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The emergence of global citizenship education in

Colombia: lessons learned from existing education

Jana De Poorter & Nicolás Aguilar-Forero

To cite this article: Jana De Poorter & Nicolás Aguilar-Forero (2019): The emergence of global
citizenship education in Colombia: lessons learned from existing education policy, Compare: A
Journal of Comparative and International Education, DOI: 10.1080/03057925.2019.1574558

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The emergence of global citizenship education in Colombia:

lessons learned from existing education policy
a b
Jana De Poorter and Nicolás Aguilar-Forero
Graduate School of Social Sciences (GSSS), University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands;
Facultad de Educación, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia

Colombia has joined the international movement of countries Global citizenship education;
which, under the impulse of the United Nations Educational, Colombia; critical discourse
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), are looking to inte- analysis; education policy
grate global citizenship education (GCED) into their educational
system. However, being a recently emerging initiative, the char-
acteristics and possible effects of GCED have not been discussed
sufficiently in academia, nor among policy makers. This paper
presents a critical discourse analysis of the most recent antece-
dents of GCED to be found in Colombian education policy. It
thereby contributes to the national and international debate sur-
rounding the integration of GCED in contexts that differ from
those of Western and ‘developed’ countries, which have been
the main focus of GCED research and interventions to date. It is
argued that, in the case of Colombia, educational initiatives that
are based on critical approaches to GCED should be recuperated
and strengthened, since these initiatives provide powerful clues
for a truly transformative integration of GCED in the country.

The notion of global citizenship education (GCED) has gained prominence in recent years
(UNESCO 2014). Responding to as well as enhancing ‘a popular movement both in schools
and among voluntary bodies and many other organisations’ (Arthur 2014, 73), fostering
global citizenship became one of the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural
Organization’s (UNESCO) key education objectives for the period 2014–2022 and one of
the priorities outlined in the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Education First
Initiative (UNESCO 2014). Moreover, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
explicitly mentions GCED under target 4.7, which aims ‘to ensure that all learners acquire
knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development’ (UNESCO 2016a, 5).
Despite its prominence in the international education agenda, however, ‘consensus
about what global citizenship means exactly, and consequently what GCED should
promote, is yet to be reached’ (UNESCO 2014, 5). This lack of conceptual clarity
becomes especially apparent when reviewing the academic literature on the topic, in
which terms such as international education, education for international mindedness,

CONTACT Jana De Poorter Boekhoutstraat 6, Oosterzele 9860, Belgium

© 2019 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License
(, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

global education/learning, sustainable development education, human rights education

and learning twenty-first century skills are used ambiguously and interchangeably
(Standish 2014). As it is often based on the particular beliefs of the author rather
than backed by empirical evidence and reflective of its limitations and moral founda-
tions, some of the literature on global citizenship education can be described as ‘both
inconsistent and not entirely logical’ (Arthur 2014, 73), and the GCED movement as
a movement ‘in pursuit of meaning’ (Standish 2014, 183).
Nevertheless, since 2013 UNESCO has facilitated important steps towards enhancing
conceptual clarity regarding GCED, for example through organising technical consulta-
tions as well as a bi-annual international forum on global citizenship education
(UNESCO 2014). This process has so far led to the identification of three conceptual
dimensions of GCED (the cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioural level) (UNESCO
2015a), as well as the following definition of the aim of GCED:

The goal of global citizenship education is to empower learners to engage and assume
active roles both locally and globally to face and resolve global challenges and ultimately to
become proactive contributors to a more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and
sustainable world. (UNESCO 2016a, 2)

Despite these transformative intentions which drive the GCED movement, critical
scholars (Andreotti 2011; Shultz 2007; Parmenter 2011) have identified the risk of
GCED becoming yet another tool for reproducing prevailing power imbalances.
Pointing out this risk, recent studies have shown how GCED in concrete contexts
(such as the case of South Korea) remains ‘rooted in reproducing and reinforcing global
and local inequities’ (Cho and Mosselson 2017, 14). It is therefore of crucial importance
to be aware of the deeply political nature of the concept and ask ourselves, ‘Who is this
global citizen?’, ‘Whose interests are represented here?’ and ‘Are we empowering the
dominant group to remain in power?’ (Andreotti 2006, 44).
Although the body of theoretical literature regarding GCED is growing rapidly, there
is ‘a continuing lack of critical discussions within empirical studies and actual policy’
(Goren and Yemini 2017, 180). In this regard, Quaynor (2012) especially highlights the
lack of research done on citizenship education programmes in post-conflict contexts,
societies in which it is particularly important to assess whether GCED contributes to
social transformation rather than reproducing the existing inequalities. Through the
case study of Colombia, this paper therefore aims to respond to the ‘need to bridge the
gap between the theoretical and critical work within the academy with the practices and
policies in the field’ (Hartung 2017, 27).
Concretely, this research aims to identify clues towards a critical and transformative
incorporation of GCED in Colombia. To do this, it will use Fairclough’s Critical
Discourse Analysis (CDA) as a methodological framework. Taking into account the
specific socio-political context as well as the academic literature on (global) citizenship
education, CDA allows us to analyse existing Colombian education policy by compar-
ing its underlying discourses in the city of Bogotá with those found at the national level.
Thereby, CDA helps us to define what is necessary for GCED policy in Colombia to be
contributing to discursive, and as a result social, change rather than reproducing the
existing order. Moreover, this analysis contributes to the academic debate by focusing
on a context which has not been examined so far and differs from Western, ‘developed’

countries which have been the focus of the knowledge production surrounding GCED
to date (Parmenter 2011; Cho and Mosselson 2017).

