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Reflections from Riga

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Photos: Attendees from across Europe engaging in conversation on Global Education

Shannette, Volunteer Quality Project Officer at Comhlámh shares her thoughts on a recent trip to Riga, Latvia.

I really value the opportunity I had to attend the “Young Europeans for Global Development Conference” in Riga, Latvia where approximately thirty young people spoke about “Best practices in mainstreaming global education into nonformal learning”.

The conference started off with participants identifying ways in which the world has changed over the last thirty years (“Expansion of the EU, shift of world power, increased movement of people, climate change, continued fight for resources, prevalence of new technologies such as the internet and mobile phone, greater interconnectivity of financial markets, increase of human rights awareness”) were noted changes identified by the participants, many of whom were in fact born after 1984.

This conversation was followed by one where attendees were asked what they needed in order to “live a happy life”. “Tolerance and an open mind to different people and new ideas, literacy, freedom of movement, ability to sustain oneself and one’s community, creativity, ability to meet and exchange ideas, ability to make decisions and the ability to live a healthy life” were some frequently cited responses being articulated by the various groups.

When asked, “What is the role of global education in light of the previous two analyses?”, people noted that global education should: encourage young people to be more humble and open-minded, question power structures, encourages curiosity, create spaces for people to meet and share ideas, challenges ways of thinking (especially traditional models), and should provide young people with a plurality of solutions/approaches that could be drawn from different people in different places.

As I reflect on my time at this conference and the various conversations that took place, I am left with a sense that this generation of young people are on the brink of moving tentatively in a new direction. Certainly there was a gulf between the perceived day-to-day reality and the vision of what the future should look like.

Participants were certainly limited by the time we had with one another and I would have liked to discuss the role of governments in relation to their responsibility to citizens versus their engagement with corporations. Also, what can we do to challenge the rise of income inequality across the world—especially in ‘democratic’ and ‘socialist’ countries? What should be done about the devaluing of academic degrees (Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorates) in a globalised world where education is much more accessible? What are the implications of this on the future prospects of young people? Also, what should be said to educational institutions that prepare students to be economic units whose aim is to contribute to a profit-driven society rather than functional thinkers in a self-sustaining community? Indeed, how does one now describe one’s “community”? And finally, does such a term still exist?

Certainly one of the resources that I would like to share from this conference—and one that I felt deeply impacts the way I look at the world, my own life experiences, and my own personal actions— is the documentary “Schooling the World—The White Man’s Last Burden”. Thoughts on this documentary and other musings welcomed!

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