Hartmut Dürste / Manfred Fenner /
Heribert Hinzen

Partly as a result of the events of 11 September and increasing globalization, there is growing awareness that we are all part of “One World”, and that what happens in the Third World also affects the so-called industrialized countries in the North. The Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is calling for greater individual responsibility and more clarity about ways in which people can make a difference. What can development education do to help as part of global learning, and what role do the Volkshochschulen (the German adult education centres) in particular play in this process? The authors give a historical outline of the long-standing work of the IIZ/DVV in this area and point to future opportunities. Hartmut Dürste and Manfred Fenner work at the Volkshochschule in Duisburg. They have been cooperating with the IIZ/DVV for many years on the “Global Learning” project and are the authors of a number of IIZ/DVV publications. Heribert Hinzen is Director of the IIZ/DVV and Editor of AED.

Development Education – Global Learning and Intercultural Adult Education

The Situation

The impact of development policy and development cooperation is too important for our future for us to allow ourselves to ignore it or to make snap judgments about it, especially if these are negative. There still is a widespread view among the general population that if only other countries would “develop” in the same way as ourselves, they would necessarily succeed, and people therefore ask what has happened to “all those billions”. This, it is argued, has to be explained by the failure of developing countries totally or partially to pursue our path to industrialization. None the less, as is evident from the latest survey of opinions on development policy in the Member States of the European Union, sympathy and support for that policy has grown enormously in the last decade, being above the EU average in Germany.

The most significant reason for this change is doubtless that the events of 11 September made the notion of “One World” far plainer to everyone than any teaching could. The idea that what happens in the Third World is nothing to do with us has been shattered for ever. The realisation that it is of concern to us has spread markedly. The German President Johannes Rau put it thus: “...fear and danger can also lead to opportunities.”1

But international events may not be the only explanation for this change of outlook. The Federal Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) also regards the following as contributory factors:

  • Greater press coverage of development issues

  • Despatch of troops to developing countries, and reporting on these missions

  • Quadrupling of funds for education as part of development cooperation

  • Increased cooperation between the bodies providing this education through networking and associations2

On the other hand, the suggestion that individual countries must go their own way and that we can and should learn from the peoples of the Third World, especially in the cultural field so that our own culture is enriched, is still greeted with scepticism or even rejected out of hand. This is despite the fact that our society has manifestly become multiethnic, multicultural and multifaith, and will go yet further in this direction in the future.

Agenda 21 and the follow-up conferences have also given a boost to awareness, but this is far from adequate. The BMZ has set out four closely interrelated key goals of sustainable development:

  • Social justice

  • Economic ability to perform

  • Political stability

  • Ecological balance

These goals are to be achieved through action in three closely related fields, one of which is “public information and coherence” at home.3 A high priority is thus given to development education as part of this effort, so that

“this vision (of a life free from poverty, fear and ecological destruction) does not remain an unattainable dream but can become reality through broad mobilization of all social forces and resources” (Federal Minister Heide Wieczorek-Zeul).4

According to the BMZ, the task of development education will be to make it clear to each individual citizen that he or she is not powerless in the face of the forces “driving the world” but can do many concrete things to work towards the goal of “One World”. And the closer these opportunities are to everyday life, the more successful they will be and the greater their impact on the attainment of that goal. This applies – perhaps particularly strongly – to the forthcoming eastward expansion of the EU. This will also bring us face to face with “otherness”, and will require interculturalism and intercultural education.5

The Role of the Volkshochschulen

The BMZ is a policy-making ministry, not an educational institution. It will need to make use of educational arms – and has naturally been doing so for many years. It is no coincidence that the German Adult Education Association and its Institute for International Cooperation, the IIZ/DVV, have long been a major partner in development education both in Germany and abroad, as well as in many international development, cultural and educational organizations.

The Volkshochschulen (VHS) are the local centres providing adult education in Germany, running over half a million courses with more than 10 million participants. Horst Siebert writes of them that:

“What can broadly be called intercultural provision, including yoga, foreign languages, etc., accounts for around 60% of all general adult education. Most courses in fact touch on and discuss cultural differences and similarities, the familiar and the unfamiliar, global and international issues. Such discussions often develop spontaneously, without being planned as part of the teaching. The amount learnt is generally the greater, the more “mixed” the cultural make-up of the learning group.” 6

It should therefore come as no surprise that the Volkshochschulen took up this topic quite early on. Even in the 1950s, and especially in the ’60s, there was a considerable range of courses relating to the Third World. Under the title “End of Colonialism”, for example, the Pedagogical Institute for Adult Education in Baden-Wuerttemberg compiled, prepared and distributed materials to the Volkshochschulen in 1954. These were used in courses on Africa in more than 60 locations in the following years, with some 15,000 students. The VHS in Bochum held an “Africa Week” in 1964 with seven events and 1652 participants.

