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Global Issues in EFL Secondary Education
- a hands-on / mind-on approach Mariana Ferrarelli
“What!’ continued Phileas Fogg, in a perfectly calm tone of voice. ‘Do these barbarous customs still prevail in India? Have not the English been able to put an end to them?” (Verne; 2002:48)

Introduction The following pages will explore the multiple layers and probable answers to a single question: Is it possible to continue thinking that language teaching is neutral when its raw material, language, is the only tool created by humans with enough power to build discourses and destroy ideas, dominate, stigmatize, empower and disempower? If language is the ‘voice’ of people, can we still believe that teaching learners how to use it is merely simple and harmless ‘training’? There is a series of theorists who have already discussed the political implications of language teaching (Freire; Pennycook; Dogancay-Aktuna; Brown; Anderson; Yakovchuk). However, what needs to be explored at a further level is the practical effect that dealing with sensible issues has in classroom practice. Although his tone is ‘perfectly calm’ and his temper typically self-controlled and determined, Fogg, protagonist of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, fails to escape the horror felt before the difference, the unknown. The ethnocentric stance in the quote above prescribes a world in which there is a centre that rules over a dispersed and stigmatized periphery. The reference to the local customs as ‘barbarous’ hides the intolerance and fear towards what cannot be apprehended or processed according to one’s own patterns – that is, culture. In a context in which some of these primeval attitudes still prevail, teachers should assume the role of cultural workers striving to raise awareness among students and advancing critical thinking so that

classrooms become sites of social, political, and intercultural debate. Together with the obsolete principles of ethnocentrism, the idea that language teaching – and learning – is neutral is the first misconception to be abolished in a global issues class. Because language is deeply connected to power and culture, and because it carries with it a specific view of the world and our place in it, raising awareness among teachers of the political and cultural implications of teaching and learning becomes essential in any context. Having said all this, the layout of the article that follows is very easy to trace: I will explore the importance of dealing with global issues in secondary education as one possible way to politicize the language classroom. I will then provide some practical proposals to illustrate ways in which teachers can encourage both language use and critical thinking. Global Issues, Global Concerns Although each country has its own culture and traditions what cannot be denied is the fact that technology and information have, in recent years, turned the world into a more interdependent and complex place to live in. As a result, young people, especially adolescents, need more tools to address the events that affect them both globally and locally. One of these tools to face this new changing reality is the ability to "develop mutual respect and understanding between people with diverse opinions, viewpoints and values" (British Council, 2008:3). The exercise of tolerance and respect for differences becomes essential in a global context in which teenagers need to understand that the world where they live goes beyond the boundaries of their own house, school and even their country. Global issues can be referred to as those aspects and concerns that affect us all, regardless of which state, nation, culture, or social group we belong to. In this sense, therefore, we could say they are crosscultural, cross-political, and cross-


IATEFL Global Issues Special Interest Group Newsletter, issue 28

geographical. They are cross-cultural since they affect how people create meaning and communicate in every part of the world. Immigration, for instance, affects the habits and traditions of both the immigrants themselves and the host community at all levels – that is, the hegemonic dominant culture and also the subcultures present in a given society. Global issues are cross-geographical in the sense that they express the extent to which the different regions of the globe are interconnected. Pollution in one place can affect – and actually does affect – the ozone layer somewhere else; floods in agricultural areas not only ruin the local environment and economy, but also affect markets worldwide. Finally, global issues are cross-political due to the fact that they are present in every political regime, and sooner or later they affect how governments work and how they make decisions. Active citizen participation through social media has proved in recent months to cut across boundaries and develop in both democratic and dictatorial regimes. Global Issues and Education Global issues are there to remind us that we live in one world despite its class, race or economic differences. When defining global education Tye and Knip (1991:47) claim that it "involves learning about those problems and issues which cut across national boundaries and about interconnectedness of systems - cultural, ecological, economic, political and technological". In their definition the emphasis is placed on the development of our knowledge and skills to address multicultural and diverse realities so that we teachers and our students become active global citizens. Global issues do not necessarily include only negative aspects or affairs such as poverty, wars, racism, or deforestation. The focus can also be put on how communities have recovered from natural disasters caused by climate change,

or how some social groups have overcome racism or religious conflicts.

