Sustainable Global Citizenship Through Learning The English Language by Samaher Alharrasi
As rapid technological development is making the world “a small village”, English has been adopted as the global language of that world village. Hence, it makes lots of sense to utilize English as a medium for the discussion of global issues (Khondker, 2011, cited in Schulzke, 2014, p. 225). I work as an English language teacher at a private college in Oman. I teach high school graduates who join the foundation program prior to starting their credit-bearing courses.
Over my three years of teaching, I have struggled to make my students acknowledge their need to learn English. Although I have tried to help them realize that the globalization movements in the world have resulted in English being promoted as the language of global communication, my students seem to be very disconnected from what is happening in the outside world. They seem to be very ethnocentric and isolated inside the shell of their own culture (Afzal, 2012, p. 655), unwilling to interact or care about other cultures.
Such attitudes run counter to the college’s vision of preparing Omani graduates who have the capacity of acting as global citizens. For example, my students fail to interact with most of the topics discussed in class although most of the time the topics cover global issues. On many occasions, they have expressed to me their feeling of inability to make sense of such topics.
I will always remember one specific incident that happened to me in class. We were discussing a reading about education in the world, and I asked the students to locate the countries mentioned in the reading on the map. It came as a shock to me when one student refused to do the task and argued that it was not relevant to learning English. Obviously, this student, and assumingly many others, thought that learning English should be done through the traditional way of indoctrination*; with me instructing and spoon-feeding them all they needed to know.
When I started studying the course of Educating for Sustainability EDUC71212, I felt very excited, for I realized that this could be a potentially successful path to walk my students to the gates of accepting English.
Sustainability issues are already evident in the Omani context as the country depends to a great extent on unsustainable sources of income like oil, and people carry on unsustainable lifestyles that are overly characterized by extravagance. It seems that the society in Oman is very focused on meeting its present needs but “compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987, p. 42, cited in Nolet, 2015, p. 4).
I started to feel disappointed that in a time when on an international level “we are beginning to witness a dawning realisation that global humanity has to shift” to assure the survival of future generations (O’riordan, 2012, p. 307), Omani society and governing structures are prone to ethnocentrism, and seem unable to actively engage in this shift as global citizens of the world.
I am aware that my students’ inability to relate to what is happening in the world is most probably a direct result of the influence of the society. Nevertheless, by interactively engaging with the Educating for Sustainability course, I have come to realize that my position within the society as a teacher of young people enables me to take initial actions to start the change movement in Oman. As Schumacher (1997) argues, “[if] still more education is to save us, it would have to be education of a different kind: an education that takes us into the depth of things’ (cited in Sterling, 2010, p. 17).
I also have come to acknowledge that sustainability should not only be an addition to the already existing educational system, but a medium of solving the societal problems through education as “sustainability is defined more by the problems it addresses rather than the disciplines it employs” (Clark, 2007, cited in O’Byrne, Dripps and Nicholas, 2014, p. 43).
Therefore, Nolet’s (2015) chapter in his book Educating for Sustainability titled “Powerful Pedagogies” has been a major inspiration source into my understanding of how sustainability could be integrated into my teaching. Reading this chapter, I have become aware of the crucial need to adopt new teaching approaches as “education for sustainability often involves learning that is highly collaborative, active, participatory, and learner centered” (Nolet, 2015, p. 126).
I now wonder whether my previous teaching styles, which could be generally described as teacher-centred, might have been one of the reasons behind my students’ unwillingness to interact with the global topics discussed in class. Nolet (2015) recommends a shift for a more learner-centred approaches of teaching for sustainability where the teacher acts as facilitator of learning with more responsibility and control given to students (p. 127).
Nolet (2015) suggests five teaching approaches which he calls “high-leverage instructional approaches” as they, as he claims, promote better learning outcomes that are “associated with a sustainability worldview” (p. 127). I personally find all the five approaches relevant and applicable in my context, but I aim to focus on place-based learning as it is “a hybrid model that includes elements of inquiry-based learning, experiential learning, and service learning” (Nolet, 2015, p. 139).
I have become more convinced that this would be the most appropriate approach to teaching sustainability to my students and encouraging them to start wearing the global citizens’ hat since this approach promotes “asking questions about one’s place [which] can be a transformative experience as learners begin to see themselves and understand broader social and global issues in the context of their local place” (Nolet, 2015, p. 139).
I believe that with a context like mine where sustainability is an alien concept, it is important to start addressing sustainability from a local prospective to move into a more global one. In doing so, blogs written by other teachers, like Darren Gauger’s blog (see also sustainable schools project), about their thoughts and the application of this approach into teaching about sustainability would be a helpful source of guidance to me.
I am aware that bringing in such new concepts and practices into my teaching context might engender disagreement and reluctance; especially as I work for a private college that prioritizes financial profits over educational excellence. Thus, I expect to be faced with many questions from the management at the college when attempting to realize my plans for teaching for sustainability. However, I have found great inspiration in the story of Wangari Matthai, a Kenyan woman who in trying to solve an environmental problem in her context, eventually influenced a revolution in the whole country over dictatorship.