The Colombian case: socio-political background and existing education policy

The socio-political characteristics of Colombian society do not allow us to understand it
as a post-conflict society in which GCED is incorporated to overcome divisions between
social groups (as opposed to the case of Northern Ireland presented by Reilly and Niens
[2014]). Nor, however, should Colombia be seen as a conflict-ridden country in which
even the Ministry of Education does not seem interested in promoting dialogue
between diverging groups (as in the case of Israel analysed by Goren and Yemini
[2017]). On the contrary, Colombia has gone through a post-conflict process since
the 2016 signing of the peace agreements between the government of Juan
Manuel Santos and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia – People’s Army
(the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo, or FARC-EP
guerrillas). At the same time, however, the country continues to face profound conflicts
between different social and armed forces: guerrillas (dissidents of the FARC as well as
insurgent groups who have been present in the territory for over 50 years); criminal
gangs involved in narco trafficking; and neo-paramilitary groups that oppose the
restitution of land to displaced farmers, and who are responsible for the murder of
social leaders and human rights defenders on a daily basis.
Colombian education has directly and indirectly suffered under half a century of
violent conflict. Children were at risk of being recruited by the FARC and other military
groups while at school (Villar-Márquez 2011, 1). Their teachers, on the other hand,
risked falling victim to the ‘dirty war’ waged by the paramilitary on unions and social
movements which cost the lives of 808 educators between 1991 and 2005 (Novelli
2010). Indirectly, instances of school-based violence, such as corporal punishment and
bullying, increased because of the normalisation of violence in society (Chaux 2009).
Moreover, Colombia is faced with one of the most unequal societies in the world, which
is reflected in severe inequalities between urban and rural education (González Bustelo
2006) and in the state’s inability to guarantee the right to education for Colombia’s
internally displaced children (Vega and Bajaj 2016; Villar-Márquez 2011).
As a response to these great challenges, there have been several governmental efforts
aiming to overcome discrimination and strengthen social cohesion through (citizen-
ship) education (Vega and Bajaj 2016). The 1991 constitutional reform and following
1994 General Education Law strongly emphasise human rights and participative
democracy, effectively decentralising education governance and ending the Catholic
monopoly on moral education while promoting citizenship education as a core subject
(Jaramillo and Mesa 2009). This decentralisation had been promoted in the 1980s by
the Movimiento Pedagógico (Pedagogical Movement), which advocated for greater
autonomy and recognition of teachers, thereby leaving room for more alternative and
contextualised pedagogical approaches (Aguilar-Forero and Velásquez 2018).
A decade later, in 2004, the Ministry of Education published its so-called Citizenship
Competencies Program, proposing standards for ‘good citizen behaviour’ based on
three categories: peaceful coexistence (convivencia); democratic participation and
responsibility; and plurality, identity and enrichment with differences (Jaramillo and

Mesa 2009). Through these initiatives, combatting violence and promoting peaceful
relationships through education became an explicit government priority (Chaux 2009).
This Citizenship Competencies Program was followed in 2013 by the so-called Ley 1620
(Law 1620), which created the national system for peaceful coexistence at school,
human rights education, sex education and the prevention and mitigation of school-
based violence.
In 2014 and 2015 respectively, Law 1732 and Decree 1038 were issued, introducing
the so-called Cátedra para la Paz (Peace Chair) as a mandatory subject ‘in all educa-
tional institutions of preschool, elementary and secondary education, public and pri-
vate’ (Decree 1038 2015, 2). In 2016, the National Ministry of Education published
a document with general orientations for the implementation of the Peace Chair as well
as a more specific proposal for curricular guidelines and classroom activities. These
documents divide peace education into the following six categories: (1) peaceful coex-
istence; (2) citizen participation; (3) diversity and identity; (4) historical memory and
reconciliation; (5) sustainable development; and (6) ethics, care and decisions
(Ministerio de Educación Nacional 2016a, 15). Moreover, they introduce a global
perspective in the Colombian school curriculum by discussing ‘peace building and post-
conflict processes around the world and coexistence and peace challenges in
a globalised world’ (Camargo 2016, 8).
Since Colombia has one of the most decentralised education systems in Latin
America, however, the Ministry of Education is not in the position to directly impose
these guidelines (Chaux 2009). Instead, local Education Secretaries and schools have the
authority to ‘design their own curricula and choose their own pedagogical practices’
(Chaux 2009, 88). In this light, in 2015 the Education Secretary of Bogotá (Secretaría de
Educación del Distrito, or SED) developed its own citizenship and coexistence educa-
tion project (Proyecto de Educación para la Convivencia y la Ciudadanía, or PECC).
When developing the PECC, Bogotá’s Secretary for Education looked for community
organisations that shared their vision and could offer the necessary expertise to imple-
ment the project. For developing and testing the teaching materials, the SED chose the
Colombian office of Fe y Alegría, an international network of locally based organisa-
tions providing education to the most disadvantaged members of society, as its imple-
menting partner. Like the Peace Chair, the PECC included conceptual and pedagogical
considerations associated with GCED.
This growing commitment to GCED was taken a step further in 2016 when
Colombia, together with Uganda, Cambodia and Mongolia, became one of the four
countries worldwide which pledged to make GCED a cornerstone of its curriculum
(UNESCO 2016b). To achieve this, the Ministry of Education of Colombia is currently
developing guidelines to support universities and Secretaries of Education in training
future teachers in the field of citizenship and GCED.
Despite this momentum, GCED is a recently emerging initiative in Colombia and
consequently has not been discussed sufficiently. This absence of a national debate is an
important limitation, since a situational analysis conducted in 2016 (Camargo 2016)
pointed towards mixed feelings surrounding GCED among teachers and education
communities in different parts of the country. Similar to the findings obtained in
other countries (Reilly and Niens 2014; Goren and Yemini 2017), Colombian teachers
do not only associate GCED with new opportunities for citizenship and peace

