Empowering young people throughout the Commonwealth to become active citizens is one of the goals of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth. Gertrude Shotte reports on its work

For almost five decades, the Council for Education in the Commonwealth (CEC), has concerned itself with improving international, multicultural and development education throughout the 53 member states which make up the Commonwealth of Nations. This aim is being accomplished by liaising with the Commonwealth secretariat and Commonwealth high commissions, cooperating with government departments in the UK and EU and collaborating with NGOs and professional bodies.

Considering the diversity that exists among the Commonwealth states, which account for approximately one third of the world’s population, this is indeed a challenging task. Little wonder that after 48 years CEC has decided that it is time for serious reflection. However, its deliberation is against the backdrop of a much wider framework.

Commonwealth Day

This is the annual celebration of the Commonwealth of Nations which is held on the second Monday of March. The commemoration aims to:

  • promote understanding of global issues
  • advance international cooperation 
  • improve the lives of the Commonwealth’s 1.7bn citizens. www.thecommonwealth.org

Why 2007?

The year 2007 marks an important landmark as far as education issues are concerned. It is approximately the midway point towards the Millennium Development Goals target date (2015). It is also four years into the UN Literacy Decade (2003-12), two years into the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-14) and one year after UNESCO’s Literacy Sustains Development year (2006). Additionally, 2007 seems a sensible time to revisit the principles of the Dakar Framework for Action (2000) with a view to reconfirming commitments to achieving Education for All by the year 2015.

It is within these local, national and global frameworks that the CEC spring conference held in early March was as timely as it was necessary.

Whole education

In a pre-conference discussion, Kees Maxey, CEC honourable secretary, raised the issue of identifying the main challenges facing education in the years ahead. Later, members were invited to review recent CEC contributions to education in the Commonwealth and to critically assess future plans. These included ways of empowering young people throughout the Commonwealth to become active citizens who are able to create opportunities for themselves and their communities.

Recognising the mammoth tasks facing the council in order to achieve these and other goals, Valerie Davey, CEC executive chairperson, questioned the organisation’s preparedness to contribute effectively to the challenges. She saw the conference as a ‘crucial time’ to examine how best CEC can contribute to the development and promotion of education. Davey suggested a ‘whole education approach’ for all levels of education for sustainable development.

This view reflects the gist of the guidelines stated in the National Curriculum for KS4 PSHE. It is this ‘whole education approach’, if used by teachers and other professionals effectively, that will help young people to become productive, participating citizens of the society. It is also a conduit that can help youths to realise their fullest potential and eventually to experience self-actualisation. Such an approach opens the way for youths to transcend cultural orientation and by so doing become contributing local, national as well as global citizens. A group or club setting is one sphere in which this brand of citizenry can be developed.

Commonwealth clubs

Funded by the DfES, the extra-curricular Commonwealth Clubs in Schools Project is one such scheme where youths can learn about:

  • valuing self 
  • respecting others 
  • understanding personal and social responsibilities.

The project, which targets students from ages 11-16 in full-time education, is very much in line with the National Curriculum’s themes for citizenship education. But youth organisations and community groups as well as teachers can get involved to enable wider participation within the local community.

At a time when modern technology and globalisation have reduced the world to a global village, it is vital for youths not only to find their own place in this global environment but also to learn about other youths in different places. The clubs can serve as an inspiration for students to participate in discussion of global issues and find out more about their counterparts from around the world. Through clubs, they can relate positively to young people from other nations and cultures. In the face of increasing migratory trends this is an important goal.

CEC reflections

Generally, young people’s knowledge of the Commonwealth and CEC fall into one of two categories – nil or negative notions. It was generally agreed among conference participants that there is need for more transparency and that schools should be able to see what the work of CEC entails. It was proposed that CEC activities should be broadened to include youth and teacher networks and that the effective use of technology could facilitate this since it is through electronic media that information is shared and exchanged.

Further information

Dr Gertrude Shotte is a lecturer in international development at the Institute of Education, University of London

This article was first published in Learning for Life, May 2007