Global Citizenship Education and Target 4.7: the Challenging Road Toward 2030

Global Citizenship Education and Target 4.7: the Challenging Road Toward 2030

Target 4.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aims at ensuring that by 2030 “all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable develop- Global Commons Review 2 s Spring 2018 s Cover s Contents s About Us 23 ment”. This is a tall order. Signatory countries have only 12 years to achieve this ambitious target, and in several of them it is possible to observe the rise of prejudice, extremism, xenophobia and hypernationalism. These trends, coupled with the intensification of international conflicts, the threat of nuclear war, increasing wealth inequalities and the challenges of climate change, present significant challenges to the promotion of global citizenship, understood as a common sense of belonging and a common purpose to build a more peaceful, sustainable and just world.

Target 4.7 is key because the traditional model of citizenship education is insufficient to tackle many contemporary challenges that cross international borders, and because it is a necessary condition to achieve many of the SDGs. Moreover, as UNESCO (2016) noted, target 4.7 touches on the social, humanistic and moral purposes of education, connects education to the other SDGs, and captures the transformative aspirations of a new development agenda. Since 2030 is not too far off, it is pertinent to ask how we will know if the 193 signatory countries are making significant progress in achieving target 4.7. The main strategy advanced by the global partnership consists in evaluating the extent to which global citizenship and education for sustainable development are mainstreamed in four areas: a) national education policies, b) curricula, c) teacher education and d) student assessment. This is a sound strategy, but it is pertinent to identify some challenges that may appear along the way in these four areas.

First, regarding national education policies, it is encouraging that U.N member countries have made a formal commitment to help achieve the SDGs, and that over 85 percent report including human Global Commons Review 2 s Spring 2018 s Cover s Contents s About Us 24 rights and fundamental freedoms in education policy. However, gaps between discourses and practices are not infrequent. Indeed, the signing of a document is not enough evidence to determine that a policy has been implemented, and self-assessments of policy implementation may be biased (UNESCO 2017). In some countries, political environments favoring inward looking and insular perspectives and policies may obstruct the inclusion of global citizenship education in national education policies. Moreover, in all countries education policies are subjected to competing priorities in the context of limited budgets and the emphasis on standardized testing in specific subjects (math, language, science). Hence, it is important that civil society –and particularly the educational community- constantly reminds policy-makers (particularly education policy-makers) of their commitments, and develop basic accountability instruments.

Second, a key strategy to achieve target 4.7 by 2030 is the mainstreaming of education for sustainable development and global citizenship education in national curricula. Currently, countries address the principles of ESD and GCED in a variety of ways. Among them are extracurricular activities (e.g. community events), a specific subject (e.g. civics), and cross-curricular and whole school approaches. In the fifth Unesco consultation (2012), it was reported that about 50 percent of countries covered peace, non-violence, human rights and fundamental freedoms, 16 percent cultural diversity and tolerance, and only 7 percent education for sustainable development. Likewise, only 7 percent of reporting countries provided stand-alone courses on global citizenship subjects at any level. In the sixth consultation (2016), it was encouraging to learn that most countries (91 percent) reported Global Commons Review 2 s Spring 2018 s Cover s Contents s About Us 25 more efforts in curriculum reform, especially regarding equality, inclusion and non-discrimination. However, only 66 percent of countries reported increased emphasis on global citizenship. In terms of peace education, only 10 percent of textbooks had explicit statements on conflict prevention, conflict resolution and reconciliation. This is worrisome, as these are important topics to consider in developing a culture of peace and non-violence. Moreover, in some countries the textbooks still tend to glorify war and military leaders, exclude pluralistic perspectives and undermine certain ethnic groups (UNESCO 2017). More comparative and international research is needed to better understand the ways in which target 4.7 is translated into curriculum content and textbooks, and how the curriculum is actually implemented in actual educational institutions. Furthermore, given that target 4.7 includes all learners and not only K-12 students, it is pertinent to pay attention to a wide variety of educational institutions (formal, nonformal and informal) and to consider global citizenship education as a lifelong learning process.