education, but also with the risks related to certain processes that generate discomfort
and insecurities: neoliberal globalisation; free trade agreements; the extraction of
resources; or the loss of national identity (Camargo 2016). That is why we consider it
necessary to analyse in more detail the most recent antecedents of GCED in terms of
education policy and propose some clues for a critical and transformational integration
of this educational strategy in Colombia.

Theoretical framework
Citizenship education: what’s in a name?
During the past decades, several authors (McLaughlin 1992; Veugelers 2007; Westheimer
and Kahne 2004) have attempted to provide conceptual clarity within the deeply fragmen-
ted and political domain of citizenship education. Since citizenship can be understood to
refer both to the formal political level as well as to the interpersonal level (e.g. daily
interactions in schools), for example, a conceptual distinction has been made between
civic and civil dimensions of citizenship education (Veugelers 2007). Whereas the civic
dimension ‘focuses on knowledge and understanding of formal institutions and processes
of civic life (such as voting in elections)’, civil education refers to ‘learning to live together’
with those beyond the extended family (Schulz et al. 2010, 22).
More than simply being a conceptual distinction, these two dimensions have been
developed and promoted by different academic fields. In Colombia, civil education
(referred to as convivencia or ‘peaceful coexistence’) has traditionally been the ‘comfort
zone’ of psychologists and received the most attention during the past years. Political
scientists, on the other hand, have tended to stress the importance of democratic
participation, arguing that the civil dimension of citizenship education in and of itself
(e.g. fostering responsibility for one’s actions, honesty and good-neighbourliness), is not
sufficient to create the conditions needed for a democratic and just society (Westheimer
and Kahne 2004; Luschei 2016).
Westheimer and Kahne (2004, 243) stress that the emphasis on individual char-
acter and behaviour in many citizenship education programmes can be criticised for
obscuring ‘the need for collective and public sector initiatives’. Those
programmes might end up distracting attention from a more systemic analysis of
the causes and solutions of social issues, as they put forward ‘volunteerism and
kindness [. . .] as ways of avoiding politics and policy’ (Westheimer and Kahne 2004,
243). We therefore need to be aware of the political and ideological interests
embedded in different conceptions of citizenship education: ‘There is a politics
involved in educating for democracy – a politics that deserves careful attention’
(Westheimer and Kahne 2004, 263–4).
To examine the interest behind different conceptions of citizenship education,
several authors have distinguished between different ideals of ‘the good citizen’, starting
with McLaughlin’s (1992) distinction between ‘minimal’ and ‘maximal’ citizenship
(Johnson and Morris 2010, 84). Whereas the minimal citizen is ‘essentially obedient
to government: “law abiding” and “public spirited”’, with limited autonomy, the max-
imal citizen ‘“actively questions” and has achieved a “distanced critical perspective on
all important matters”’ (Johnson and Morris 2010, 84).

Both Westheimer and Kahne (2004) and Veugelers (2007) further complicate this
categorisation by distinguishing between citizenship aiming for personal emancipation
and citizenship aiming for a more collective emancipation respectively. They end up
with the following typology, which we will employ in our analysis: (1) the adaptive or
personally responsible citizen, who acts responsibly and obediently; (2) the individua-
listic/participatory citizen, who participates in society from an individualist perspective
within the given structures; and, finally, (3) the critical-democratic/justice-oriented
citizen, who is motivated to change society and concerned for social justice
(Veugelers 2007; Westheimer and Kahne 2004; Johnson and Morris 2010).

