3 similarities between education and public diplomacy

Just finished studying a Master’s Degree in Teaching at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, in Tarragona, where I have been attending classes for 9 months, from October 2018 to June 2019. This has been a kind of career break for me due to having lost the job where I had been working for the previous 10 years, following the application of article 155 in Catalonia as I explained in a previous post.

The main reason behind the decision I took to study this Master is related to regulations introduced in spring 2018 in Catalonia, which allowed for prospective teachers to be included in the Catalan Education Ministry Teachers’ Pool without having the required training, but with the engagement by those joining the pool to obtain such training in 3 years. This measure was adopted in the context of a high demand for secondary education teachers during the next 3 or 4 years.

This is how I decided to enrol myself in this Master’s Degree, as part of the commitment which I made by joining the pool, and also because doing this training would definitely be a worthy complement to job hunting, a way to show prospective employers I was not sat at home doing nothing.

9 months, a Master thesis and 2 intensive weeks teaching 15-year-old pupils later I can proudly say “Mission accomplished”.

Universitat Rovira i Virgili

It’s just that my professional context has changed in these last 9 months too, as I am now once again working for the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (I restarted there last winter), and happy about it, so no plans for me to work as a teacher in the near future even though I have the required training now.

So, now what? Now let’s focus again on public diplomacy, but, first of all, as American activist Maya Angelou once said, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give”. So I decided to write 3 interesting points about how I found out that education and public diplomacy interrelate. I hope you find them interesting and they leave some matters open to debate.

1) Cooperative work makes digital instruments effective. This is one of the main conclusions obtained in the thesis of my Master’s Degree, in which I researched on a small scale about the effectiveness of the introduction of Google My Maps to 15/16-year-old pupils so as to generate competences in cardinal directions and interpretations of scales. Although the study has its limitations, the main conclusion reached is that digital instruments, such as Google My Maps, do not ensure on their own the learning of competences in map interpretation. Instead of that, although more scientific evidence would be required, everything seems to point to the possibility that if students carry out mutually-needed activities to develop tasks, the learning of these competences is more assured.

Regarding the area of 21st century public diplomacy, we know that the instruments introduced in the last 10 years in the field of digital diplomacy, such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and, above all, Twitter, are of little effectiveness if they are not used as part of a global strategy to accompany the general objectives of foreign policy. That is, they are useful but only as part of a general objective; those instruments alone do not solve problems, and the people who are in charge of digital communication must be in permanent coordination with other areas of the foreign affairs department.

More specifically, if we look at the value that digital diplomacy generates, it is mainly through the interactions Heads of State, Government, and Ministers generate among them, by creating value in the network, rather than through unidirectional tweets or messages. In short, in education, as in public diplomacy, the value of digital instruments lies in the cooperative work that is done with them.

2) Special education needs or diversity is wealth. Since 2017 Catalonia has an inclusive school model system in which everyone must share the classroom with everyone. This decision was taken because of a situation of high school segregation.  In this new scenario diversity is considered a value that enriches the group but implementing this is something easier said than done, which is probably the reason why Special Education Needs or “Diversity management” had such a prevalent weight for all the teachers of the Master I have just completed.

In the field of ​​21st century public diplomacy, we know, for example, that a larger wealth of voices offers a better public diplomacy strategy towards the public from outside. The more voices you empower, the more credible and powerful this strategy will be. Governments need to know, as Cull (2019) says, what specific group of a country’s internal public is more useful to engage with a certain external group. Once found out, it is necessary that this group be given a certain training and formation. Is that an easy task? No, it is not, nor is managing diverse classrooms easy, but the educational result can only be positive for society as a whole, just like the international bilateral dialogue that is intended to be established in the field of public diplomacy by empowering citizens.

3) Initial evaluation or the importance of listening. A correct teaching programme cannot be carried out in a specific classroom if we do not know about the group’s starting point at the beginning of the period of time we are going to teach. In order to know this, you can talk to other teachers from previous years, or you can also start assigning homework (although this should be avoided the first day), or you can do a survey or a role simulation game; the methods are many and varied and I do not mention them all but the message is clear – you need to know who the students are when the course begins by means of the so-called initial evaluation, the starting point of programming your classes.

In a similar vein, in public diplomacy, and as Cull (2019) says, there is one activity that is more important than any other, and this activity is listening. Listening to find out who the audience is that you want to address, what their concerns are, what they expect from you and what message or engagement with them will be more effective. Listening is also crucial to avoid your position being considered as propaganda, since listening is expected to generate a two-way interrelation. This is different from what was done, for example, during the Cold War, or with the different fake news campaigns that are currently taking place.

 

Conclusion. This exercise of reflection was done in my spare time when preparing for exams. I’m not sure what my final conclusions would be as this is not part of any serious, well-based research, but one thing  I would state is that both teenage pupils and foreign public opinion now have more access to first-hand information than ever before, if they want to make the effort to get this information. What both teachers and public diplomacy practitioners do now is completely different to what they were expected to do 30 or even 20 years ago; they must have the capacity to put people to work, by creating value in the case of public diplomacy, or by generating positive emotions or creating interest among students. This is the challenge.

References:

Cull, Nicholas J. (2019). Public Diplomacy: Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age. Polity Press.

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