Making the global goals our own

Global citizenship education should be central to efforts to encourage people to take ownership of the Sustainable Development Goals and make the next 10 years a true ‘Decade of Action’, writes Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter


The start of the last decade of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides an important moment for reflection on what we have achieved to date and how far we have still to go in achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, took the opportunity to call for a ‘Decade of Action’ to accelerate sustainable solutions to ‘the world’s biggest challenges, ranging from poverty and gender to climate change, inequality and closing the finance gap’. He emphasized action on three levels: global, securing greater leadership and resources for the SDGs; local, embedding solutions in policies, budgets and regulatory frameworks; and people, in order to generate an ‘unstoppable movement’ for transformation.

Progress has been made on many fronts since the SDGs were launched in 2015, with governments integrating them into national strategies, and civil society and young people, in particular, increasingly involved in lobbying for change. The opportunities are enormous, but there remain some substantial challenges. Among these are social and economic exclusion, poverty, violence, radical extremism, cybercrime and fake news, pollution and climate change. Responding to these challenges demands individuals who are tolerant and able to live cooperatively with others, who judge critically, who are ethical users and producers of digital information, and who are actively involved in finding solutions to these problems, both locally and globally. This is why the importance of global citizenship education (GCED) is increasingly recognized. It represents a means for individuals to learn to be active in a culture of human rights, justice, democratic values and sustainability.

GCED is not new, of course, but, thus far, the emphasis has been, overwhelmingly, on schools and formal education. The scale of the above-mentioned challenges means that this is no longer sufficient. Rising to them requires adults who are engaged, informed and capable of acting as agents of change, at home, at work, in the community and at national and international levels. We must do more to raise awareness of the fact that citizenship education requires a lifelong learning perspective and plays a key role in adult learning and education (ALE).

UNESCO’s fourth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education, published in 2019, showed how far we have to go. It found very low participation in citizenship education in ALE. Some 36% out of 132 countries responding to the question reported no participation in citizenship education. The report stressed that greater acknowledgement of the role of citizenship education in ALE is needed in order to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

lt is against this background that the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong learning (UIL), together with UNESCO’s Asia Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding (APCEIU), initiated a joint project to raise awareness of the potential of ALE in promoting GCED.

Its first major output was a summary report on Addressing Global Citizenship Education in Adult Learning and Education. This publication focuses on developments and challenges in global citizenship education in ALE. It examines the competences needed for adults to act as global citizens, to learn to live together in a cohesive way and to drive the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development forward, and it sets out the key competences required by adult educators, making a case for better training in GCED. Examples of successful curricula include the German Curriculum GlobALE, which could be adapted and used worldwide.

Acknowledging the role of adult education in empowering individuals to build just and sustainable societies, the report highlights the critical importance of entry and access points for ALE, such as cultural centres and libraries, in strengthening GCED opportunities for adults. It also emphasizes the value of flexible and context-specific provision, particularly in working with vulnerable and marginalized groups such as migrants and refugees.

UIL and its partners will develop further research with the aim of contributing to the mainstreaming of citizenship education in adult education provision. As the Secretary-General suggests, the urgency and ambition required to deliver the SDGs depends very largely on people’s capacity to push for the required transformations and recognize their shared responsibility for the world in which we live.

Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter is a Programme Specialist at the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning

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