Global citizenship education discourses

Based on this categorisation of citizenship education, three conceptions of GCED can
similarly be distinguished from the literature, referred to as the neoliberal, humanistic
and critical-transformative discourse (Shultz 2007; Veugelers 2011; Aktas et al. 2017;
Hartung 2017; Cho and Mosselson 2017). Following the economically focused neoliberal
discourse, which emphasises individual responsibility and entrepreneurship, ‘a global
citizen is one who is a successful participant in a liberal economy driven by capitalism
and technology’ (Shultz 2007, 249). Globalisation is seen as an essentially positive force
and the underlying idea is that ‘by serving one’s own self-interests, one is serving the
interest of the planet and all its inhabitants’ (Andreotti and Pashby 2013, 428).
The more culturally focused humanistic discourse, on the other hand, is based on
moral ideals such as equality, universal human rights and a celebration of diversity. It
promotes awareness of global issues and advocates a humanitarian responsibility to
strive for a world in which everyone receives equal chances for development (Andreotti
2006). The human rights discourse is summed up in the idea of ‘a common humanity
heading toward a common “forward”’ (Andreotti and Pashby 2013, 425). Despite these
clear differences between the neoliberal and humanistic discourse, they share some key
assumptions which we will turn our attention to next.
Both the neoliberal and the humanistic discourse are arguably soft approaches to
GCED (Andreotti 2006), often promoted by Western media, celebrities, international
corporations and international development organisations. The ideal citizen according
to these discourses acts responsibly and obediently and participates in society from an
individualist perspective within the given structures. In distinct ways, both the neolib-
eral and the humanistic discourse present globalisation as an irreversible reality which
students should adapt to economically and/or culturally, while risking neglecting the
political implications (Mannion et al. 2011; Hartung 2017). It is exactly this gap which
the third perspective on GCED, the critical-transformative discourse, aims to address.
The critical-transformative discourse on GCED proposed by critical scholars (Shultz
2007; Andreotti 2011; Veugelers 2011; Truong-White and McLean 2015; Nieto 2017)1,
challenges the neoliberal and humanistic discourses by recognising the so-called ‘darker
side of modernity’, specifically the idea that globalisation leads to structural inequalities.
Respectively labelled the justice-oriented citizen and the critical-democratic citizen by
Westheimer and Kahne (2004) and Veugelers (2007), a global citizen according to the
critical-transformative discourse acknowledges that globalisation is an unfinished, change-
able process and aims at transforming unjust socio-political relations (Veugelers 2011).

Rather than promoting adaptation to the new economic order and/or projecting
normative, universalist visions based on Western ideas of progress and humanity,
transformative GCED is ‘designed in ways that acknowledges complexity, contingency
(context-dependency), multiple and partial perspectives and unequal power relations’
(Andreotti 2010, 241). Such a critical perspective promotes recognition of complicity
based on a political responsibility and requires dealing with the ‘uneasy feelings’ this
might provoke (Andreotti and Pashby 2013, 425).
Drawing on critical pedagogy, Andreotti (2010, 236) proposes a discursive pedago-
gical turn, which acknowledges that ‘our stories of reality, our knowledges, are always
situated (they are culturally bound), partial (what one sees may not be what another
sees), contingent (context-dependent) and provisional (they change)’. Like critical
GCED and critical discourse analysis, critical pedagogy is a container term bringing
together a broad variety of authors – notably the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire – and
approaches (McLaren 2009). What unites these approaches is their aim ‘to provide
a means by which the oppressed (or “subaltern”) may begin to reflect more deeply upon
their socio-economic circumstances and take action to transform the status quo’ rather
than adapting to a static reality as it is (Johnson and Morris 2010, 79). As will be argued
in the following methodology section, critical discourse analysis can help us answer the
main question following from the presented literature: what is necessary for GCED
policy in Colombia to be contributing to discursive, and as a result social, change rather
than reproducing the existing order?

This research draws on discourse analysis as an analytical framework. Jørgensen and
Phillips (2002) stress that discourse analysis starts from the social constructivist/post-
structuralist assumption that our concrete language use, rather than reflecting a pre-
given social world, shapes the social world as it is the arena in which different
discourses compete for being accepted as ‘common truth’. As different discourses
lead to different forms of action, this competition has real social consequences.
According to this anti-essentialist view, all knowledge is contingent: our worldviews
are historically and culturally specific and could always have been different.
Importantly, discourse analysis aims to be critical, that is, to contribute to social change
by investigating and critiquing taken-for-granted assumptions and power relations
(Jørgensen and Phillips 2002).
Specifically, this research draws on critical discourse analysis (CDA) as proposed by
Fairclough (2001). Compared to other approaches to discourse analysis, CDA is parti-
cularly useful because of its emphasis on social as well as discursive change. Fairclough’s
approach distinguishes itself by insisting that discourse, encompassing spoken and
written language as well as visual images, ‘is just one among many aspects of any social
practice’ (Jørgensen and Phillips 2002, 61). By analysing the dialectical relationship
between discursive and broader, non-discursive social practices, CDA aims to explore
critically the socio-political consequences of the discursive practice under examination
(Jørgensen and Phillips 2002).
According to Fairclough (2001), every text or ‘communicative event functions as
a form of social practice in reproducing or challenging the order of discourse’ (70).

Order of discourse here refers to a certain structuring of which discourses are more
dominant or alternative in a certain field (Fairclough 2001). CDA allows us to answer
our main research question by analysing the order of discourse underlying existing local
and national education policy within its specific socio-political context and in dialogue
with the literature on GCED.
Methodologically, Fairclough (2001) proposes the following five steps:
(1) Define research problem and question;
(2) Collect and prepare data;
(3) Analysis (I): Identify obstacles to the problem being tackled;
(4) Analysis (II): Identify potential ways forward;
(5) Critical reflections.
He argues that, since CDA aims to be both problem-based and emancipatory, it
should shed light on a certain social issue faced by the less well-off in society, as well as
providing possible ways of tackling the problem at hand (Fairclough 2001). The first
step (defining the research problem) is a controversial undertaking for which the
researcher needs to go ‘outside the text, using academic and non-academic sources to
get a sense of its social context’ (Fairclough 2001, 129). For this research, we draw on
the academic literature on (global) citizenship education to argue that examining
existing education policy, to promote a critical and transformative incorporation of
GCED in the Colombian social order marked by structural violence, is a relevant
research problem.
The second step consisted of selecting the relevant texts for analysis. This particular
CDA included the following documents associated with the Basic Citizenship
Competencies Standards at the national level, the PECC at the local level and UNESCO’s
vision on GCED at the international level, allowing us to analyse the national and local
documents in their broader discursive context (Table 1). These documents were selected
because they are the political base for the implementation of (global) citizenship education
at the national, local and international levels respectively.
Considering that relying solely on the texts without any further context might lead to
incomplete and/or distorted results, Fairclough stresses the importance of examining
the production and consumption conditions of the text (something only few critical
discourse analysts manage to do in practice) (Jørgensen and Phillips 2002). That is why
we conducted five semi-structured interviews with the policy makers involved in
writing and/or implementing the selected local and national policy documents. The
interviewees included professor Enrique Chaux, one of the main authors of the
Citizenship Competencies Program and Peace Chair guidelines, as well as three staff