Third, in relation to teacher education, many countries have limited content on global citizenship and sustainable development in both initial and in-service programs. Hence, teachers are rarely well prepared to teach topics related to these fields. This has created a gap between school curricula that increasingly include GCED and ESD content, on the one hand, and the absence or marginal presence of that content in teacher education courses.The good news is that in the last few years, many teacher education programs have begun to deal with these topics, but these efforts tend to be fragmented and contingent upon the interest and creativity of individual teacher Global Commons Review 2 s Spring 2018 s Cover s Contents s About Us 26 educators rather than an institutional commitment. The weak support for GCED and ESD in many teacher education programs may be explained partly because other contents take precedence and partly because they tend to promote a social constructivist approach to teaching and learning that contradicts prevailing perspectives and practices in teacher education (Aktas et al. 2017; Bourn et al. 2017, McEvoy 2017, Gaudelli, 2016).

Fourth, regarding the evaluation of student assessment, a key challenge is the lack of consensus on the desirable outcomes of GCED and ESD. Target 4.7 speaks of the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, global citizenship, human rights, peace and the like, but there is no clear agreement on the specifics of said knowledge and skills. Moreover, knowledge and skills should be complemented with the development of attitudes and values, and there is no consensus on them either. The good news is that the Global Citizenship Education Working Group is addressing this challenge, and already identified eight key global citizenship competencies that should be at the core of educational efforts related to target 4.7: 1) empathy; 2) critical thinking/problem solving; 3) ability to communicate and collaborate with others; 4) conflict resolution; 5) sense and security of identity; 6) shared universal values (human rights, peace, justice, etc.); 7) respect for diversity and intercultural understanding; and 8) recognition of global issues and interconnectedness (environmental, social, economic, etc.). (Brookings Institute, 2017). This is certainly good progress, but it is not clear yet how competencies like empathy, critical thinking, ‘sense of Global Commons Review 2 s Spring 2018 s Cover s Contents s About Us 27 identity’ or respect for diversity can be assessed fairly and effectively in different social, cultural and institutional contexts.

Addressing these and other challenges in each of the four areas (policies, curricula, teacher education and student assessment) can help local, national and international education communities to learn about the progress made by different countries regarding 4.7, and to be inspired by creative efforts in other parts of the world. It will also help the educational community to ensure that the discourses in those areas are met with actions, and to conduct quantitative and qualitative evaluations of these actions to move the needle towards the achievement of the sustainable goals by 2030. This is not trivial, because the Sustainable Development Goals provide a policy framework, a moral compass and a commitment of the international community to move steadily towards a better world. Even more, they may constitute one of the last opportunities still available to humanity to save itself from self-destruction and from committing ecocide.


Aktas, F., Pitts, K., Richards, J. C., & Silova, I. (2017). Institutionalizing global citizenship: A critical analysis of higher education programs and curricula. Journal of Studies in International Education, 21(1), 65-80.

Bourn, D, F. Hunt and P. Bamber (2017) A review of education for sustainable development and global citizenship education in teacher education. (UNESCO GEM Background Paper). UNESCO: Paris, France.

Brookings Institute (2017). Measuring Global Citizenship Education: A Collection of Practices and Tools. Washington, D.C.

Gaudelli, W (2016). Global citizenship education: Everyday transcendence. NY: Routledge.

McEvoy, C. (2017). Historical Efforts to Implement the UNESCO 1974 Recommendation on Education in Light of 3 SDGs Targets: UNESCO Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Cooperation and Peace, and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1974). Paris, UNESCO.

Unesco (2017). Global Education Monitoring Report 2017/18. Accountability in education: Meeting our commitments. Paris: Unesco

Unesco (2016). Global Education Monitoring Report: Education for People and Planet. Creating Sustainable Futures for All. Paris: UNESCO.

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