Debating the importance of regional development education

On World Food Day, October 16th, Scottish Minister for Learning Alasdair Allan announced the awarding of £600,000 (€700,700) towards the core costs of 6 development education (DE) centres nationally (Aberdeen, Coatbridge, Dingwall, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow) as part of promoting Scotland’s role and responsibilities internationally.  In announcing the grant, Allan commented:

“Our young people are growing up with a global perspective on just about every event thanks to the technology we use every day. More than any generation before them, they are able to watch events on television or the internet from the other side of the world and then see the impact on a local, national and international level.  This opens up the incredible learning possibilities…”

For more information and additional background, see by A small island but we’re citizens of the world by Tanya Wisely (International Development Education Association of Scotland) from The Scotsman on 17 October.

Apart from highlighting the growing recognition of the importance of DE in Scotland’s future and in the policies and approaches of the current Scottish Government in the lead up to the much awaited referendum on independence in 2014 (a White Paper on the issue is expected in a matter of weeks – Scotland’s role as a potentially independent state will feature of the Paper and has significant implications for the UK ‘in the world’), the grant highlighted the importance of regional provision of DE.  For some time now, the DE centres along with other like-minded organisations have campaigned for such support and for an overall policy on regional provision.

The success of this campaign has reminded this author that such a ‘co-ordinated’ approach to the regional provision of DE is long-overdue and sadly neglected in Ireland at many levels.  True, individual centres have lobbied for support but provision remains uncoordinated and patchy.  There have been attempts to develop a ‘national’ policy but they have not been successful to date.  Individual centres remain dependent of Irish Aid’s ever-changing priorities and the interests and agendas of a small handful of NGOs.  There is as yet no overall policy on the right of citizens regionally to engage in meaningful and informed debate and discussion on Ireland’s role worldwide.

Significant chunks of the country remain under-serviced (including, strange as it might seem, Dublin e.g. the growing sprawl that is North Dublin – this, despite the ‘Dublin’ addresses of many organisations).  It is also true of most of our major population centres – a reality that defies the often stated aims and objectives of government and civil society.  DE cannot be delivered solely by ‘national policy’ divined in Dublin (or anywhere else for that matter) and then ‘leaked’ or strategised to the rest of the country.  Press releases, policy documents, research publications and DE resources will not deliver intended outcomes.  This requires quality ongoing, day-to-day, face-to-face engagement across the country overtime.  It requires a minimum threshold of regionally-based, locally rooted and adequately resourced centres or organisations based in major population centres.

At the moment there are far too many individuals focused on measuring, monitoring, documenting, ‘frame-working’ and evaluating the delivery of DE nationally.  There are far too few individuals focused on actually delivering that DE, especially in a targeted manner regionally.  And, our DE centres remain hugely under-resourced (and under-valued, sometimes even by themselves).  We are awash with policy but bereft of effective practice.

Tellingly, the regional provision of DE does not feature adequately or in a co-ordinated manner in the agendas, strategies and policy discussions of the NGO sector, Dóchas (does DE anymore?) or, indeed Irish Aid.  The time has long since passed when a strong, focused and strategic lobby is needed for DE regionally.  It is unlikely to emerge from the centre – it should and needs to emerge regionally.  But then, so much more also needs to emerge in Ireland’s DE landscape but it would be significant if a regional dimension should be to the forefront!