I keep reminding myself that this woman had to fight a whole political system in order to convey her message about the need to care for the environment in Kenya, and she succeeded immensely at the end. Fortunately, in Oman I would not have to fight to that extreme as people in Oman tend to accept change when they realize that it is indeed needed. However, Matthai’s story is a pushing hand that would always remind me that nothing is impossible as long as I am strong enough to stand for what I believe in.
Moreover, I am a believer in gradual change. In order to convince any opposing voices to my attempts to make the changes I described in terms of my teaching approaches, I think that I need to gradually institute educating for sustainability in my context using ways that are appropriate to it. It is eventually, as Wangari Matthai puts it in the video I Will Be a Humming Bird, about doing the best I can, and as Richard Bach puts it, “a tiny change today brings a dramatically different tomorrow”.
A relieving thought to me in doing what I aim to do is that I am actually not alone. There are many groups of young people in Oman that have realized the crucial need to shift to more sustainable thinking both for the government and the society. Among those is a group of Sultan Qaboos University’s graduates who started a YouTube channel named “Wallah Nestahal”, meaning we deserve better, where they make very interesting videos which discuss many societal problems and suggest solutions.
Among the videos they have made, there are two videos where they discuss sustainability issues in Oman. In the first video titled “What After Oil”, they discuss the government’s over reliance on Oil to support the national income and the need to adopt more sustainable sources of income. In the second video titled “Water Security”, they discuss the need to look for more sustainable ways to assure water security in Oman. These videos are not a source of inspiration to me only, but they could inspire my students as the speakers in the videos are young Omani people just like them.
Afzal, A. (2012). Ethnocentrism. In: Encyclopedia of Immigrant Health, 1st ed. New York: Springer, pp. 655-656.
O’Byrne, D., Dripps, W. and Nicholas, K. (2014). Teaching and learning sustainability: An assessment of the curriculum content and structure of sustainability degree programs in higher education. Sustainability Science, 10(1), pp. 43-59.
O’riordan, T. (2012). Reflections on the pathways to sustainability. In: W. Adger, ed., Governing Sustainability, 1st ed. [online] Cambridge University Press, pp.307-328. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511807756 [Accessed 30 Mar. 2017]. (Available on Amazon for £20.69)
Nolet, V. (2015). Educating for Sustainability. 1st ed. [ebook] Taylor and Francis. Available at: http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/manchester/detail.action?docID=2166420 [Accessed 27 Feb. 2017]. (Available on Amazon for £32.99)
Schulzke, M. (2014). The prospects of global English as an inclusive language. Globalizations, [online] 11(2), pp. 225-238. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14747731.2014.904173 [Accessed 15 Apr. 2017].
Sterling, S. (2010). Transformative Learning and Sustainability: sketching the conceptual ground. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, (5), pp. 17-33.
*Indoctrination is “teaching someone to accept a set of beliefs without questioning them” as defined in https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/indoctrination
http://www.mcbs.edu.om/en/about-mcbs/mcbs-graduate-attributes : This website page provides clear understanding of what the college refers to as global citizen among its graduates attributes.
https://www.mof.gov.om/Portals/1/documents/Financial-reports/The-state-budget/2017/2017.pdf : This PDF is published on the Ministry of Finance website and it gives specific information about Oman’s budget for the year 2017, including information about the sources of national income (Note: the reference is entirely written in Arabic).
http://www.promiseofplace.org/what_is_pbe : A link to a web page defining place-based learning on a website titled Promise of Place specified to introducing this approach.
http://darrenslearningadventure.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/place-based-learning-in-early-childhood.html : A link to a blog written by a teacher named Darren Gauger where he talks about his thoughts about place-based learning to teach about sustainability.
http://sustainableschoolsproject.org/education/k-5-scope : A Web page that gives more thoughts into the application of place-based learning for educating for sustainability.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5GX6JktJZg : A video about the story of Wangari Matthai, a Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize woman who with her simple actions has led a changing movement in her country not only in the level of caring for the environment, but even for defending democracy in Kenya.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGMW6YWjMxw : The link for the video I Will Be a Humming Bird by Wangari Matthai.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Bach : A link to a Wikipedia page about Richard Bach.
https://www.youtube.com/user/WallahNestahal : A link to the YouTube channel of the group of Sultan Qaboos University’s graduates named Wallah Nestahal, meaning we deserve better.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3cLFlEEb3w : A video produced by a group of Omani young people where they discuss the problem of unsustainable sources of income in Oman and the need to shift to more sustainable sources for income (this video is in Arabic).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-muUOCC3qk : A video produced by a group of Omani young people where they discuss the problem of water security in Oman and the need to look for more sustainability ways to secure water supply (this video is in Arabic).
Recommended Readings on Global Citizenship and Sustainability
Boetto, H. and Bell, K. (2015). Environmental sustainability in social work education: An online initiative to encourage global citizenship. International Social Work, 58(3), pp.448-462.
Dobson, A. (2012). Citizens, citizenship and governance for sustainability. In: W. Adger, ed., Governing Sustainability, 1st ed. [online] Cambridge University Press, pp.125-141. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511807756 [Accessed 30 Mar. 2017]. (Available on Amazon for £20.69)
Dower, N. (2003). An introduction to global citizenship. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. (Available on Amazon for £16.36)
Dower, N. and Williams, J. (eds.) (2002). Global citizenship: A critical reader. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. (Available on Amazon for £22.94)