PCDForum Column #27,   Release Date February 26, 1992

by Thomas B. Keehn

U.S. development educators recently issued an assessment of their field and an agenda for the decade of the 1990s. The bottom line: development education as we have known and practiced it is no longer relevant to our rapidly changing world.

The dramatic changes reshaping the nature of global society have led many U.S. voluntary agencies to begin rethinking their roles in international development. This awareness has been considerably heightened by the challenges put forward to U.S. voluntary organizations by NGO colleagues from Africa, Asia, and Latin America-- who tell us that to remain relevant to the Third World we must engage the American public in the global struggle for social and economic justice, and a peaceful world order.

Development educators have been active in this reassessment process. Under the auspices of the Development Education and Constituency Building Committee of InterAction, the consortium body of U.S. voluntary development organizations, a recent series of retreats and workshops engaged some three hundred U.S. development educators in sharing perceptions and concerns regarding global change and its implications for the future.

The process produced a nearly universal consensus among this group that the U.S. voluntary sector has been far too slow and limited in coming to terms with such changing realities as global interdependence, ecological survival, instant communication, and the opportunities presented by global progress toward more open and inclusive societies. Too many voluntary organizations continue to parachute small development projects into poor communities with little or no lasting contribution to reversing the alarming global trend toward deepening poverty. Too often development education has been little more than an adjunct to the fund raising campaigns of these same organizations. The committee's recently released report on Education for Global Change: A New Framework for a Just and Sustainable Future makes clear that this will not suffice for the decade ahead.

A similar exercise by development educators some ten years ago produced A Framework for Development Education in the United States for the 1980s, which committed us to reach larger audiences with development education programs that: 1) convey information; 2) promote humanitarian values; and 3) stimulate individual action aimed at improving the quality of life and eliminating the root causes of poverty. While these commitments were appropriate to their time, the world has since changed dramatically in unanticipated ways.

U.S. development educators now believe that we need no less than a new vision to inform the public's understanding of development as a process of human and institutional transformation. Related educational programs must flow from and advance this vision. The abrupt shift in orientation and strategy this implies might well threaten the very existence of many U.S. voluntary organizations that have built their competence and funding base on quite different premises. This in turn could threaten the jobs of many of us who participated in the reassessment process. Most participants, however, believe the issues at stake are of sufficient importance to justify such risks.

The goals we set forward for the 1990s are more complex, difficult, and urgent than what we proposed for the 1980s. They call for educational programs that will prepare Americans to:

Work for the transformation of institutions and systems consistent with the values of a new development vision and America's essential role in realizing it,

Be effective participants in popular movements for global change, and

Engage with people of all generations, genders, and ethnic and religious groups in creating new lifestyles consistent with life on a small and environmentally threatened planet.

  • To implement this agenda we proposed:
  • Replacing the term development education with the more powerful and descriptive term education for global change,
  • Renewing efforts to foster change within the NGO community toward a strong commitment to education for global change and advocacy on interdependency policy issues,
  • Working with other concerned groups to redesign America's system of public education to respond to the needs of a new global age, and
  • Developing closer working relations with the print and electronic media, and with colleagues in community and national affinity groups throughout the world.

Those who participated in this process recognize that change must begin by making both ourselves and our organizations more effective instruments of global change.

Thomas B. Keehn is a fellow of the People-Centered Development Forum and heads the PCDForum New York Resource Center, c/o The American Forum for Global Education, 45 John Street, Suite 1200, New York, N.Y. 10038. This column is based on his introduction to Education for Global Change: A New Framework and Program Plan for a Just and Sustainable Future, October 1991, available from InterAction, 1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW, 8th floor, Washington, DC 20036, U.S.A. or fax (202) 667-8236.

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