In the academic year 1958–59, the Pedagogical Institute of the German Adult Education Association counted 685 events and courses in 263 programmes, although most of these took the form of lectures.

Much thought was also given to the consequences for world politics of former colonies joining the family of independent nations. In a ground-breaking essay on “Political Education about Developing Countries in the VHS”, Hans Tietgens discussed the purposes and problems of such work in 1961, and laid down fundamental criteria, the ideas behind which are again being debated today. He wrote,

“that the matter has become a burning issue but there is clearly serious opposition to consciously facing up to the implications of the new situation....we need to learn to recognise the requirements for living together in future, so that we acquire yardsticks by which to measure future experience and to make judgments.... it is not a matter of being overburdened with knowledge...but of being aware of the issue and of our basic attitudes towards it.” 7

In the “back to basics” trend towards vocational education which had such a huge impact on the Volkshochschulen in the mid-1960s, this new discipline foundered, only to resurface as a result in 1969 with the establishment of the Department for Adult Education in Developing Countries – the present-day IIZ/DVV. At the 1961 Adult Education Conference, Helmut Becker had made the following plea:

“The provision of requisite educational aid for developing countries seems to us all a daunting task. The growing need for educational aid must be planned into German adult education, however difficult that may be given the shortage of manpower.” 8

The project supported by the BMZ in 1977 on “Volkshochschulen and the Subject of Africa, Asia and Latin America” pointed to increased interest in these issues, and development education expanded considerably from that time on.

A series of books under the same title grew out of this project, containing reports on experience with courses, country reports, languages, organizational issues and above all craft and domestic subjects such as weaving, pottery, cookery, batik, Far Eastern relaxation techniques such as yoga and tai chi, and Caribbean reggae. This subject-based approach to development education attracted new groups of students and opened up new areas, and the books naturally reflected and to some extent repeated “teaching” about development which had been based in turn on:

  • Education for international understanding

  • Education about development aid

  • Ideological criticism and emancipatory education

  • Everyday impact, and eventually

  • Global learning 9

By 1990, the number of courses on development issues had risen by over 300%.10

By its choice of topics the series also revealed the changes in methodology as theory developed during the period: the notion of providing information about particular countries was followed (more or less bypassing the stage of curricular and ideological criticism) by a counter-movement that was learner-centred and experience-based until there was a renaissance of intercultural learning. There was thus an increasing focus on learning oriented towards the learner and action, and a rejection of cognitive learning of information, of the pure teaching of facts in favour of holistic experience-based learning: the “Third World” ceased to be something learnt about and became a partner in communication.

A remarkable identity of interests has emerged in the course of the cooperation between the BMZ and the Volkshochschulen and their associations: two partners which complement each other perfectly in their development-related goals, enhanced by the nationwide coverage of the VHS. In the IIZ/DVV itself, this is demonstrated by support for the project “Global Learning in the Volkshochschulen” and the series of publications which it has issued.

Merely “New” Terminology or a Paradigm Change?

Alongside the changes in terminology, there has been an evident decline in the importance of development education, which many commentators call a “crisis”, although this has not affected teaching about development.

Starting with the upheavals in world politics of the 1990s, the circumstances in which development education takes place changed completely. The quite incredible advances in information technology also led to a call for a global world view.11 It very rapidly became apparent that the learning goals emerging from global learning were in danger of falling victim to overloading of subject-matter because of their necessary globality, and hence of becoming unrealisable, thereby sharing the fate of former goals such as “humanity, partnership, fairness, peace and solidarity”. 12

The discussion therefore came to centre on modesty and the principle of feasibility, guided by realism. The BMZ, for example, expressed this line of thinking as follows:

“Any process of political learning depends on the extent to which the individual believes that he or she can play a part in political, economic and social change. Feelings of political impotence inhibit political learning. The danger implicit in this can be countered by demonstrating concrete opportunities for personal action within broader perspectives.... The cognitive objective – raising awareness of the importance of development policy – must therefore be complemented by the affective learning objective of practical engagement by the citizen.”13

