Global Citizenship Education in Divided Societies: Key Dimensions for Reflective Pedagogical Practice

U Niens, J Reilly

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Global citizenship education has been suggested as a strategy to overcome the limitations of national citizenship and to prepare for living in increasingly diverse and globalised societies. The meaning and purpose of global citizenship has remained disputed, with opponents suggesting that the lack of governance at global level renders the concept meaningless and undesirable (Bowden, 2003, Heater, 2004) and querying the assumed universality of global citizenship and its underpinning values (Marshall, 2009). In contrast, its proponents argue that, if implemented effectively, global citizenship may transform society by enabling people to develop an awareness of global interdependence, respect for diversity, to negotiate identities and, ultimately, to achieve greater equality, democracy and sustainable peace (Appiah, 2006, Nussbaum, 1996). There is greater consensus that a critical approach to global issues beyond charitable notions of the poor Global South (Andreotti, 2006) and/or exotic representations of cultural diversity (Roman, 2003) is crucial to effective teaching and learning about global interdependence. In societies with community divisions, global citizenship offers an opportunity to critically explore identities, institutions and conflict in a wider, less threatening context than the contested local arena, where such issues may be deeply contentious and regarded by teachers, parents and pupils alike as too sensitive for educators to address in the classroom. After thirty years of ethnopolitical conflict and more than a decade of engagement in an ongoing peace process, Northern Ireland remains a divided society, with persistent intergroup divisions between Catholics and Protestants, which are reflected in a segregated education system where less than 10% of pupils attend integrated or mixed schools (Hayes et al, 2007). A rise in immigration and ethnic diversity in recent years (Jarman, 2005) has added to the complex pattern of identities and communities within this society. Accordingly, global citizenship has been implicitly or explicitly incorporated as a statutory component in the Revised Northern Ireland Curriculum, mainly within the themes World Around Us and Personal Development and Mutual Understanding in the Primary and within Local and Global Citizenship in the Post-Primary school curriculum although it is intended to infuse all areas of the Curricula (CCEA, 2007a, 2007b). Northern Ireland thus provides an interesting case study in which to examine how global citizenship education can be effectively implemented in schools. The present research aimed to explore ways in which global citizenship education could encourage pupils’ understandings of global interdependence, responsibility and a sense of global citizenship, which goes beyond locally engrained community identities. The objectives were to identify dimensions of pedagogical practice in relation to global citizenship education, which teachers could employ to locate and reflect on their own approaches and, in consideration of their own local contexts, develop more effective teaching and learning strategies relating to global citizenship in the context of a divided society.MethodThe research utilised a mixed method design, including a questionnaire survey, focus groups with pupils and interviews with teachers over a period of 18 months, in order to gauge issues relating to the development of teaching approaches. The samples were drawn from primary and post-primary schools from the main school sectors in Northern Ireland, in rural and urban locations. Teacher interviews and pupil focus groups were designed to explore understandings of and attitudes to global citizenship and its meaning and relevance for Northern Ireland. Similarly, the questionnaire assessed pupils’ perceptions of which global concepts and issues are covered in their learning in school, how important this was for them, what they thought they could/should do about them and their identification with different groups representing identities ranging from local to global categories. Questionnaire data were coded and analysed statistically and qualitative data from focus groups and interviews were transcribed and analysed thematically. Data were scrutinised for differences and similarities relating to school types, learning as experienced by pupils and teachers’ approaches to global citizenship and their relationship to pupils’ understandings, attitudes and identities.Expected OutcomesGenerally, pupils expressed a high sense of global responsibility though there was limited evidence of critical awareness of global interdependence or developing global identities, which might complement or supersede local identities. Findings highlighted a range of different pedagogical approaches relating to global citizenship located along three key dimensions: - Approaches focussing on charitable activity or students’ future employment [moral or pragmatic] - Approaches incorporating local or global issues [local or global] - Approaches employing a naïve or critical lens for developing pupils’ understandings of global interdependence [naïve or critical] Different approaches depended on school, community and pupil factors. The type and ethos of the school, the local community context (including experiences of ethnic diversity and sectarian conflict), and pupils’ cognitive development appeared to influence pedagogical practices relating to global citizenship. It is argued that teachers appear to select approaches by applying contextual (local) understandings across the three dimensions. This may result in a ‘safe’ approach that is unlikely to produce a sense of global citizenship which reduces community divisions and fosters critical awareness of global interdependence. Reflecting on the location of pedagogical approaches along the key dimensions could thus be used to promote global citizenship in divided societies more effectively.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Sept 2011
EventEuropean Conference on Educational Research - Berlin
Duration: 1 Sept 2011 → …


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Educational Research
Period1/09/11 → …

Bibliographical note

Reference text: Appiah, K. (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethnics in a world of strangers. New York: Norton. Andreotti, V. (2006) Soft versus critical global citizenship education. Development Education: Policy and Practice 3, 83-98. CCEA (2007, a) The Northern Ireland Curriculum: Primary. Belfast: CCEA. CCEA (2007, b) The Statutory Curriculum at Key Stage 3: Rationale and Detail. Belfast: CCEA. Bowden, B. (2003) The perils of global citizenship. Citizenship Studies, 7(3), 349-362. Hayes, B.C., McAllister, I. & Dowds, L. (2007) Integrated education, intergroup relation, and political identities in Northern Ireland. Social Problems, 54(4), 454-482. Heater, D. (2004) World citizenship: Cosmopolitan thinking and its opponents. London: Continuum. Jarman, N. (2005) Changing Patterns and Future Planning: Migration and Northern Ireland. Belfast: Institute for Conflict Research. Marshall, H. (2009) Educating the European citizen in the global age: engaging with the postnational and identifying a research agenda. Journal of Curriculum Studies 41(2), 247–267. Nussbaum, M.C. (1996) Patriotism and cosmopolitanism. Boston Review 19(5), 3-34. Roman, L.G. (2003) Education and the Contested Meanings of ‘Global Citizenship. Journal of Educational Change, 4(3), 269–293.


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