PCDForum Column #27,   Release Date February 26, 1992

by Thomas B. Keehn

U.S. development educators recently issued an assessment
of their field and an agenda for the decade of the 1990s.
The bottom line: development education as we have known
and practiced it is no longer relevant to our rapidly changing world.

The dramatic changes reshaping the nature of global
society have led many U.S. voluntary agencies to begin
rethinking their roles in international development. This
awareness has been considerably heightened by the challenges put forward to U.S. voluntary organizations by
NGO colleagues from Africa, Asia, and Latin America–
who tell us that to remain relevant to the Third World we
must engage the American public in the global struggle for
social and economic justice, and a peaceful world order.

Development educators have been active in this
reassessment process. Under the auspices of the Development Education and Constituency Building Committee of
InterAction, the consortium body of U.S. voluntary
development organizations, a recent series of retreats and
workshops engaged some three hundred U.S. development
educators in sharing perceptions and concerns regarding
global change and its implications for the future.

The process produced a nearly universal consensus
among this group that the U.S. voluntary sector has been
far too slow and limited in coming to terms with such
changing realities as global interdependence, ecological
survival, instant communication, and the opportunities
presented by global progress toward more open and
inclusive societies. Too many voluntary organizations
continue to parachute small development projects into poor
communities with little or no lasting contribution to
reversing the alarming global trend toward deepening
poverty. Too often development education has been little
more than an adjunct to the fund raising campaigns of these
same organizations. The committee’s recently released
report on Education for Global Change: A New Framework
for a Just and Sustainable Future
makes clear that this will
not suffice for the decade ahead.

A similar exercise by development educators some ten
years ago produced A Framework for Development Education in the United States for the 1980s, which committed us
to reach larger audiences with development education
programs that: 1) convey information; 2) promote humanitarian values; and 3) stimulate individual action aimed at
improving the quality of life and eliminating the root causes
of poverty. While these commitments were appropriate to
their time, the world has since changed dramatically in
unanticipated ways.

U.S. development educators now believe that we need
no less than a new vision to inform the public’s understanding of development as a process of human and
institutional transformation. Related educational programs
must flow from and advance this vision. The abrupt shift in
orientation and strategy this implies might well threaten the
very existence of many U.S. voluntary organizations that
have built their competence and funding base on quite
different premises. This in turn could threaten the jobs of
many of us who participated in the reassessment process.
Most participants, however, believe the issues at stake are
of sufficient importance to justify such risks.

The goals we set forward for the 1990s are more
complex, difficult, and urgent than what we proposed for
the 1980s. They call for educational programs that will
prepare Americans to:

Work for the transformation of institutions and systems
consistent with the values of a new development vision
and America’s essential role in realizing it,

Be effective participants in popular movements for
global change, and

Engage with people of all generations, genders, and
ethnic and religious groups in creating new lifestyles
consistent with life on a small and environmentally
threatened planet.

  • To implement this agenda we proposed:
  • Replacing the term development education with the
    more powerful and descriptive term education for
    global change
  • Renewing efforts to foster change within the NGO
    community toward a strong commitment to education
    for global change and advocacy on interdependency
    policy issues,
  • Working with other concerned groups to redesign
    America’s system of public education to respond to the
    needs of a new global age, and
  • Developing closer working relations with the print and
    electronic media, and with colleagues in community
    and national affinity groups throughout the world.

Those who participated in this process recognize that
change must begin by making both ourselves and our
organizations more effective instruments of global change.

Thomas B. Keehn is a fellow of the People-Centered Development Forum and heads the PCDForum New York Resource
Center, c/o The American Forum for Global Education, 45
John Street, Suite 1200, New York, N.Y. 10038. This
column is based on his introduction to Education for Global
Change: A New Framework and Program Plan for a Just and
Sustainable Future
, October 1991, available from InterAction,
1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW, 8th floor, Washington, DC
20036, U.S.A. or fax (202) 667-8236.

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