Education and COVID-19. The imperative of Global Citizenship Education

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the examples of discontinuity in social life which are usually the object of study for historians. Even without the benefit of historical hindsight, it is already possible to observe some changes in our way of thinking, living and teaching. As in any crisis situation, as well as the evident suffering, it is also possible to imagine some of the opportunities which big social changes can potentially bring. 

The current public health emergency is reminding us, consistent with the U.N. Agenda 2030, that only one habitable planet exists, that interdependency between nations, human beings and ecosystems cannot be ignored without consequence, and credible solutions to global problems cannot be based exclusively on national or nationalistic perspectives.

Values of the GCE

In this context, we cannot fail to mention the values which are foundational to Global Citizenship Education (GCE), essential for the achievement of Agenda 2030 target 4.7 (Ensuring a qualitative – inclusive and equitable – education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all) and pre-condition for the achievement of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
If GCE is a “… framing paradigm which encapsulates how education can develop the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes learners need for securing a world which is more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable” (UNESCO, 2014, page 9), there is a strong connection between this educational approach and the choices the humanity will make at social, cultural, political and economic levels in order to overcome this crisis and prevent the development of others.
It is useful to consider some concepts and competences which are typical of Global Citizenship Education to look at the situation from an overall perspective and imagine future scenarios and possible actions.      


The first concept is historical discontinuity. This is not a category people are used to dealing with, and the spread of COVID-19 has confirmed such unpreparedness. For decades, we have thought in the ‘Global North’ that life expectancy would improve and healthcare systems would become a cost that could be limited – in the context of a generally improved public healthcare system – and big epidemics would belong to history and the stuff of fiction and happen contemporaneously only in territories far away from us. In reality, events of the past resonate still today and bely the idea of linear and constant progress. As a species, we have not learned from the beginning of the twentieth century when the First World War interrupted the idea that civil rights were improving inexorably – at least in that part of the world later called as Western World. Neither have we learned from 1929, 1973 and 2008 when unexpected economic crisis stopped the average wealth growth which was believed to be guaranteed by the very nature of capitalism. 


The second is the concept of interconnection. We all know that social and environmental realities are interconnected, and the flapping of a butterfly’s wings may cause catastrophes in apparently far places. However, it is a concept that can be difficult to understand, and it helps to think of it in terms of concrete examples.  If we link COVID-19 with three big themes – (1) the relationship between human beings and nature, (2) (international and gender) inequalities, and (3) migrations – we find that each of these connections offer a helpful lens through which to view current events and arguable also presents a better place from which to react with comprehensive solutions.
An example of the impact of the relationship between humans and nature and COVID-19 is available via a YouTube video by the European Spatial Agency (Coronavirus: nitrogen dioxide emissions drop over Italy), which evidences the impact of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), a polluting gas known for the damage it causes to the human respiratory system. The video shows a drop in NO2 in Northern Italy during the weeks of limited mobility, and more shockingly, shows that Northern Italy and places like greater Madrid, where NO2 levels were at the highest in January, were the European areas most impacted by COVID-19. This does not represent evidence of cause-effect relationship, but it is one of the many connections between pollution and epidemic effects – interconnections that researchers are continuing to examine and inducing public opinion to reflect upon.

A second interconnection involving the socio-economic effects of the virus involves the concept of inequalities. If COVID-19 is equal in its nature to all of us, it is not in its consequences. Inequalities in social class and social capital of reference produce enormous differences in ability to prevent the disease, to cure it and, in relation to many people who have not been infected, to avoid serious income and livelihood consequences. If you are living in a Brazilian favela or in an Indian or South-African slum it is very difficult to avoid social contacts and almost impossible acquiesce to immobility when the trade-off is losing one’s access to, usually informal, work and livelihood security. Similar situations occur as well in weak areas on our planet, starting from the territories where financial security and social and health protection systems are more fragile. However, even for people who do not fall ill, that are secure in their jobs, and can allow themselves to stay at home, inequality is evident. Consider families with children who are obliged to stay at home, perhaps in small homes, with no access to the outdoors, poor or no broadband and/or access to digital devices.  In this dynamic, consider in particular the situation of women and girls, statistically more exposed than men to the discomforts of the family ménage, not to mention the domestic violence, exacerbated by the claustrophobic discomfort of a forced extended cohabitation


