Timothy Ireland is associate professor in Adult Education at the Federal University of Paraiba, in João Pessoa (Brazil). He was national director of Adult Education at the Ministry of Education from 2004–2007 and worked for UNESCO from 2008 to 2011, where he was the focal point for CONFINTEA VI. Since 2013, he has been a member of the editorial board of Adult Education and Development.
You may well be asking yourself what Global Citizenship Education, the ICAE virtual seminar and the Olympic Games have to do with each other. Writing in Brazil at this time, August 2016, is almost impossible without some allusion to the Olympic Games, presently taking place in Rio de Janeiro. The Olympic spirit should have much in common with the notion of Global Citizenship. The majority of top athletes are nowadays world citizens, as the sports arenas become ever more global. Sadly, the Olympic Games increasingly have more to do with competitive globalisation than they have with cooperative globalisation, although there have been some heartwarming examples of the latter: the North American and New Zealand athletes who collided and fell together during one of the heats of the women’s 5,000 meters and then helped each other to the final tape. Other examples, however, of spectator partisanship reveal how far we are from achieving a culture of cooperative globalisation. The treatment dispensed to the French pole-vault champion Renaud Lavillenie by the largely Brazilian public during the final round and the medal awarding ceremony was totally devoid of sporting spirit. This type of reaction suggests that the sporting spirit is not a spontaneous response but one that has to be learnt in schools and other learning spaces. Much has been written about the need for a country or city to prepare to receive the Olympic Games. Generally, emphasis is given to communication, infrastructure, transport, safety and security – but much less to the need to invest in an education which generates cooperative and collaborative attitudes not just to receive a truly global tournament but also, and more importantly, as a preparation for life in general. In many countries this spirit of cooperation and collaboration is largely absent from the formal system of education which thrives on competition, evaluation and rivalry between students and schools. Evidence suggests that these other values are more typical of processes inspired by the spirit of popular education and learnt by engagement in social movements which place social justice, gender equality, solidarity and sustainable development at the top of its agenda. It is this spirit of collaborative participatory community learning which provides the basis for committed global citizenship and cultural understanding. The original inspiration of the Olympic Games also requires this kind of global understanding and goodwill from athletes and public alike. The education we need for the world we want will require new models of fair markets and sustainable development if it is to prepare truly global citizens.
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