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UNESCO Forum on Global Citizenship Education – “Preparing learners for the challenges of the 21st Century”, 2-4 December 2013 


BANGKOK, 2 December 2013 – Are solidarity and competitiveness mutually exclusive concepts in the context of global citizenship education? Do the benefits of cooperation and mutual support outweigh the drive for self-improvement and peak performance associated with a competitive environment?

The debate "Instilling solidarity and competitiveness in a global context: compatible concepts in GCE?" at the UNESCO Forum on Global Citizenship Education in Bangkok on Monday sought to answer those questions and, if possible, marry the two concepts.

"In my personal view, the question here is not tension between solidarity and competitiveness," said Gwang-Jo Kim, Director of UNESCO Bangkok, who moderated the panel. "It is rather how do we combine these concepts together and deliver."

Also represented in the debate were Carlos Alberto Torres, Director of the Paulo Freire Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education; Salvatore Nigro, Director of Education for Employment in Jordan; and Salwa Hamrouni, Senior Lecturer in Public Law at the Faculty of Legal, Political and Social Sciences of Tunis. The floor was then opened to the analysts, academics, and youth leaders present at the conference.

Professor Torres argued that examples abound of the damaging effects of hyper-competitiveness harming societies. The competition for jobs often creates tension in the workplace, the social support network represented by the welfare state is under attack in many countries, and of course in the most extreme example war remains the ultimate expression of competition at a nation-state level.

In searching for a counterpoint argument, Professor Torres mentioned the competition among top-tier universities, which battle for the best professors and researchers for their faculties. While the recruitment process can be cutthroat, the end result is "civilized" competition as universities generate content that is collaborative.

"In my country, having a job means I'm alive," said Mr Nigro as he opened his remarks. "A job is fundamental to become a productive and engaged citizen at the local and the global level." Unfortunately, he added, youth unemployment is a chronic problem worldwide creating a sense of hopelessness and apathy in society as a whole. Without a sense of solidarity, Mr Nigro argued, every member of society suffers.

He illustrated the point by discussing conditions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which his organization focuses on. Youth unemployment in MENA is 25%, twice the global average, which costs the region US$50 billion each year. Women are disproportionately affected, with only 26% of working-age females in the work force. The collective penalty is clear.

Delivering her remarks in French, Ms Hamrouni also focused on the Arab world and discussed competition and solidarity in the context of the uprisings in recent years. The Tunisian uprising, she argued, was moved by young people's yearning for liberty, dignity, and humanity – values that are universal to all peoples of the world.

While those values are in retreat in some Arab countries that experienced uprisings, UNESCO has authored a manual on democracy to empower young people in disadvantaged circumstances, to challenge prejudices and extremism, and to engage the democratic process. In a new perspective on the concept of "competition", she argued that those universal values would win the day over the divisive patterns of the past, thus marrying the two concepts of competition and solidarity.

"We should all be aware of the inevitable shared future of humanity," Ms. Hamrouni said.

At the conclusion of the panel's remarks, respondents from the floor questioned whether they were asking the wrong questions, and in fact the key issue was inequality of resources and exploitation; whether some of the arguments took too pessimistic a view of human nature; and how best to determine the thoughts and impulses of the young people who must be considered. Finally, one panelist asked if the discussion was too idealistic, particularly considering the political situation in Thailand that seemed far different than the academic discussion. How do we empower the youth to make the right judgements in real life and contribute to society, she asked.

At heart, the debate engaged a critical idea involved with the implementation of GCE: can a truly global citizen with a sense of mutual responsibility still incorporate the strengths and competitive edge needed in a challenging world? Certainly, each speaker agreed, but it requires a new conception of individual and communal welfare, and how the two are interdependent.

The Event: UNESCO Forum on Global Citizenship Education

When: 2-4 December, 2013

Where: Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit, 2 Sukhumvit Soi 57, Klongtan Nua, Wattana

Outcome Document of the Technical Consultation on Global Citizenship

For further information and press queries, please contact:
Ms Akane Nozaki, Public Information Officer, UNESCO Bangkok (email:


For immediate release