The term “global learning” that was coined within development education thus builds on the change in viewpoint which took place in “One World teaching” in the mid-1980s, seeing the countries of the South increasingly as partners in communication from whom lessons could be learnt, but it also goes much further. It is regarded as the educational answer to the worldwide changes that have become apparent since the end of the Cold War. The roots of “global learning” thus lie less in the continued development of educational approaches and models than in the process of globalization itself. It is therefore no coincidence that the idea of global learning was first put forward in the 1990s, when two key events or trends occurred, namely the dramatic expansion of computer-based and information technology and the collapse of systems in Eastern Europe, with the consequent economic competition for investment between almost all states, leading to a quantitative leap in the internationalization of economic activity.14

This has at least partially corrected the notion that development issues are something “foreign”. The increasing pace of globalization shows that it has an ever more immediate impact on our own situation and that the issues addressed in development education are of growing relevance in our own society. Interdependency can be seen, experienced and reflected on at first hand.15

It is common to all models of global learning that they posit a world society and are designed to help to define one’s own position within it, to understand interconnections and to develop the ability to act and to influence events. However, there is no closed, definitively defined concept of global learning; rather, it is a set of key ideas and principles of methodology based largely on contextual thinking and future-oriented learning, pursuing a holistic approach involving cultural, informational, social, ethical and political factors and allowing for continual changes of perspective.16 The aim is to enable people to “reflect on their own position in the context of globalization and to make decisions about how to act themselves in order to make their everyday lives sustainable in future.”17

“World Society” as the Starting Point

Development education as part of global learning thus means more than merely providing information about other societies and their problems, and even goes well beyond increasing concern and empathy for the problems facing the countries of the South. Since the “world society” is the starting point, each society is necessarily involved. Ultimately, global learning should promote the ability “to think about one’s own action (or inaction) in the context of the global society, the social and economic consequences and the impact on the future.” 18

Looking also at one’s own society has other implications. In the last resort, it means thinking about one’s own identity. Another key idea, under the slogan “Thinking about identity – improving communication”, therefore aims at improving the ability “to be secure in one’s own identity so as to enter into open contact with other people, to view the world from others’ points of view, and to make judgments on the basis of different standpoints within the global society.”19 This means “dealing with others with a new level of understanding of world society”. 20 As an element of global learning, development education thus also has a communicative dimension and “should raise awareness of the intercultural perspective, e.g. by fostering reflection about oneself in dealings with others.”21 This is particularly important since it is cultural differences which determine the profile of modernization in the course of globalization.22

Global Learning and the Problems of One’s Own Society 

In a globalized world, these “others” are not only over the border, but within one’s own country. It would therefore be wrong to restrict global learning to international considerations. Every country is itself a part of world society, even within its own boundaries. Here again, it is clear that global learning and development education are not concerned with far-away matters but have a direct impact on immediate surroundings. The goal of an open, multi-perspective world view implicit in the key objectives of global learning must therefore be applied to teaching about the problems of one’s own society.

One of the matters to be addressed is of course migration and its social consequences. Traditional immigration countries grasped the importance of intercultural learning, countering segregation and encouraging political recognition of cultural minorities early on. This trend has also had an impact on Europe. Here too, there has been a noticeable paradigm shift over the years in teaching about migration issues, from assimilation in the 1960s to integration in the 1970s and the notion of interculturalism and multiculturalism, which started to gain in importance in the 1980s.23 

It would be wrong, however, to deduce that intercultural learning is necessary solely associated with migration. Auernheimer rightly stresses that intercultural education should always perceive its own society as part of world society, thereby helping to tackle shared global tasks.24 This accords with the principle underlying development education, of considering mutual effects and finding points of contact with people’s personal lives.25

Global Learning and Intercultural Education

By now it should be apparent that intercultural learning, global learning and development education are closely interrelated. The traditional distinction that assumes intercultural education to be primarily concerned with individual issues by seeking to arouse positive awareness of cultural differences, while global learning focuses on social analysis,26 does not provide a full description of the goals of intercultural learning in a world society and reduces global learning to a purely cognitive level. There is in fact a close relationship between the two models, which differ less in their objectives than in their emphasis and specific points of entry.

Global learning is thus impossible if it fails to take account of its intercultural implications, and intercultural learning would be reduced to discussing the peculiarities of folklore if it paid no heed to the political, social and individual consequences of globalization. It is the task of the Volkshochschulen to prevent both of these and to link intercultural education with global learning in their provision.