third interconnection, between COVID-19 and migratory dynamics, can help to develop the capacity of critical thinking, the ability to observe facts and different perspectives. Migration is a phenomenon usually linked with the arrival of people from less economically developed countries (or nations experiencing war) to more economically developed and socially stable countries. Human movement is a complex phenomenon which combines opportunities like possible mutual enrichment, and challenges for both the people who have migrated and the host population. COVID-19 has led to the movement of people, particularly from Eastern European nations, firstly escaping from Italy as it became apparent that the pandemic represented more of a health threat and outweighed the economic opportunity of staying. One of the results of this exodus is the depleted workforce and consequent risk to the Italian agricultural economy which may in turn jeopardize food production, essential for our existence. 


Besides highlighting the importance of interconnections, the previous paragraphs have led our reflection-thought on different scales through which the consequences of COVID-19 may be analysed. From the global scale, where migratory phenomena or suffering in favelas and slums are happening, to the national scale where agricultural challenges are examined, up to the private scale of single households with consequences for everyday living. Examining phenomena through system thinking another way of exercising our minds to think about complexities, breaking up and re-arranging themes and events in order to find new ways to interrogate them: this is a much loved exercise for those involved in the Global Citizenship Education world and it was one of the objects of the writings of the philosopher and sociologist, Edgar Morin…[1].


At the heart of the observations in this article is the question about the role of schools.  Education and learning institutions generally are suffering as much as other environments in this period. On the one hand, schools remain the only places in society where competences, capabilities, mental forms – those suggested in the previous paragraphs – can not only be developed in a permanent and intentional way, but also become the object of reflection and metacognition. What am I learning from COVID-19 and especially how am I learning it? Through which paths and tools are our minds reading what is happening and how can we connect these paths with those forms of knowledge organization that are school subject disciplines? These are certainly difficult questions, however their essence may help to involve teachers, students and the school as a whole to proactively respond to the current pandemic situation.
COVID-19 undeniably is causing change – change which has never been seen before – of pedagogic methods and didactics through which teaching is developed. But the school shutdown is depriving teachers and learners alike of the personal relationships that are fundamental to the exercise of teaching and learning.


Distance learning (DL) presents both risks and opportunities. In a country such as Italy, where lectures are the most common pedagogical tool, DL is risking a further decrease of students’ active participation and the promotion of the exclusion of an important portion of students. In this context, content and methodologies of GCE can, as always, together with the digital competences, help to mitigate such risk, facing students’ reasonable questions and connecting their lives and local environments to the great global challenges, stimulating the active participation and competences of citizenship: such competences of citizenship have been highlighted in recent weeks as one of the essential tools for the resolution of this crisis (e.g. respect for common rules for the protection of the public health and the community of purpose towards a decreasing number of infections).     Nevertheless, distance learning is creating a set of – often surprising and unthinkable – solutions and abandoning the competences which are necessarily emerging right now, once we go back to the teaching in class, would be a mistake
Aside from strengthened digital competencies, these new didactics, can become a tool which can stimulate the research of further didactic instruments – for instance, developing the capacity to employ, using a correct didactic method, iconic devices (e.g., maps, infographics, tables, charts, links…). The association between verbal and iconic tools can offer a further didactic opportunity, allowing the combination of the linear, analytical method with subsequent in-depth analysis – which is typical of the pre-digital culture of many teachers – with the associative, horizontal and synthetic method – which is typical of the digital culture which belongs to the students. Hence, both the possibility to meet the variety of methods of in-depth analysis and the possibility to integrate, in a productive manner, different forms of thought organization are increasing and, as a result, they both produce a possible total enrichment of teaching methods for a true inclusion.

The present and the past require interdisciplinary competences, critical thinking, capacity for imaginA(C)TION, the ability to look at things from different perspectives, and to understand interconnections. The GCE approach (connected to the improvement of basic competences), now more than ever, is essential and proves itself to be one of the pivotal ingredients of what Enrico Giovannini, spokesperson of the Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development (ASviS), defines as the transformative resilience, that is “the capacity not only to go back as “we were”, after a shock, but also to bounce forward to transform ourselves in our better version”.

The team of GET UP AND GOALS!



[1]    MORIN E. (2001) - I sette saperi necessari all’educazione del futuro, Raffaello Cortina editore, Milano.

Last modified on Tuesday, 09 June 2020 13:41