Educating for a Just and Sustainable World 

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Moving Beyond Charity: How the Centre for Global Education’s Schools’ Programme is Challenging Traditional Attitudes to Development

The Global Learning Programme

Global Learning is taking root in schools in Northern Ireland and reaching new levels of classroom practice thanks to a four-year formal sector initiative called the Global Learning Programme (GLP).  Funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and managed by the Centre for Global Education, the GLP has the ambitious target of increasing and improving delivery of global learning in 50 per cent of grant aided primary, secondary and special schools in Northern Ireland at Key Stages 2 and 3.  More specifically, it seeks to support schools to embed global learning as regular practice across curriculum subjects and through a whole school approach.  Central to this embedded practice is ensuring that teachers have the relevant knowledge, skills and resources to integrate global learning into their classroom teaching in all subject areas and through whole school collaboration. To support this embedded practice, the Centre has designed a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme for teachers which has become the centre piece of the Global Learning Programme and main driver of its success.

The CPD training engages teachers in tested classroom activities that they can incorporate into their own practice. It also provides informed inputs on how global learning can support practice across the curriculum rather than reside in traditional subject silos such as Geography and Religious Education.  Teachers are given the opportunity to design topic webs showing how they can bring a global learning lense to curriculum topics such as ‘Might Me’, ‘Water’ and ‘Houses and Homes’.  The curriculum connected learning topic ‘Mighty Me’, for example, enables children to ‘explore the opportunities they have to positively influence life in their communities and in the wider world’ (CCEA, 2014).  Connected learning is an important component of the training as it indicates how global learning complements the different learning areas and cross-curricular skills as well as other related school initiatives including ‘Eco-Schools’ and ‘Rights Respecting Schools’.  The central focus of the training however is on enhancing teachers’ understanding of key global issues and increasing their confidence in addressing these issues with young people in the classroom. 

Moving beyond charity

Many schools have traditionally supported charitable-based solutions to poverty in the global South which Bryan and Bracken see as ‘underpinned by a development-as-charity framework, and dominated by a “three Fs” approach, comprising Fundraising, Fasting and Having Fun in aid of specific development causes’ (2011: 15).  The development-as-charity approach is often driven by development non-governmental organisations that regularly fundraise in schools as part of their campaigning or ‘educational’ activities.  It can also be underpinned by school textbooks.  For example, Bryan and Bracken’s 2011 research study of how development education is taught in schools in the south of Ireland found that a ‘number of discourses and narratives contribute to de-contextualised and superficial explanations of development “problems”’ in school texts (15).  Of course, the media too plays a hugely significant part in fostering paternalistic attitudes toward the global South based on the idea of the ‘benevolent donor’ making a difference for a ‘grateful receiver’ (Ibid: 5).

It is a significant challenge to break free of these paternalistic attitudes and the ‘charity-as-development’ model as schools derive enormous satisfaction and pride from their charitable activities which are often built upon considerable efforts by teachers, pupils, parents and the local community.  It is not the aim of the Global Learning Programme to criticise these efforts but to enable teachers to move beyond charity and recognise the limitations of the paternal model.  By recognising the more structural causes of poverty and inequality in the global South such as unfair trade rules, debt, tax avoidance by transnational corporations, neoliberal economics and climate change, teachers can nurture more sustainable and meaningful forms of engagement with the question of development.  While the Global Learning Programme has been operating for just three years, the feedback from teachers through questionnaires and a whole school self-evaluation tool already indicate a shift in attitudes, practice and understandings.  Here are some comments from teachers who participated in the most recent training cohort in April 2017:


“The course was delivered in an enthusiastic and highly engaging way.  It has encouraged me to integrate these ideas into my own practice and perhaps in my school as a whole”.

“Provided me with different strategies to use and look at different perspectives and reasons why things happen”.

“Gave me a better understanding of how to apply ‘cross-curricularly’ and embed into all areas of the curriculum – not in isolation”.

The training created “awareness of inequality, globalisation – what our children need to learn / develop to become responsible global citizens”.

Positive outcomes of the GLP

The dominant challenges presented to the GLP are how to quantitatively deliver training to 50 per cent of schools in Northern Ireland and qualitatively ensure that it meets teachers’ expectations in terms of content, facilitation, resource support and knowledge and understanding.  In terms of the first challenge, a total of 371 schools have participated in the training to date which keeps us on track to reach our 50 per cent (528) target by July 2018 when the programme finishes.  And qualitatively, the GLP has been monitored and evaluated by a research team at Ulster University and their most recent report suggests that teachers ‘appear to be displaying greater motivation and more confidence in their understanding and practice of global learning’ (CGE and UU, 2016: 31).  Further evidence is being gathered through school case studies of practice, pupil and teacher focus groups and interviews, and year-on-year questionnaires that will support comparative analysis.  These findings will be presented in a final research report later this year but the project has already derived several positive outcomes.  It has: heightened the profile of global learning in schools and supported connected learning; created new opportunities for professional development at a time of contracting school support through CPD; generated new resources including a high quality, interactive web site (; and re-energised the development education sector in the north of Ireland through their collaboration on the programme.

Above all, the GLP has enabled, at least some teachers, to move beyond charity-based ‘solutions’ to poverty and engage with the structural causes of persistent poverty in the global South.  This is a necessary first step toward the formulation of effective actions that will bring about positive and durable social change.



Bryan, Audrey and Bracken, Meliosa (2011) Learning to Read the World: Teaching and Learning about Global Citizenship and International Development in Post-Primary Schools, Dublin: Irish Aid.

CCEA (2014) ‘Mighty Me: Ideas for Connected Learning’, CCEA: Belfast, available: (accessed 20 April 2017).

Centre for Global Education and Ulster University (2016), ‘Global Learning Programme Year 2 Research Report’, available: (accessed 20 April 2017).

For more information on the Global Learning Programme please visit: or contact: