A Catholic education to develop global citizens

In the same month that I am speaking about Development Education at the Global Forum on Girls’ Education, we have learned that 62 individuals have the same wealth as half of the world’s population combined and we continue to hear about refugees dying as they journey to find a safe-haven; a crisis which exemplifies what is becoming the Third World War based on poverty and wealth inequality.

Global inequality is a far-reaching, complex and historical issue and Development Education helps girls to gain a greater understanding of the issues.
As a Catholic school, my own school benefits from the clear guidance of the Catholic Church’s teaching on Social Justice and Option for the Poor. Pope Francis, by his action and his words, and by taking on the name of St Francis of Assisi (who loved the poor), works to focus the attention of Catholics, and the rest of the world, on the plight of the poor. His second encyclical, ‘Laudato si’, encourages a fresh mind-set. Whilst largely focussing on the problem of climate change and its grave implications – environmental, social, economical, and political – commentators have drawn comparisons between this cyclical and the writings of Romano Guardini, who encouraged a questioning of the status quo. Guardini highlighted the modern tendency to see nature as something for scientists, inventors, and human-kind generally to ‘master’ or manipulate for our own (not always edifying) purposes. Pope Francis’ call for us to change our thinking, and to really investigate the effect of capitalism on an increasingly suffering nature, encourages a change of mind-frame, which would focus our attention on the direct effects of first world behaviour on the developing world’s reality.

As Pope Francis stated in Laudato si: “Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited.”

Through Development Education, which is initially delivered via our Junior School Key Stage 2 curriculum, we intend to instil a questioning nature in our pupils. They ask questions such as “why are some so fortunate to have been born into a situation where they are blessed with a good education, food, warmth, shelter and safety, while others are born into poverty, conflict and disease?” By no means do we want to spoil the hope and innocence of our girls’ childhoods by unduly burdening them with what can be such harsh realities, but, if we can teach pupils to think laterally; to not take for granted their comparably privileged positions in life; to adopt an attitude of questioning the status quo; and to develop an awareness of other people’s situations, then we can also inspire and equip them to deal with inequality and injustice, encouraging them to act and become part of the ‘answer’. This foundation is then built upon as the girls progress to our Senior School. We do this through extra-curricular opportunities to participate in school fundraising campaigns and projects such as Model United Nations Alfrink and the mock election, as well as curriculum subjects including, but not limited to, Religious Education, Geography and PSHE.

St Ambrose wrote: “It is not from your own possessions that you are bestowing aims on the poor, you are but restoring to them what is theirs by right. For what was given to everyone for the use of all, you have taken for your exclusive use. The earth belongs not to the rich, but to everyone. Thus, far from giving lavishly, you are but paying part of your debt.

When we teach Junior School pupils about local and global issues in such a way that they understand the impact of different ways of thinking and subsequent decisions, the girls develop a vital understanding of political, media, environmental and cultural environments. This understanding is essential for those who are inspired to consider how the situation can be improved.
An example of Development Education in action is Year 5 pupils deciding to act against food insecurity and unjust food distribution, which they discovered while studying the topic of Africa. The girls decided something must be done to resolve the situation and wrote to a local MP, highlighting their concerns. Each received a personal response. The group also decided to help in a practical way, by raising money to purchase a water pump for an African village, through an aid organisation.

In Pope Francis’ words: “We have to realise that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. As we strive for a more just world, what better way is there to realise this than by encouraging our future leaders from early childhood to disrupt the status quo in what has become an unjust and troubled world?


Charlotte Avery, Headmistress, St Mary’s School, Cambridge

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