Table 1. Analysed documents.

Name Year Issued by
Basic Citizenship Competencies Standards 2004 National Ministry of Education
Basic Competencies Standards in Language, Mathematics, Sciences and 2006 National Ministry of Education
Framework Document: Education for Citizenship and Peaceful Coexistence 2014 Secretary of Education of Bogotá
Education for Citizenship and Peaceful Coexistence. Fifth Cycle: Youth for 2014 Fe y Alegría/Secretary of
Empowerment and Transformation Education of Bogotá
Global Citizenship Education: Topics and Learning Objectives. 2015 UNESCO

members of the popular education non-governmental association (NGO) Fe y Alegría

who were involved in developing the PECC in Bogotá.
Step three – the main analysis – consists of (a) analysing the discourse itself, both
regarding interdiscursivity and linguistically; and (b) analysing the social order the
discourse is located within in order to understand why the problem persists (Fairclough
2001). At the level of interdiscursivity, the competing discourses within a single order of
discourse, in our case the discourse surrounding GCED as described in the theoretical
framework, are examined (Jørgensen and Phillips 2002). This way, ‘it is possible to
investigate where a particular discourse is dominant, where there is a struggle between
different discourses, and which common-sense assumptions are shared by all the
prevailing discourses’ (Jørgensen and Phillips 2002, 142). The linguistic/interactional
level, on the other hand, draws on systemic functional linguistics (Halliday 1994) to
examine the function linguistic choices (e.g. words, grammatical structures and so on)
play in constructing a particular discourse.
The analysis of the social order considers possible reasons why the current social
order ‘needs the problem at hand’ (Fairclough 2001, 134). In other words, it examines
the social context in which the order of discourse situates itself to understand why this
order came to be the way it is and, importantly, what exactly in this social order is
preventing the research problem at hand being tackled. This requires the researcher to
move beyond discourse analysis and ‘draw on other theories – for example, social or
cultural theory – that shed light upon the social practice in question’ (Jørgensen and
Phillips 2002, 86). The description of the Colombian context set out in the introduction
provides a basis for answering these questions in the following analysis and discussion.
Moving beyond a mere description of the status quo and its possible criticisms,
however, ‘stage 4 of the analysis moves from negative to positive critique – identification
of hitherto unrealised or not fully realised possibilities for change within the way things
are’ (Fairclough 2001, 126–7). Finally, ‘Stage 5 is the stage at which the analysis turns
reflexively back on itself, asking for instance how effective it is as critique, whether it does
or can contribute to social emancipation’ (Fairclough 2001, 127). These two final stages
will inform the conclusions and recommendations provided at the end of this article.

Findings and discussion

Analysing the order of discourse: comparing language and interdiscursivity
At the international level, UNESCO (2015a, 15) distinguishes among three conceptual
dimensions of GCED: a cognitive dimension concerning ‘learners’ acquisition of knowl-
edge, understanding and critical thinking’; a socio-emotional dimension referring to
‘the learners’ sense of belonging to a common humanity, sharing values and responsi-
bilities, empathy, solidarity and respect for differences and diversity’; and a behavioural
dimension which ‘expects the learners to act responsibly at local, national and global
levels for a more peaceful and sustainable world’. Within the framework proposed by
Westheimer and Kahne (2004), the type of citizenship promoted by UNESCO can be
described as participatory (someone who participates actively in society within the
given structures).

