Is GCE integrated in primary education in Europe?

A comparative qualitative analysis across 10 European countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Spain, Portugal, UK) on educational policies that favour the introduction of Global Citizenship Education in primary school curriculum. Research findings.

Global Citizenship Education is a perspective firmly undertaken by various international organisations. It is considered to be a paradigm shift capable of overcoming the inadequacies of multicultural integration models, to enhance a widespread sensitivity towards the natural environment, to promote international solidarity, peace and social justice, through an established ethical background founded on human rights. National governments and European civil societies are moving towards the introduction of this concept, this approach, and this perspective within their own education systems. But even before it became a subject of public policies, GCE had become firmly rooted in the social fabric of the communities and it is rapidly emerging as a new educational discourse, potentially capable of promoting a profound change in formal education as it has already done in the non-formal one.

An extensive piece of research, which arose in the context of the EU-funded project “Global Schools” involving 10 European countries, is summarised in a  Digest * .

The full report - based on a substantial amount of data composed of 171 policy documents from the 10 partner countries, plus 16 from other countries or supranational contexts, 20 interviews, and 10 Country Policy Analysis - will be published soon on

From the comparison of different national contexts, Global Schools’ research team has tried to derive some clusters or typologies that may exemplify different modes of implementation of GCE in primary school with the aim to highlight possible access points through which change can be enabled, providing practitioners and decision-makers with a catalogue of opportunities to embed GCE in schools.

Beside the comparative policy analysis, a second comparative research line focused on the conceptual analysis of the key terms used across Europe to define the issues that only recently is taking a univocal denotation under the GCE label.

The Digest presents the findings of the research in a succinct and summarising way and it briefly contextualises the origin of a concept that can integrate and make sense of a number of issues hitherto thought of as distinct and sometimes opposed to one another.

In conclusion, a number of points are briefly described to present areas that seemed particularly significant:

• Integration in the school curriculum: in none of the project partner countries is GCE fully integrated into the national primary school curriculum, however there is a visible trend towards increasing the adoption of a global perspective within primary school through a variety of ways, sometimes more institution-driven, sometimes driven by local initiatives. In addition, although the term GCE is not yet firmly established in the vocabulary of political documents (although its use is visibly growing), the themes belonging to this concept are uniformly spread across EU partner countries.

• Value-based: GCE encompasses a non-neutral political and ethical perspective, therefore it strongly depends on ideas and visions of policy makers. GCE is a nebulous and provisional concept and allows different interpretations and understandings. Depending on the values in which it is rooted, it takes special connotations which, as the research shows, cannot be accepted in the same way by everyone. For a full integration of GCE in primary school and especially for the concrete transformation of an abstract concept in educational policies and practices, it is necessary to acknowledge that this concept is not value-free. Otherwise, a GCE conceived as abstract and generic risks to become an empty, sterile label unable to produce consistent practices and policies.

• Ministries: the Ministry of Education (ME) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) are the two main institutional actors involved in spreading the GCE ideas and practices in the European countries. The two institutions have been promoting GCE-related areas through different modes, goals and approaches. However, the two Ministries have not always found effective ways of dialogue among themselves. There is often a gap or a tacit conflict between the two traditions, with diverse approaches, purposes and, above all, two bureaucracies. The research, shows that bridging the gap between the two is a strategic challenge for disseminating GCE ideas and practices.

• Role of NGOs: unlike institutional bodies, NGOs are more flexible and open to change. They have been fundamental in promoting new ideas, in networking between different actors, and in particular in disseminating the concept and practices of GCE. In bringing together the agenda of different governmental bodies and different topics, NGOs have been strategic in promoting and encouraging the creation of national strategies involving multiple actors. The risk that NGOs must guard against is isolation and the tendency towards self-reference. The ability to connect different stakelholders and to build a meaningful dialogue with school staff requires they are able to overcome - and willing to negotiate – values, approaches and styles that each NGO has developed over time around its own identity.

• Clusters: although the “cluster” typology presented in the Digest is not based on rigorous statistical criteria but on a highly interpretive analysis, the possibility of providing a “catalogue” of possible approaches through which GCE can become embedded in primary schools is one of the most significant results of the research. The following three clusters exemplify ways in which educational policy can be implemented and can be seen as three interconnected continuums:

- Bottom-up vs top-down

- Centralised vs decentralised

- One teaching subject vs cross-curricula

Along these continuums, countless opportunities for integrating GCE in schools exist, consistent with the different national, institutional and cultural contexts. In other words, it is necessary to recognise that a single European approach (e.g. trying to simply copy the Finnish approach in all European countries) is not possible if one ignores the specificities of local contexts. On the contrary, local contexts provide many opportunities and resources, that is vital to consider.

• National terms: although the term “GCE” is not officially and univocally used in almost any of the countries, the conceptual analysis revealed that behind the use of different national terminologies there is a widely shared semantic landscape. Not only the central concept, even if otherwise called, refers to the same object, but there is a common ground among GCE-related areas. The central concept of GCE is articulated around 5 key concepts; Human rights; Environment; Social and economic justice; Peace; Diversity issues

• Barriers to implementation: the last significant element are the obstacles that obstruct the development of effective policies and especially a concrete translation of policies into practice. On the basis of the identified obstacles, three considerations can be drawn:

1) Almost everywhere a reference to GCE in the National Curriculum is missing. On the one hand, this makes it difficult for teachers and school leaders to activate specific programmes on this subject. On the other hand, the lack of a rigid curricular reference to this subject allows the teachers a greater flexibility and the possibility to insert the topic of GCE and related terms through a wide variety of disciplines and with a multiplicity of approaches.

2) Lack of coordination between political actors and the need for system-oriented measures. This recalls the need to prioritise the construction of structural, systemic and participatory policy actions, providing the active involvement of all political actors described here as fundamental. Individual action of one of them, even if effective and of high quality, is likely to fail if it is not systematic and involving a wide range of actors.

3) Teachers are not only agents of change but also key political actors. It is with their practice that GCE policy is enacted, and experienced by learners. For this reason, teachers’ education is not only necessary to provide them the skills and knowledge required by teaching GCE, but it is a crucial political action to promote change and education reform. Given the centrality of the teacher’s role in the effective introduction of GCE in primary schools, it is of great importance both to thoroughly study the process of GCE teachers’ education, and to experiment new training paths.

The latter deals with the core activity of the Global Schools project, exploring various courses for teachers and multipliers; the former will deal with the second phase of the research: a qualitative research study on teachers’ education practices in 4 European countries will be carried out in order to highlight the pedagogical models and the theoretical and conceptual frameworks that underlie these practices.

> Read here the Digest of the research  [Full research report coming out soon].

* Tarozzi M., Inguaggiato C., (Eds.) (2016) “Global Citizenship Education in Europe. A Comparative Study on Education Policies across 10 EU Countries”. Research deliverable issued within the European project “Global Schools”, Trento, Italy: Provincia Autonoma di Trento