Studying how gender roles develop in a social group or how they are resisted are possible ways in which teachers can raise awareness in students. At the same time, these issues can boost language practice through classroom debates, the production of posters and other writing pieces, or an essay on the analysis of how gender roles are portrayed either in a Holly/Bollywood film or in magazine covers aimed at teenage girls. Global issues: language proficiency and critical thinking There are many reasons why global issues should be included in the curriculum as an option for foreign language teachers. However, there are at least two of these reasons which need to be explored. Firstly, the inclusion of global issues into the EFL class becomes the perfect excuse to use the language for genuine communication, thus giving language learning a content focus. By including global issues in our teaching we not only help our students enhance their language proficiency, but we also give them the possibility of broadening their horizons and opening their minds to new fields of discussion such as poverty, environmental problems, sustainable development, etc. In a nutshell: children and adolescents learn about the world around them while using the target language at the same time. David Valente (2009:15) also makes a point about this when stating that "embedding global awareness within language and skills focus ensures challenging issues around equality and diversity, for example, are presented within the scope of the


IATEFL Global Issues Special Interest Group Newsletter, issue 28

learners, according to their ages and language levels". Raising global awareness among young people promotes critical thinking skills, teamwork and discussion, and gives students the opportunity to explore topics from different viewpoints thus allowing for open-mindedness, curiosity, and enquiry. The second reason for including the global agenda in the EFL class lies in the fact that it allows students and teachers to exercise their thinking skills to become responsible citizens. It is the perfect "opportunity to develop critical thinking about complex global issues in the safe space of the classroom. (...) to explore, develop and express their own values and opinions, whilst listening to and respecting other people's points of view" (Oxfam, 2006:1). Addressing global issues in educational environments opens endless paths for the exercise of tolerance and pluralism, and respect for different opinions and cultures. Conclusion In the global issues class where tolerance and inquiry are exercised, the word ‘barbarous’ no longer applies. The ‘Other’ is not seen according to one dominant pattern since the aim is to view actions and events from the perspective of the actors. The global classroom is the place where students and teachers work on one same issue while allowing for different approaches and views. As a result, the ‘cultural other’ is no longer stigmatized or segregated; on the contrary, it is integrated in an environment where there is tolerance and equality.
References Anderson, G.G. (1996). “Global Issues in the University ESL Classroom”. The Language Teacher. Available at: British Council (2008). Intercultural Dialogue Booklet. Available at: Brown, H. D. (1991) ”50 Simple Things you can do to teach environmental wareness and action in your English language classroom”, The Language Teacher. 15:4-5 Dogancay-Aktuna, S. (2005) "Intercultural communication in English language teacher education". ELT Journal 5: 99-106. Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York, Herder & Herder. Oxfam (2006) Education for Global Citizenship. A Guide for Schools, available at Pennycook, A. (1994) The cultural politics of English as an International Language, London, Longman Valente, D. (2009). "Raising teenagers' global awareness via extensive reading" in IATEFL Global Issues SIG Newsletter. Available at _09.pdf Verne, J.(2002), Around the world in eighty days, Wordsworth, UK. Su-chin, L. and Hsin-Yi, K. (2009) "Curriculum as an International Text: Evaluation of global Education from Junior High School Students' Knowledge and Attitude in Taiwan". CCSE Journal, 6 (6):49-63. Tye, K.A. and Kniep (1991) "Global education around the world" in Educational Leadership, 48 (7):47-49 Yakovchuk, N. (2004) "Global issues and values in foreign language education: selection and awareness raising" ELTED, 8:28-42. Yamashiro, A.D. (1996). " Integrating Global Issues into High School EFL" The Language Teacher. Available at:

Mariana Ferrarelli has a degree in Communication Sciences at Universidad de Buenos Aires and has done three postgraduate courses in Research Methodology at Universidad de Lanús. Specialized in Cultural Studies and Discourse Analysis and how they can be used to develop critical thinking skills in secondary education.


IATEFL Global Issues Special Interest Group Newsletter, issue 28