The recent introduction of ‘combatting violent extremism’ into UNESCO’s GCED

discourse, however, indicates that this discourse is changing. A review of the UNESCO
publications on GCED reveals that, before the end of 2015, violent extremism was not
used by UNESCO in relation to GCED. A news article published on the UNESCO
(2015b) website on 6 November 2015 explains the role of the United States in putting
violent extremism on the UNESCO agenda and explicitly linking the promotion of
GCED to the anti-terrorism and international security discourse. This is a clear example
of how the boundaries of UNESCO’s GCED are shifting through new combinations of
discourses, a phenomenon labelled interdiscursivity by Fairclough (Jørgensen and
Phillips 2002, 73).
The violent extremism discourse frames young people as the problem rather than the
solution, thereby attributing societal issues to individual irresponsibility and risking
promoting government surveillance and the targeting of specific groups (Nieto 2017).
In terms of citizenship, the emphasis on preventing violent extremism encourages
personal responsibility (Westheimer and Kahne 2004) focused on compliance, value
transmission and socioemotional anger management (Nieto 2017). As argued by
Novelli (2017, 848): ‘The security logics of interventions in education [. . .] reflect
a broader reluctance on the part of its architects to openly engage in discussion and
debate as to the root causes of conflict.’
Whereas the words ‘transformative’ and ‘transformation’ are used multiple times in the
pedagogical guidance offered by UNESCO, the prevalent message that ‘we can all be global
citizens’ is problematic from a critical perspective because it ignores the ‘dark side’ of
modernity. As stressed by Andreotti (2006): ‘Globalisation is [. . .] an asymmetrical process
in which not only its fruits are divided up unequally, but also in which the very possibility of
“being global” is unbalanced.’ UNESCO, however, suggests that global challenges affect
everyone around the world equally and we are therefore equally responsible for solving
them, thereby failing to recognise the power imbalances and oppression which often caused
these challenges in the first place. As argued by Pais and Costa (2017), by not taking an
explicit stance against the neoliberal discourse on GCED, the ‘critical’ discourse of inter-
national organisations like UNESCO ends up promoting ‘transformative’ and neoliberal
ideas simultaneously, thereby denying the contradiction between them.
Similarly, VanderDussen Toukan (2017, 62) concludes that the breadth of
UNESCO’s approach to GCED leaves the extent to which it can be considered
transformative largely ambiguous, ‘either to invite educators and policy makers to
create space for critical engagement with social justice issues or to fill in their own
agendas for neoliberal market competition’ (VanderDussen Toukan 2017, 62). Thus,
to assess to what extent GCED is being ‘hijacked’ by the existing social order and, as
a consequence, whether the neoliberal/personally responsible, human rights/partici-
patory or transformative/justice-oriented discourses are stressed in practice, it is
crucial to examine the citizenship and GCED discourse at the national and local
In Colombia, then, comparing the language used in the national citizenship compe-
tencies standards with the Coexistence and Citizenship Education Project (PECC)
developed by the former Secretary of Education of Bogotá points to important differ-
ences between the two documents. The citizenship competencies standards outline the
learning outcomes individual students need to possess (what they need to ‘know and

know how to do’) to be considered ‘good citizens’. The PECC, on the other hand,
prefers Marta Nussbaum’s term capabilities to stress that these personal competencies
do not exist in a vacuum. It thereby explicitly situates the individual within a political,
social and economic environment which can facilitate or obstruct the practice of these
competencies. Its learning objectives are divided into three levels: the relationship with
oneself (personal); the relationship with others (interpersonal, societal); and the rela-
tionship with the wider social world (systemic).
The main authors of the PECC and the citizenship competencies standards
recognise this, albeit subtle, difference in emphasis between competencies and capabilities:

What we see is that the citizenship competencies standards tend to emphasise the
individual whereas capabilities implies a stronger emphasis on context. But in the citizen-
ship competencies we do mention the importance of the environment, just like they also
discuss individual capabilities within the capabilities approach. (Chaux 2017, personal
communication, November 29, 2017)

The comparison between the mentioned documents, however, suggests that this
distinction is more profound than a mere difference in emphasis. As it turns out, the
language used in the citizenship competencies standards predominantly promotes
responsible, obedient behaviour and citizen participation within the given structures,
what Veugelers (2007) and Westheimer and Kahne (2004) have labelled adaptive/
personally responsible citizenship and individualistic/participatory citizenship respec-
tively. The PECC, on the other hand, ends up promoting a more critical-democratic
/justice-oriented citizenship.
Comparing the respective verbs used by the citizenship competencies standards and
the PECC illustrates this claim. The citizenship competencies standards stress the impor-
tance of knowing, respecting and positively valuing the law, which applies to everyone
equally, even if one disagrees with some of the ruling norms. Students are required to
understand that, in order to guarantee peaceful coexistence, the state has to count on
a monopoly on the administration of justice and the use of force. Furthermore, students
are expected to ‘express empathy towards groups or persons whose rights have been
violated’ and ‘understand that acting corruptly and using public goods for personal
benefit affects all members of society’ (Ministerio de Educación Nacional 2004, 25).
Analysed through the framework proposed by Westheimer and Kahne (2004), underlying
this discourse is the idea of personally responsible citizenship which assumes that ‘to solve
social problems and improve society, citizens must have good character; they must be
honest, responsible and law-abiding members of society’ (240).
To get their voices heard and avoid abuses, the citizenship standards also expect students
to be participatory citizens who make use of the democratic participation mechanisms granted
to them by the constitution and participate in initiatives or projects which promote non-
violence, human rights and protection of the environment. Finally, the citizenship compe-
tencies standards encourage students to critically analyse and debate current events, policy
decisions and omissions, cases of discrimination and exclusion as well as the general human
rights situation (an indication of justice-oriented citizenship). In short, the citizenship com-
petencies standards predominantly promote personally responsible citizenship.
Simultaneously, however, they acknowledge justice-oriented and participatory citizenship

