Global citizenship education is answer to rising racism

Mousumi Mukherjee

“I was simply walking down the street with my friend to go to the nearby grocery store right after lockdown. Most of our friends were back home. Only two of us were stuck in the hostel throughout the lockdown. Suddenly a group of young boys started following us and harassing us by shouting loudly: ‘Chinki virus China wapas jaao’ (‘China virus go back to China’).

“But, you see, I am a Tibetan-Indian born in Dharamshala and my friend is from Manipur, India! We are both Indians and not Chinese. We love cricket and Bollywood movies. We also speak in Hindi and are studying at college here in Delhi.

“I can’t express to you how I feel. It is really depressing.

“People here don’t even know what a difficult relationship we have with China as Tibetans. It really hurts badly when people call us ‘Chinki’. People here also don’t recognise fellow North East Indians and call them ‘Chinki’! When will people learn to respect us for who we are?”

The above quote from a Tibetan student I interviewed recently for my research on college student experiences in India highlights the desperate need for global citizenship education in the 21st century within India and around the world.

Since the global coronavirus pandemic began spreading around the world, similar incidents have been reported in many countries around the world. Attacks against students, immigrants and citizens with Far Eastern features, who are negatively stereotyped as ‘China-virus’, have been reported from countries as diverse as India, Australia, the United States and many parts of Europe.

Quite surprisingly, although the coronavirus spread around the world from Wuhan, China, it has been widely reported that even in China many international students, particularly students from African countries, are facing racial discrimination.

Backlash against globalisation processes

These incidents in different parts of the world demonstrate that the spread of the virus around the world due to globalisation processes is obviously creating a backlash against those very globalisation processes.

The mobility of people across physical man-made boundaries is being restricted by governments as a sense of fear about coronavirus is intensifying feelings of xenophobia in the minds of people in an age of ‘social distancing’.

The term ‘social distancing’ was coined as a pandemic response by global organisations led by the World Health Organization to advise people to maintain the necessary physical distance in order to contain the spread of the virus. But it appears that the public discourse on ‘social distancing’ has heightened pre-existing prejudices and biases against those who look different and those who are culturally considered as ‘the other’.

However, our communities have already become increasingly diverse over the past several decades of fast mobility of people around the globe, facilitated by technological advancements.

Even though our physical mobility has now become restricted because of the pandemic-imposed lockdowns, more and more people are being forced to be digitally mobile for work and education.

The digital space is global by nature and even authoritarian policies like those in China have not been able to totally restrict digital mobility. Hence, we need to think seriously about teaching citizenship rights and duties within a global framework.

In recent years, global development organisations led by UNESCO have been advocating for Global Citizenship Education as an important pre-requisite to implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Global Citizenship Education is a concept that emphasises the need to think about citizenship rights and duties beyond the narrow framework of nation-states.

Global Citizenship Education also encourages local community engagement, since locally relevant solutions to global problems need to be found.

As stated above, many of the problems people are facing in this world are driven by a xenophobic mentality and lack of empathy and intercultural understanding. Appreciation of multiculturalism, human rights, social justice, international understanding, intercultural dialogue and peace are some of the key components of Global Citizenship Education and that involves a range of cognitive, social and emotional development.

A wake-up call

In their 2015 publication, Jos Beelen and Elspeth Jones stated: “Internationalisation at Home is the purposeful integration of international and intercultural dimensions into the formal and informal curriculum for all students, within domestic learning environments.” Hence, Global Citizenship Education needs to be prioritised to actually drive the agenda of ‘internationalisation at home’ in this age of ‘social distancing’.

Every human being on Earth is facing the same existential threat now from coronavirus. We need to take the necessary safety precautions to live in a world of corona.

But taking precautions when it comes to our own lives and those of our loved ones does not mean putting other lives at risk.

However, humans have done this repeatedly in our history and have been responsible for the extinction of several other living species on Earth. Now the lives of all humans and the sustainability of the entire planet Earth is under threat due to human action.

It is high time we learned to be responsible for our actions and work together as responsible ‘global citizens’ to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Scientists have been warning us for a long time. Global climate change, global inequality, global terrorism and the global pandemic should be our wake-up call to promote global citizenship education through ‘internationalisation at home’.

Mousumi Mukherjee is executive director at the Centre for Comparative and Global Education and associate professor and deputy director of the International Institute for Higher Education Research and Capacity Building at OP Jindal Global University, India.