The motto under which this might be done is “Learning about others – discovering oneself.”27 Looking at other people’s ways of thinking and different systems of cultural values is not only a step on the way to an open, multiperspective world view, but also helps self-perception. Intercultural learning thus helps people to think about their own value and reference systems and even to change their own cultural model.

This accords with one of the basic goals of global learning, which aims at the ability to change. Without the willingness to question one’s own way of thinking it is not possible to develop the skills and abilities regarded as necessary in view of the complexity of global developments: the ability to change perspective and become more aware, the capacity to set one’s own immediate experience in a worldwide context and to acquire a consciousness of time, and the willingness to become engaged, using one’s ability to cooperate.28

Furthermore, global learning is always multidisciplinary. It takes in the whole range of the programme offered by the Volkshochschulen and can be regarded as a principle of learning. It is therefore only logical not to restrict courses committed to the key ideas of global learning to the subject area of political education. This applies particularly where intercultural learning is concerned. This means giving particular attention to different areas of life and experience. Intercultural learning may build on occupational experience, and prove sensible and necessary when learning foreign languages, travelling, and even in a variety of leisure activities. What matters is therefore not the precise context but the connection between individual experience, the intended intercultural skills and the global challenges of the world society that is coming into being.

The challenge facing the Volkshochschulen is therefore to align their current provision with the social dimension of the trend towards a world society, thereby contributing to development-oriented communication, so that participants in a wide range of courses in the various subject areas learn to handle new levels of understanding of the world society in relation to others.29

Development education should also concern itself with this, not only in relation to the traditional issues of development policy but also, taking a broader view of world society, to the new EU accession countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The BMZ will in fact be paying greater attention to these countries in transition in its work.30 Here even more than in other contexts, “global learning (must)...take the form of crossborder cooperation and address the international debate about how best to deal in educational terms with globalization.”31

The essential point is that in both global and intercultural learning it is never solely a matter of the individual acquisition of skills but always of how to act in response to societal change in a developing world society. Hence, all intercultural learning processes initiated locally contribute to development education, the starting point of which is the global responsibility of the individual in the local context.


1 Süddeutsche Zeitung, 15.12.2001, quoted from www.bmz.de/aktuell/Eurobarometer/ Ergebnisse1.htm

2 Quoted from: European Commission Eurobarometer No. 58.2 containing results of the survey of October-November 2002

3 BMZ Spezial, Verbesserung der Strukturen im Inland durch Aufklärungs- und Kohärenzarbeit (http://www.bmz.de/infothek/fachinformationen/spezial/spezial42/spezial042_14.html)

4 Quoted from BMZ, Motive, Grundsätze, Ziele (http://www.bmz.de/themen/motive)

5 BMZ, Wichtige didaktische Grundsätze der BMZ-Informations-, Bildungs- und Besuchergruppenarbeit (key statements from the work of the BMZ Information, Education and Visitor Group, contributing to a basic structure of knowledge). (http://www.bmz.de/infothek/fachinformationen/konzeptebmz/konzept119/a06.html)

6 Siebert, Horst, Interkulturelle Bildungsarbeit – für wen und wozu ... In: Noormann, Harry / Lang- Wojtasik, Gregor (eds.): Die Eine Welt der vielen Möglichkeiten. Pädagogische Orientierungen. Festschrift for Asit Datta, Frankfurt/Main, IKO, 1997

7 Tietgens, Hans, Entwicklungsländer als Thema politischer Bildung in der VHS, in Arbeitsblätter für die deutsche Volkshochschule, Berliner Arbeitsblätter, XVIII, 1962 8 Quoted from Volkshochschule im Westen, No. 5/1982m p. 283

9 An exact list of categories and a description can be found in Scheunpflug, Annette and Seitz, Klaus, Die Geschichte der entwicklungspolitischen Bildung. Zur pädagogischen Konstruktion der “Dritten Welt”, Vol. I, Frankfurt/Main 1995, p. 179 ff Asit Datta also examines the comparative development education approach of almost all NGOs. He distinguishes between the politico-economic recognition theory-oriented approach, the proximity approach, the embarrassment approach and the reflective approach to the same goal (enlightenment). In: Schwierigkeiten bei der Bildungs- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit von nichtstaatlichen Organisationen (NGOs). In: ZEP 1/1004, p. 16

10 Niemann, Rolf, Vorwort, in: Evaluierung entwicklungbezogener Themen in VHS-Arbeitsplänen, Volkshochschulen und der Themenbereich Afrika-Asien-Lateinamerika, Materialien 36, Bonn 1995, p. 2. – Cf. further discussion of the criteria for intercultural education within cultural education: Frieling, Gundula, Informationspapier Qualitäten in der kulturellen Bildung, Institute for International Cooperation of the DVV, Bonn 2000, esp. pp. 20 ff.