by promoting critical thinking and actively participating within the established normative
system respectively.
The PECC similarly aims for citizens who take responsibility for their actions and
actively participate in democratic spaces. Starting from the premise that democratic
participation is necessary but insufficient, it argues that personal socio-emotional
development (e.g. learning to accept what is different) is a prerequisite for social
transformation and empowerment. Social transformation is described as the awareness
that history is not predefined but rather actively shaped through dialogue and collective
action (Fe y Alegría 2014). Empowerment, then, is understood as the capacity to
understand yourself as a social and political agent who has the responsibility to speak
up rather than conforming/submitting to the status quo (Fe y Alegría 2014). Besides
this need for personal development, however, the PECC explicitly proposes societal and
systemic citizenship practices. Contrary to the citizenship competencies standards, these
practices are formulated in first-person plural (e.g. we discuss . . .) rather than singular
(e.g. I participate in . . .), thereby stressing co-responsibility and collective action rather
than personal responsibility towards the state.
In this spirit, the PECC takes justice-oriented citizenship a step further than the
citizenship competencies standards by inviting students to collectively question, reinter-
pret and propose alternatives towards the prevalent norms instead of relying on the law/
state to decide what is just and what is not. As they ‘discuss the relation and tension
between law and justice’ and learn to ‘differentiate between the legitimate expression of
civil disobedience and delinquency’, students are not expected to act within the
established systems and community structures. On the contrary, they are invited to
actively change these structures by resisting the norms and laws they consider to be
unjust through acts of civil disobedience. In this context, defending human rights is not
just understood as an individual responsibility, but also as a collective claim and
a fundamental responsibility of the state. Likewise, conflict is seen as desirable and an
opportunity for change: a ‘manifestation of the pluralism of ideologies and worldviews,
unequal power relations and diverse interests’ rather than a problem to be managed (Fe
y Alegría 2014, 36).
These discourses of personal responsibility in the citizenship competencies standards
versus collective action and justice-oriented citizenship in the PECC are strengthened
by the imagery used in both documents. Whereas pictures in the citizenship compe-
tencies standards refer to knowledge/understanding (books) and peaceful coexistence
(holding hands) (Ministerio de Educación Nacional 2006, 148, 153, 158), the PECC
portrays a diverse group of youngsters organising and mobilising for action and uses
street art, a symbol of civil disobedience, as a recurring theme throughout its material
(Fe y Alegría 2014, 280, 289).
These discursive differences also affect the way both documents approach the idea of
global citizenship. The citizenship competencies standards introduce the global per-
spective by expecting its students to link global issues to their local environment and
participate in local, national or global initiatives which defend human rights and the
environment. They have a thematic and arguably soft (Andreotti 2006), humanistic
connection to global citizenship, as they introduce war and peace, protection of the
environment and human rights as global issues.

The PECC, on the other hand, introduces the global perspective by acknowledging
the problematic effects of globalisation: it discusses the structural inequalities and
global power relations (income inequality, racism, discrimination of women and so
on) within their historical context (e.g. colonialism). Moreover, to denounce these
injustices and demand universal human rights, the PECC invites students to ask the
questions ‘What do I have to do myself? What do I have to do together with others?
What do I have to do with those further away?’ (Fe y Alegría 2017, personal
communication, September 29, 2017). This explicitly systemic view on global citizen-
ship is summarised by the following quote from the lesson materials: ‘Constructing
a more just and equitable social order is a task that can and should be done locally,
but it will not be sustainable unless it is developed from a systemic and global
perspective’ (Fe y Alegría 2014, 292). Coherent with its justice-oriented approach to
citizenship education, the discourse on GCED found in the PECC can thus be
described as critical-transformative.

Analysing the discourses within their social order

In order to understand where these differences between the citizenship competencies
standards and the PECC come from, it is crucial to analyse the conditions in which
these documents were produced. The citizenship competencies standards were written
in 2003 under the right-wing government of Álvaro Uribe and his minister of education
Cecilia María Vélez, who had formerly been Bogotá’s Secretary of Education. They were
the result of a short, intensive process led by prominent academics in the field of civil
education. The citizenship competencies standards are being evaluated nationally
through standardised multiple-choice tests (the so-called pruebas SABER or ‘knowing’
tests). Due to Colombia’s decentralised education system, however, the way in which
these standards were to be implemented was left entirely up to the regional Secretaries
of Education. The PECC, then, was brought into being by Secretary of Education Oscar
Sánchez to fulfil this task in Bogotá during the period 2012–2015.
In stark contrast to the somewhat rushed, top-down creation of the national citizen-
ship competencies standards, the PECC materials were developed by Fe y Alegría
through an extensive consultation process involving hundreds of teachers and rooted
in a well-funded project which included comprehensive, school-based strategies to
combat violence and promote active citizenship (Fe y Alegría 2017, personal commu-
nication, September 29, 2017). The educational approach underlying the PECC,
Reflection – Action – Participation (RAP), is explicitly based on Freire’s critical
pedagogy (Secretaría de Educación del Distrito 2014). In terms of evaluation, the
PECC promotes alternative forms of assessment which take into account the school
context (Secretaría de Educación Distrital 2014). In this spirit the Sánchez administra-
tion created a complementary evaluation method in Bogotá (the pruebas SER or ‘being’
tests) (Fe y Alegría 2017, personal communication, September 29, 2017).
At the time the PECC was being developed in Bogotá, the city was governed by the
progressive, social democrat mayor Gustavo Petro. Although Juan Manuel Santos had
by then taken over the presidential office from Uribe, the teachers’ unions vividly
remembered their tensions with Vélez’s former administration. Moreover, Uribe’s
government had left a bitter aftertaste, notably his ties with paramilitary groups and

involvement in various human rights violations (e.g. illegal interception of opposition

members). Santos’ peace talks with the FARC clearly differentiated him from his
predecesor in political terms, but Vélez’s legacy in terms of educational policy (includ-
ing the citizenship competencies standards) was left surprisingly intact. In this light, the
PECC can be seen as an ‘act of resistance’ by which the Petro administration wanted to
differentiate itself from the national governments.
As usual in Colombia, however, the end of Petro’s term as mayor did imply a sudden
change in the capital’s educational policy and the end of the PECC as a comprehensive
project (Fe y Alegría 2017, personal communication, September 29, 2017). Traces of the
project are still visible on the city’s website, but the political views of current mayor
Enrique Peñalosa, who has been criticised for criminalising urban art forms such as
grafitti, in many ways oppose Petro’s. As the previous political comitment to the project
has not been continued, the PECC risks becoming yet another guideline added to the,
to some degree inconsistent, pile of documents Colombian teachers and educational
institutions have to navigate.

