Global citizenship using Philosophy for Children

Philosophy for Children is a teaching methodology that helps develop pupils’ critical thinking and enables them to engage with quite complex global issues.

As part of the School Linking and Global Citizenship Project run jointly by Global Link, Cumbria Development Education Centre and Preston’s Lancashire Global Education Centre, Global Link has been using the methodology of Philosophy for Children (P4C) to explore global citizenship themes. P4C allows children to pursue questions of their own choosing in depth with the support of a teacher. Besides developing thinking, listening and speaking skills, it encourages philosophical ‘dispositions’ such as reasonableness, sincerity and open-mindedness.

Ruth Davies from Global Link says that a distinctive advantage of P4C, and one often commented on by teachers, is that it gives children an opportunity to consider issues that they would usually be considered ‘too young’ to think about. For example, she says, “I have listened while Year 2 children discussed why discrimination and prejudice were wrong, and how to overcome them”.

The Day of Ahmed's Secret - book cover
The Day of Ahmed’s Secret – book cover

A recent series of lessons in a racially mixed urban primary school used story books as stimuli to consider global citizenship themes with Year 3 children. One book used was The Day of Ahmed’s Secret by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland. In the book we follow Ahmed’s working day as he hugs his secret to himself. Finally he shares with his parents his news – that he can write his name!

This story raised many issues for the children:

  • Why was the boy having to work?
  • How come he could only write his name when he was older than them?
  • Why didn’t he use hieroglyphics?
  • Why did all the rich people go to school and not the poor people?

The Muslim children in the class were delighted when the final page revealed Ahmed’s name in Arabic script. The initial discussion revealed that none of the children were aware that in many countries families had to pay to send children to school. They found this very difficult to accept, and kept falling back on their own experiences of not being able to afford a new lunch box or a special trip.

In the next session we revisited the story but this time the children, having grasped that the reason Ahmed was working instead of going to school was that his family were poor, asked: Why didn’t the rich people give the poor people some money?

This lead to a challenging and thoughtful discussion – in P4C terms, an ‘enquiry’ around issues of responsibility, selfishness, understanding and awareness. By the end of eight sessions the children had made significant improvements in many areas including listening to each other, encouraging others to speak, respecting other’s ideas and building on other’s ideas. They had greatly enjoyed the sessions and their teacher commented: “The children have learnt a lot about ethical issues and have continued the discussions after the session”.

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