GLOBAL LITERACY – the high seas

As writers and teachers, we have probably accepted the need to become ‘global citizens’, but still find the pace of change very confronting. We can feel some empathy with those just emerging to these challenges. And it is now a requirement of future workers: “employers expect … employees to possess intercultural-global competencies. Learners can be expected to become global citizens, who are described as having a humanitarian worldview and a mindset of awareness … being interrelated and interconnected in the world” (Esterhuizen & Kirkpatrick, 2015, p. 209).

These are the ‘high seas’ of our present era, described by writers as “late-modern” (Donati & Archer, 2015, p. 13) where the cross-winds of social theory and the tides of social upheaval, are combining to make sailing a challenging adventure. Why so? Because the fundamentals of ontology, epistemology and social praxis (being, knowledge, practice) are being debated, and the under-currents can be felt everywhere, particularly in education.

In research, for example, there is continual debate as to whether the current ‘reality’ is reliably found from the investigation of a sample population, or whether a knowledge of reality always exists beyond this constructed view.

In education, the constructivist view is that reality is personally constructed and discovered within each student’s own experience. Clearly, this view has practical merit, when contrasted with the former teacher-centred pedagogy. However, in the radical-constructivist form, there is said to be no fixed external reality apart from our perception. Challenging this social theory is critical realism, whose advocates contend that the limiting of knowledge to our personal experience is a serious “epistemic fallacy” (Pilgrim, 2014, p. 10).

Let us take this further, purely to show that these theoretical breezes do impact on students. In the constructivist view, traditional knowledge and methodology are regarded with some scepticism, as if hints of essentialism and positivism are to be avoided. In contrast, critical realism reasons that we must make room for a greater depth of ontology, including spirituality, or we are warring against our own humanity.

With regard to identity itself, in the constructivist view, identity is seen as a self-created, hybrid and variable social construct. In the critical realist view, identity does belong to an individual as a personal possession, and each of us is the one and same person over time, despite our intercultural experiences. It is easy to see the impact of these kinds of cross-winds. At one end, the individual is seen as defined by the social, at the other, an individual is defined apart from the social, while participating in it.

These comments are brief, and only made to highlight that all is not smooth sailing when it comes to navigating our journey in this late-modern era. Education, from policy to curriculum, is determined by these fields of social theory, and by the research methodology that deals in the parameters mentioned above.

The simple implication is this. If we are to be helpful to students in policy or practice, we will need to focus the things that are reliable and dependable that contribute to security in an ever-changing world. Critical realism helps in this task, arguing for a relational interculturality that does not make learners the victims of construction or deconstruction.

I argue for curriculum that is informed by the voices of critical literacy and critical pedagogy – one with an overarching global literacy, supported by the other vital literacies – linguistic, environmental, digital, relational and mental health literacies. I am convinced that with appropriate curricula, teaching can be for mental health, and not merely incorporate content about mental illness. This point is developed in other writings.


Donati, P., & Archer, M. S. (2015). The relational subject. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.
Esterhuizen, P., & Kirkpatrick, M. K. (2015). Intercultural–Global Competencies for the 21st Century and Beyond. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 46(5), 209-214.
Pilgrim, D. (2014). Some implications of critical realism for mental health research. SOCIAL THEORY & HEALTH, 12(1), 1-21.