encouraging young people to become better global citizens
Beyond the personal to the “political” – a personal perspective
The aim of the IGCA is to promote the development of individual students as global citizens, and the recognition of this by their peers and school.
As you know, the focus on this development is on three areas:
Understanding other cultures and outlooks
Working with Others.
The development is charted by each participant in their own Recording and Reflection.
One of the reasons for the development of the IGCA was to complement and extend beyond the emphasis on “service” within the International Baccalaureate and in international schools more generally. The emphasis on service in the IB and in schools is very important but “service” is often seen as specific actions that take place on specific occasions. In many cases students have a much greater impact upon people and planet globally through all the other parts of their everyday lives and actions – through their travel, choices of food, clothes etc. – than they do through their service activities.
So while personal community service is an important component of the IGCA, the Award also focuses on personal impact upon the world through the choices and activities of our everyday lives – what we eat, what we wear etc. This is through the Personal Global footprint section.
Focusing on our own personal lives and their impact is important, and it was included in the IGCA to complement this emphasis on service within IB and international schools. But however careful we are in our individual choices and actions in what we eat or wear and how we travel, the impact of an individual is necessarily limited. That is why the IGCA involves working to bring about change in or through others by Advocacy, Persuasion or Promotion. These are important actions as global citizens that go beyond “service” as often understood in IB and international school settings.
It is nearly 15 years since the IGCA was formulated. Since that time we have become increasingly aware that our actions as individuals living our lives in a global world are constrained and shaped by major factors and players. I am thinking particularly here of the large multinational companies concerned with supplying water, oil, gas, petrol, food and other items for our everyday lives, the big tech companies – providing our news and circulating information and misinformation - and governments. The multinational reach of such companies means that they are not properly regulated by or accountable to any government, and many arrange their affairs to minimise accountability and tax paid, while using nationally supplied amenities in the countries where they operate. Even if millions of concerned global citizens are taking actions to try to be responsible in their personal global footprints, the effectiveness of these actions are constrained or dwarfed by the actions of these large players.
We cannot therefore bring about change in how companies and countries affect our global world unless we can have real impact upon their actions. This leads, necessarily to some type of political action. We need to influence communities and governments at local and national levels, and the companies that are having such an impact on our world – either directly, or by pressing governments to regulate and control companies effectively.
It has suited multinational companies and neo-liberals/free-marketeers to promote the idea that individual citizens should take responsibility for major global issues through their own personal actions. On this basis, we can exercise our influence – or not - through our spending choices – through the market, while the companies take no responsibility for their actions. The responsibility that should rest with companies is transferred to us. It is now clear that allowing the market to have free rein is not an adequate way to address global challenges. Shareholders and their paid executives focus on bottom line. They are not acting in the interests of all of us. If major global challenges are to be addressed, we cannot rely on the market to do the job. This is where governments come in. We need governments, working on their own or collectively, to regulate the market and companies in ways to ensure global challenges are addressed. Major global challenges can only be addressed, therefore, if there is political involvement. If we want global challenges to be addressed, our responsibilities and actions as individual global citizens must therefore include the political level.
Schools need to be careful when they enter political territory. But (young) global citizens need to develop a realistic awareness that their personal actions and choices are important, but limited in impact, and that they also need to become aware of and engage with the larger political considerations. Obviously this political awareness needs to be developed in an age-appropriate way, and to become deeper and fuller as young people get older.
What we can do as individuals in service activities and through our lifestyle choices is important. But we are deluding ourselves if we think that we can change the world simply through service activities and through what we as individuals consume and spend.
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