Conclusion: potential ways forward and critical reflections

The analysis of international, national and local policy documents showed that the
current social order in Colombia, characterised by a lack of political continuity and an
outcome-oriented push for standardisation, favours the ‘soft’ (Andreotti 2006) kind of
GCED discourse promoted by UNESCO and the National Ministry of Education. This
kind of education does not challenge the status quo, as political responsibility is largely
ignored and students are held individually responsible for succeeding within the given
structures, rather than encouraged to reflect on and change injustices through collective
action. Arguing that discourse has the power both to reproduce and to change unequal
power relations, Fairclough’s fourth step explicitly aims to move beyond a mere
description of the status quo and its criticisms. Once it is established how discourse
is used to reproduce inequalities and how the existing structures limit possibilities for
change, this awareness should be used to inform social transformation towards more
social justice.
In this spirit, the PECC shows what a citizenship education project based on critical
pedagogy can look like, providing us with powerful clues for going beyond the apolitical
civil education projects prevalent in Colombia by integrating GCED within the national
curriculum in a truly critical and transformative fashion. Firstly, it explicitly assumes
the current social order and norms as contingent and debatable, rather than stable and
unquestionable. Starting from the interdependence between the personal, the interper-
sonal and the systemic rather than global issues, it introduces GCED as the possibility
to reimagine and change the unjust social order through collective action. Importantly,
the PECC materials are part of a coherent, well-funded strategy which was created
through an elaborate consultation process with teachers which took several years, rather
than hastily imposed ‘top down’. Finally, the learning process of the students is
evaluated through alternative evaluation methods which take into account the learning
process and context, rather than standardised multiple-choice tests aimed to measure
learning outcomes. We consider that initiatives which, like the PECC, take a critical-
transformative approach should be recuperated and strengthened because they allow for

a relatively straightforward integration of GCED which goes beyond the soft approaches
found in other contexts (Aktas et al. 2017; Engel, Fundalinski, and Cannon 2016) that
might generate resistance among teachers and educational institutions in Colombia.
Eventually, however, how education policy is put in practice largely depends on the
educator and local context. As argued by Andreotti (2011): ‘Between enunciation (e.g.
of a neoliberal educational agenda) and interpretation in a specific context (e.g. teachers
“on the ground”) lies a space of negotiation and creative opportunity that is always
pregnant with (risky) possibilities’ (395). This might be problematic, as education
systems around the world are requiring ‘fast, predictable and easily measurable out-
comes that provide a sense of immediate reward and satisfaction to client-learners’,
which are not easily compatible with the more time-consuming and ambiguous critical
approaches to GCED (Andreotti 2011, 396). Combined with a lack of political con-
tinuity in Colombia, this makes promoting more alternative and critical educational
approaches particularly challenging.
One especially interesting direction for future research, then, would be to attempt to
open the ‘black box’ between policy and practice through comparing and contrasting
the analysis provided in this paper with the actual, observed outcomes of GCED in the
classroom. In this regard, Schrøder (2007, 84) stresses that
critical discourse analysis will have to face the challenge of exploring empirically both the
encoding and the decoding discourse practices that mediate between media texts and
sociocultural practices, if they wish to be able to contribute in a genuinely critical manner
to the debates.

Since Critical Discourse Analysis is an explicitly emancipatory undertaking aiming to

contribute to social change, only by examining how these policy documents play out in
practice will we truly be able to judge to what extent and under which circumstances
GCED manages to live up to its transformative potential.

1. It is important to note that the boundaries between these competing GCED discourses are
constructed in order to create a framework for study rather than ‘found’ in reality (Jørgensen
and Phillips 2002). This categorisation risks homogenising the diversity within the three
discourses. For example, within the critical-transformative discourse on GCED at least three
distinct approaches can be distinguished: firstly, an approach based on critical pedagogy and
popular education (Veugelers 2007; Reilly and Niens 2014; Truong-White and McLean 2015);
secondly, a decolonial approach which also draws on critical pedagogy, but more importantly
on critical Latin American thinkers such as Mignolo, Escobar, Quijano, Grosfoguel, Dussel,
Maldonado-Torres and Castro-Gómez, as well as other academics such as Boaventura de
Sousa Santos and Catherine Walsh, who think from the global South (Andreotti 2011; Balarin
2011; Nieto 2017); and lastly, a total critique, including of GCED as a concept and strategy
(Watson 2013; Pais and Costa 2017; Jooste and Heleta 2017).

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors. The authors of this article have not
been involved in the development of either the Education for Coexistence and Citizenship
Project (PECC) or the Basic Citizenship Competencies Standards.

Jana De Poorter
Nicolás Aguilar-Forero

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