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Friday, August 7, 2009

Development Education - a relevant term?

I recently participated in some research that an organization is doing to update its Development Education strategy. One of the questions during the interview was whether the term ‘development education’ is relevant anymore, and for whom. It made me think about a comment I recently came across asking if people in ‘developing’ countries use the term ICT4D or just call it ‘ICT.’

Development Education is often used to describe different activities that development organizations do ‘in the North’ to educate donors, students, and/or the public in general about the realities of the “developing” world. It aims to help people better understand ‘good development’ and to get them to make personal choices that would contribute to ‘good development’ overseas (eg., voting, purchasing or consuming differently, supporting policies that offer certain benefits to the developing world, volunteering, ‘spreading the word’, etc.).

Development Education can be used to prime or soften people up for advocacy campaigns and concrete actions. It can be directed at large donors when organizations are attempting to get them to change policies or funding habits. It can be part of the school curriculum, created in a way that maintains a middle ground, but prompts students to think about issues and choices faced in development or the global context (see Choices for the 21st Century Curriculum). And some governments give grants out under the category of 'development education' when they are funding organizations to ‘educate’ people overseas about how friendly and generous the donor country and their policies and people are.

In most cases, I think the concept of Development Education is a good one. It helps people understand the broader picture, the structural causes of poverty, cultural relevance, why hand-outs are not the way to go, why local ownership is important, and why the way people do things ‘here’ isn’t necessarily the way people should do things ‘there’. It helps scratch under the surface of advocacy campaigns so that people better understand why they are signing something or clicking on that email to their senators. It can be a way of bringing examples of good practices and real situations to large donors to change their perspectives on what they donate to based on concrete experiences rather than hyphotheses and theories or the latest trends.

Development Education seems especially important in the US where people often give out of a charity mindset or guilt; where they are bombarded daily with pathetic images of starving children who can be fed for just 50 cents a day; and where stories of American heroes who go off to 'solve' problems for those living in other places get more airtime than stories of capable people in other countries resolving things on their own. It has a place with US young people who don’t have access to much global education in the classroom because standardized tests focus on the 4 basics. (As opposed to the UK, for example, where schools are mandated and funded to offer topics that provide global perspective on global issues). Yes, in the US there is very likely a place for something along the lines of 'Development Education'.

But can a global organization talk about 'Development Education' in a way that is relevant across all countries where it’s working? And if so, what would be the common term? What constitutes Development Education 'in the South' and is it even a relevant concept? Can development education be separated from civic engagement, advocacy and political processes? I have some thoughts around this, but haven't hit on one that convinces me enough.... I'm sure I could just google it, but what would be the fun in that?

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