also enshrined in many international conventions, for example the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

2. History teaches us to think globally

There are many examples in history where the international community has come together to agree and act on universal values, including the fight against Apartheid in South Africa and the shooting of Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Julia Gillard said.

Pitching countries and their values against each other can never be successful; it is key to build consensus, and it will be critical for the international community to define a global set of global values that all nation states can use in their education.

Julia Gillard finished on her experiences travelling to Malawi with pop singer Rihanna, being impressed that the African schoolgirls they were meeting knew of Rihanna and were screaming her songs.
“The history of humanity is taking us to a more globalized and connected planet. Our values need to be values of the planet,” she concluded.

Which side won?

The audience was polled at the beginning and end of the Debate Chamber on its attitude towards teaching national over global values, and both results showed a significant lead for global values. However, support dropped by 10% between the initial (65%) and final polls (55%). The share of delegates who sided with teaching national values rose from 20% to 33%. Those who had remained undecided dropped from 14% to 12%.

Despite opposing views, the debate highlighted that national and global values – though highly debated and ill-defined – are certainly not mutually exclusive. In finding a middle ground, there may be a strong case for reinvigorating national values that are supported by broader global values.

If you missed out on the chance to cast your vote, just go to the GESF app and choose “Voting”.

The Global Education and Skills Forum is taking place on 18th and 19th March 2017 in Dubai, UAE, with the theme of “How do we make ‘real’ global citizens?”