Post-16 citizenship in tough times

The times we live in demand more than ever that we assume responsibility for ensuring that all young people are educated for global citizenship, in other words for survival. What might this look like post-16?

The context

The current context for post-16 education in the UK is characterised by an emphasis on valuing:

  • institutional diversity rather than a comprehensive system
  • achievement of qualifications rather than development of the whole learner
  • personal progress rather than social purpose
  • competition rather than cohesion
  • employment rather than citizenship

This offers us a model of education as a market commodity and a positional good. But we also need to remember that learning can never be detached from its social context.

“Education is a social process” John Dewey

In the wider political and cultural scene, the emphasis is on:

  • competitiveness rather than collaboration
  • social mobility within an unequal society rather than egalitarianism
  • defining national identities rather than our global humanity

Again, this is a very partial perspective. If we are to tackle the global challenges we face we will need a global awareness, shared global values, global dialogue and some really good ideas for global collective action. We will need an education which has global citizenship among its central aims.

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” Herbert George Wells

Why post-16 citizenship education?

The post-16 phase of learning offers probably the best opportunity to fully educate about wider social concerns. Young people at this age are ready to look beyond their immediate preoccupations and start to think about what difference they might make in the world. Citizenship education in this phase should be driven by concern for equality, human rights, pluralism, solidarity and conflict resolution and should teach the benefits of democratic collective action to bring about change. Our learning communities should model the values of the good society.

Citizenship education can provide a unifying purpose for the 16-19 curriculum, ranging from local to global, addressing diversity and identity, promoting reflection and active engagement and building on young people’s interests and concerns. Like all the best learning programmes it should connect subject knowledge and skills development.

“Through others we become ourselves” Lev Vygotsky

“Plan for 1 year and plant rice. Plan for 10 years and plant trees. Plan for 100 years and educate people.” Confucius

Starting from our values

We need to start from our mission and values. At Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) for instance our mission is: “creating the successful learning community”, our values are “ambition, challenge and equality” and among our strategic objectives is: “promoting citizenship and our shared values.” We also aim to develop each student as a skilled learner: dedicated, organised, enquiring and social.

The educated young person

In aspiring to be a successful learning community we need to define what we mean by the educated young person. The ideal is that they should be becoming both a skilled learner and a skilled leader. Post-16 citizenship education can offer a single coherent vision of the skilled citizen as part of a broad education. If it is well managed it can help us make sense of a set of disparate learning experiences and make sure they are part of a single coherent experience of democracy and solidarity.

At NewVIc we use the Sixth Form Baccalaureate, also used by other sixth form colleges, as an overarching framework . This can promote citizenship through its three elements:

  • main learning: subject knowledge and skills
  • skills development which can include a research project emphasising the wider social benefits of student-led research
  • Personal challenges or service learning through community activity as peer mentors, mediators, advocates, representatives, campaigners, community organisers etc.

We can also support this with our Liberal Arts lecture and discussion programme as well as our international links and projects.

The citizenship-rich learning community

We should be aiming for a citizenship-rich learning community first by describing it and modelling it in small ways and then encouraging it to grow. The signs of a citizenship-rich learning community might include:

  • staff and students seeing themselves as lifelong learners, researchers and community members
  • all students contributing at least 50hrs of service learning per year which includes volunteering and being able to demonstrate what has been learnt
  • students working on a major drive to improve the health and well-being of the local community
  • global links enriching the college curriculum, student experience and professional knowledge base as well as promoting mutual understanding and lasting friendships across continents
  • by their second year in college, many students becoming peer mentors, mediators or volunteers in some capacity within the college
  • most students working in study circles led by a senior student or learning mentor with teachers encouraging and resourcing these study circles as an effective way of helping their students learn outside the classroom.
  • students developing their understanding of the finite nature of our planet’s resources and its biodiversity as well as developing the skills needed to provide creative solutions to the greatest challenges humanity faces.

Creating the citizenship-rich learning community will be an organic process which requires leadership and vision as well as staff commitment. We need to be able to “see the world big and see the world small”; to describe how the parts relate to the whole and to be prepared to constantly challenge and question and to be both active and reflective.

The global challenges we face; inequality, injustice, conflict and environmental degradation require global solutions and the least we can do is to ensure that all young people are ready for global citizenship. Anything less would be a dereliction of our duty of care to them and to the future.

“Believe in life! Always human beings will live and progress to greater, broader, and fuller life”

“Now is the time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.” W.E.B. DuBois

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” Johann W. Goethe

“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!”

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Dr. Seuss

“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it.” Hannah Arendt

This is an updated version of a presentation given in March 2010

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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