11 There is no space to go into the “crisis in development education” here, or into its causes and effects via these global developments. Reference should be made, for example, to Menzel, Ulrich, Nach dem Scheitern der großen Theorien. Zum Stand der entwicklungspolitischen Diskussion. In: Der Nord-Süd-Konflikt in der politischen Bildung, Schwalbach/Ts. 1996, pp. 29 – 48.

12 See Seitz, Klaus, Von der Dritte-Welt-Pädagogik zum Globalen Lernen. In: Entwicklungspolitische Bildung. Part I, Münster 1994, p. 28

13 BMZ, Wichtige didaktische Grundsätze der BMZ-Informations-, Bildungs- und Besuchergruppenarbeit, op. cit.

14 See v. Weiszäcker, Ernst Ulrich, Was ist Globalisierung und wie erklärt sie sich? Lecture published on the Internet (http://www.globalisierung-online.de/info/text2.php)

15 The BMZ rightly stresses that any information about development policy must first overcome the misconception that developing countries, development policy and development cooperation are far-away matters. The emphasis must therefore always be placed on interdependency. (BMZ, Wichtige didaktische Grundsätze der BMZ-Informations-, Bildungs- und Besuchergruppenarbeit, published on the BMZ Internet website) (http://www.bmz.de/infothek/ fachinformationen/konzeptebmz/konzept119/a07.html). Development education coincides here with a basic principle of global learning.

16 Franz, Margit, Entwicklungspolitische Bildungsarbeit an Österreichs Universitäten II, Final report of research project II, Karl-Franzens University Graz, Institute of History, 03/1997, p. 63

17 “Education for a Sustainable Future” working group of the Hamburg Council for the Future, Environmental Education and Global Learning as prerequisiites for sustainable development in Hamburg (www.globales-lernen.de/konzept/zukunftsrat.htm)
18 idem., p. 61

19 Globales Lernen. Anstöße für die Bildung in einer vernetzten Welt. Report by the Education Commission of the Forum “Schools for One World”. Forum “Schule für eine Welt” (ed.), 1996, pp. 20f

20 Noisser/Scheunpflug/Schmitz, Entwicklungsbezogene Bildung in Deutschland – Stand der Diskussion und (bildungs-)politische Herausforderungen. Materialien 39 der Reihe “Volkshochschulen und der Themenbereich Afrika-Asien-Lateinamerika”, Bonn 1996, p. 15 

21 idem 

22 “Since globalization leads to both homogenization and localization, cultural and institutional differences actually determine the profile of the modernization process.” (Brücken in die Zukunft. Eine Initiative von Kofi Anan. Frankfurt/Main 2001, p. 23). 

23 Franz, Margit, op. cit., p. 46. This was not a linear development, however, as Franz rightly stresses.

24 Auernheimer, Einführung in die interkulturelle Erziehung. Darmstadt 1990, p.243.

25 BMZ, Wichtige didaktische Grundsätze der BMZ-Informations-, Bildungs- und Besuchergruppenarbeit, op. cit.

6 Globales Lernen. Anstöße für die Bildung in einer vernetzten Welt, op. cit., p.26

27 Franz, op. cit., p. 48

28 Globales Lernen. Anstöße für die Bildung in einer vernetzten Welt, op. cit., p.22.

29 Noisser/Scheunpflug/Schmitz, op. cit., p. 15

30 See BMZ, Entwicklungen in den Entwicklungs- und Transformationsländern als Herausforderungen für die Entwicklungspolitik (from: Entwicklungspolitik in einer zusammenwachsenden Welt – Herausforderungen und Lösungsansätze zu Beginn des 21. Jahrhunderts, pp. XI-XIII, XIV)

31 Seitz, Klaus, Globales Lernen – Herausforderungen für schulische und außerschulische Bildungsarbeit. Speech to the Bonn Conference on “Education 21 – Learning for a sustainable and just society” on 26.09.2000, Bonn, VENRO 2001)