Development Education in the Age of COVID-19 and Climate Change: How Can the Sector Contribute to a Sustainable Future?

Development Education in the Age of COVID-19 and Climate Change: How Can the Sector Contribute to a Sustainable Future?

Stephen McCloskey (Centre for Global Education, Belfast, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4402-0.ch008
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Development education (DE) is a radical learning pedagogy that combines analysis, discussion, and action to engage the learner in active citizenship toward positive social change. This chapter discusses the contribution that DE and other related ‘educations' can make to mitigating the climate crisis and addressing the growing levels of poverty and inequality in the global North and South. Central to this discussion is the neoliberal economic model that has driven ‘development' since the 1970s and placed the needs of the market above the social needs of citizens. This has become particularly apparent during the coronavirus pandemic which has overwhelmed the health services of countries across the world. The chapter argues for a more sustainable form of development based on de-growth and a Green New Deal.
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Development education (DE) is rooted in Paulo Freire’s seminal text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1996), which was published over fifty years ago but remains as vital as ever as a handbook for social and economic transformation. Freire’s pedagogy elevated education beyond the classroom to analyse the underlying causes of poverty and injustice, locally and internationally. This chapter discusses the importance and continued relevance of development education, which is premised on Freire’s theory and practice, to the question of sustainability and climate change. It argues that Freire’s ground-breaking methodology is essential to the sustainable engagement of learners in action to mitigate the causes and effects of climate change. It suggests that the neoliberal model of economic ‘development’ that has been dominant across the world since the 1970s has resulted in grotesque levels of inequality and a more precarious existence for the millions of people on low incomes, working in the informal labour market and lacking job security (Oxfam, 2020).

The chapter argues that the twin global crises of COVID-19 and the climate emergency have similar origins which have exacerbated global poverty and increased the vulnerability of the poor to hunger, disease and displacement (Kolinjivadi, 2020). The World Health Organisation has described the climate emergency as the ‘greatest threat to global health in the 21st century’ arguing that climate change causes infectious diseases and malnutrition, endangering human health and causing cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases from air pollution (WHO, 2015). At the time of writing (30 June 2020), the COVID-19 pandemic, first reported in Wuhan, China on 31 December 2019, has caused more than 10 million infections globally and claimed over 500,000 lives (John Hopkins University, 2020). Kolinjivadi argues that:

The two emergencies are in fact quite similar. Both have their roots in the world's current economic model - that of the pursuit of infinite growth at the expense of the environment on which our survival depends - and both are deadly and disruptive (2020).

Underpinning both crises is neoliberalism and the mass production of commodities which is placing an unsustainable strain on the natural resources of the environment (Ibid). The Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, has argued that ‘We need to tackle two crises at once’ suggesting that ‘we need a new way forward’ (O’Sullivan, 2020).

This chapter will outline the key aspects of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which underpin development education practice and have a continued relevance in today’s era of neoliberalism. It will argue that the twin crises of climate change and COVID-19 require us to reconceptualise what we mean by ‘development’ to encompass a de-growth model if we are to avoid future pandemics and limit global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2018). It suggests that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in which DE is heavily invested, don’t offer the critical methodology and capacity necessary to address these twin crises and questions a DE programme premised on the Goals. It proposes instead that the sector learn lessons from the effective communications and mass mobilisations of the climate strike movement.

Before launching into an analysis of development education, a note about terminology. Several terms are used to describe this area of work and they include; global citizenship education, global learning, global education, development studies, development awareness, education for sustainable development, and education for sustainability. These terms are often used interchangeably and associated with specific sectors of education. This can undoubtedly cause confusion for learners in getting to grips with education about global issues. The position taken by the author is that all of these terms are equally valid and for the sake of clarity and consistency the concept of development education is used throughout.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Green New Deal: Inspired by the United States’ New Deal programme of the 1930s, the Green New Deal proposes a series of policies and government programmes to tackle climate change and ensure a just transition to sustainable and equitable forms of production and consumption.

Sustainability: Ensuring the protection of the natural environment for present and future generations from growth-driven economic development that prioritises the needs of the market over those of the planet and the people.

Climate Action: Informed actions taken by citizens and civil society movements to reduce climate change and limit its impacts on humans and the environment.

De-Growth: Downscaling of production and consumption driven by Gross Domestic Product toward more localised and sustainable economies to enhance human wellbeing and protect the natural environment.

Sustainable Development Goals: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015, with 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets to eradicate poverty in all its forms.

Development Education: A radical, interactive learning methodology that supports reflection and action toward active citizenship that addresses the fundamental causes of poverty and inequality, locally and globally.

Education for Sustainable Development: Drawing upon both development education and environment education, Education for Sustainable Development combines a social justice and sustainability approach using an interactive, learner-centred methodology.

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