Active Global Citizen

Ian Jamison

SDG #4 Quality Education
Head of Education and Training, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change
Runs the Generation Global program which connects young people globally, helping them develop a positive approach to diversity and become more empowered
Education is one of the most effective tools that we have to address the ideological drivers of extremism.

As the Head of Education and Training at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Dr. Ian Jamison has been involved with the Generation Global program since its inception 10 years ago. Having started his career as a teacher (Ian has also won the Guardian’s “Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School” award in 2007), he has always been passionate about encouraging others to explore the ways that other people see the world. Today, he is committed to helping young people deal with diversity and sees the opportunity to work with teachers and students as a privilege.

How does your work help, support or benefit global citizens?

Generation Global connects young people around the world for dialogue though virtual exchange. A lot of young people feel disconnected from the idea of global citizenship, they don’t have a sense of connection with the rest of the world. A lot of young people around the world also might feel ignored by the global population, they feel that their voices aren’t heard. We enable them to connect with their global peers. Through our work in around 35 countries, young people encounter one another in an authentic way. We also do trainings for teachers to develop skills for dialogue. We advocate on a large scale, working with education ministries, school boards and networks etc.

We provide and facilitate video conferences – about 60 per month. As a result, young people become more self-confident, they have a voice and a sense of connection with their global peers. Young people learn not be afraid of differences, but to try to overcome prejudices. We aim to help young people navigate diversity in a positive way. Ultimately, we want to help young people to be resilient global citizens who can stand up for themselves and talk about the things that are significant to them in a respectful way.

These online dialogues are about young people’s own experiences, values and ways at looking at the world. We don’t want them talking about things they can google or find online. We want them to find out what’s it like to be a young person living in a different part of the world, what problems young people have or what inspires them. These are things we don’t normally talk about in schools.


How do you support teachers and educators?

We provide lots of resources to help teachers prepare their students for participation in dialogue; whether that’s in their own classrooms and communities, online, or through video conferences.

Teachers particularly need support to connect with young people on challenging questions. Young people are curious about living in a world that is rapidly changing and they have questions about some of the things that teachers would normally avoid talking about because they are not comfortable with it – like religious extremism or sexuality. Now we have to acknowledge that kids worldwide want to discuss these things. We want to help teachers with tools to explore these things with young people in a way that enables everyone to remain safe.


Why do you tackle religious extremism, and has there been any resistance to working on such topics?

Religious identity is something a lot of people don’t want to talk about. But if we don’t talk about it, we leave the space for extremists and people who want to divide societies. We have to discuss the challenging parts of identity. A lot of young people do define themselves by their religious identity, so we can’t avoid tackling it. The discussion of “what’s it like living where you are” involves religious aspects as well, it focuses on ways religion informs people’s values, identities, and ways they make decisions. We are not teaching religion.

Look at it like this: when children go to school anywhere in the world, everyone expects them to learn math: children expect it, their parents, ministries and the society do as well. They should also expect to learn how to interact with people who are different from them. That is as much of a core skill in the 21stcentury as math. These days people are more exposed to each other and we have to help young people make the most of it.

What is the key lesson you’ve learned from running the Generation Global program?

In 2016 Exeter University in UK conducted a large-scale study, looking into schools in 19 countries where we operate to see if our program makes young people more open-minded. Because, as our founder, Mr. Tony Blair often says, the biggest division in the world is between open- and closed-minded people.

The results showed that Generation Global does make people more open-minded. However, possibly more importantly, the control groups became less open-minded over the same period. So, even a positive school ethos is not enough to make students open-minded, they need a positive intervention. It’s significant, because this is how our societies, political narratives or social media operate: they are not helping people become more open-minded, they are divisive. That can lead to violence, hated and misunderstandings. It’s erroneous to think that young people on their own can remain open-minded.


How does your work address the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

Fundamentally, our work focuses on the SDG #4 and quality education. Quality education is more than just going to school. It includes the ability to learn how to relate to other people in a profound way, to have a positive approach to difference. All classrooms in the world are diverse, even if the students all come from the same town, are the same age and gender. There are still going to be different attitudes, or they might come from different religious communities, they might have different levels of ability – there’s no one size fits all approach to kids. I think this is one of the most important things we should be doing – giving kids the tools to build peace.

We also provide curriculum focused resources to support dialogue on where key global issues intersect with students’ experiences, beliefs and values; supporting dialogues around climate change, the rights of women and girls, taking action against hate speech, and the ‘power of narrative’ (fake news); all of which speak to different areas of the SDGs.


Why would you recommend to others to attend the AFS Global Conference?

I attended the AFS Global Conference last year, and speaking from experience, it was a very good conference. I found it inspiring, and this year is slated to be that way as well with the inspiring range of speakers with different ranges of experience. AFS has an enormous amount to offer to people. Many of the tools that people showcase at this event are very significant. I’ve never seen educators get together and not learn from each other. And the AFS Global Conference is a great opportunity to do that.

Connect and network with Ian as well as other Active Global Citizens and leading 21st century education stakeholders at the AFS Global Conference: Active Global Citizenship—and How to Educate for It, 9-11 October in Montreal.   

Register for the AFS Global Conference